KS&R Blogs


I recently went to my high school reunion.

I had received a letter telling me that the Class of 1970-something Gateway Senior High School, Monroeville, Pa, was holding a class reunion and that I would be crazy to miss it. I threw the letter away, certain that I wouldn't attend.

Then my friend, Kathy Mohan (that is Kathy smiling on KS&R's homepage), started emailing me, nagging me to go. "Aren't you even just a little curious?", she prodded. In high school, Kathy was pretty and popular, liked by all. She was the cheerleader who dated the handsome star of the football team, Mark Campbell, the year Gateway won the state championship. (High school football was, and is, a very big deal in western Pennsylvania.) I was all about the debate team, student government, and the school newspaper. We became great friends. Kathy and I had also gone off to the same college, Ohio University. I started getting nostalgic...

I finally decided to go...figuring that by recalling my high school experiences, maybe I would come away with some new insight - an "aha!" about high school and who I am now.

I know first-hand how effective recalling past experiences can be in uncovering "moments of truth!" I spend a lot of time conducting Cognitive Interviewing, an event reconstruction technique, that helps participants get past their conscious memory in order to access the forgotten, fleeting, seemingly trivial but often crucial - details. One of the most effective tools for this type of interviewing is "Visualization":

  • Participants are asked to close their eyes. As an "eyes closed exercise", Visualization also has the added benefit of building trust among participants to get them talking to one another, and more open to sharing intimate, personal thoughts.
  • They are instructed to "think aloud" as they walk through the specific experience, step by step. Recall probes help participants to recreate the experience as fully as possible, including what they are doing / thinking / feeling at that moment; what is easy / hard / and the best / worst aspects and to tease out hidden meanings.
  • Providing stimuli such as old photos is a very effective way to help trigger participants' memories.

As for the reunion, I had such a wonderful time "visualizing", I'm not sure exactly how many insights I came up with! But sincere thanks to Kathy and Mark (still happily married) for helping me recall exactly how Gateway was so good for me. And how the friendships and learnings from my time there really do continue to impact what I do today.

See you guys at the next reunion!

All the best,
Lynne Van Dyke