Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Intro to Workbook Study (Short Format)

The Recovery by Choice workbook is written mainly for individual home study (“bibliotherapy”). The new Short Format Study Outline is an effort to adapt the book for use in group study.

In theory, groups could work the book in the same way that an individual might: by considering each item, line by line, paragraph by paragraph, page by page, with group discussion of each point of interest. In practice, groups working the book in this fashion march so slowly – approximately a page or two per hour – that it might take three to five years to complete the volume.

The new Short-Format Study Outline provides a framework for completing the workbook in thirteen weekly sessions lasting one hour or less. The thirteen-week format allows four complete cycles of book study in a calendar year. It also approximately matches the fourteen chapters in the workbook.

As you will see as you track the outline through the book, a great deal of material had to be skipped or touched on lightly. One substantial chapter (Ch. 10) is omitted entirely. Study group members may want to work the omitted material on their own as “homework” between study meetings.

Each session in the Study Outline has a more or less set format.

  • Opening Statement, setting out general purpose of the study
  • A review question based on the material covered the previous week
  • A short introductory statement for today’s topic
  • References to worksheets or other exercises from the book, exploring the topic
  • Reference to a closing exercise, usually for writing a plan that addresses the topic.
  • A closing remark that points ahead to next week’s topic.

This format has been tested with an initial group of about 6 people, more or less, for one complete cycle of sessions each lasting 45 minutes. A 45-minute format respects the fact that most of the content is fairly intense and requires considerable concentration and effort. At this level of intensity, a full hour may be too long.

People who have done 12-step study groups may find the LifeRing study group format disconcerting at first. People tell me that the 12-step groups mainly do recitation (reading aloud) from the text, much like Bible study. The group leader may provide authoritative interpretation. The role of the average participant is to recite when called upon and otherwise be still and listen.

Here, the over-all purpose of the study is for each participant to build their Personal Recovery Program. Each person’s P.R.P. will be more or less unique, based on their personality and circumstances. Accordingly, it is important that each person participate actively in the group discussion, to get their issue out and get feedback. Although there is an occasional patch of recitation in the outline, and you may once or twice assert your superior factual knowledge, the main process is participatory and interactive. The nearest parallel is a graduate seminar in which each student is pursuing a personal research project.

Part of the convenor’s art in any meeting is keeping track of time. When convening a study group, you may find yourself constantly balancing between the imperative of group participation and the demands of the clock. It’s important to make time for the closing exercise, if the chapter has one, because the final (13th) session begins by pulling these closing exercises together, so as to make a master plan.

Working any workbook requires literacy. Many of the exercises in this outline call for writing. If some of your group members have difficulty in this area, one solution is to have them buddy up with people who are more fluent.

Access to a whiteboard or its equivalent can be useful in several sessions, particularly Ch. 1 (My Decision). You could write the session outline on the board before the start. You can jot key points of the discussion on the board to help the group focus and track the issues.

Nothing about this outline should be treated as if it were cast in stone. Some of the selections reflect nothing more than my hunch about what would work best with the particular group present. On the next go-round with a different group, I might [and did (Note added May 12)] select different material from the book. You should feel free to do the same.

The attached outline is a rough first draft. It reflects actual experience in a first study cycle, and is far from a polished final product. You may be confused at first which lines are meant as a suggested script for the convenor to present to the group, and which lines are editorial asides to the convenor. In future drafts the presentation should gradually rise to a clearer format and higher polish.

Your experiences in leading workbook study groups is valuable. This is a pioneer venture -- really an adventure -- in recovery self-education, and other people can benefit greatly from knowing about the trail you have blazed. Please post your experience in this blog and become a member of the LifeRing convenors’ email group (if you are not already) and post your experiences there, in as much detail as possible, for the benefit of others who will follow behind you.

View the Short Format Study Outline (PDF)

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