Justification and teacher note: “Gaslighting”. How many times have you heard that term in the last year? A quick trip to the Google Ngram viewer reveals that the term ‘gaslighting’ has been used more often in the last 6 years than in the entire time that the word has existed. Over 500% more recently than the previous 100 years. Obviously, recent events in the politics of the United States have contributed greatly to the term’s usage, while the word itself has rekindled an interest in popular psychological terms. I stopped counting this year’s YouTube videos concerning ‘gaslighting’ at 200. The trend started in 2016 and seems to show no signs of abating. The number of videos might indicate the importance of the topic to YouTube visitors, or at the very least to the video creators. Finally, it’s worthwhile to mention that the term ‘gaslighting’ is also a term used in Spanish language videos (important for my students), this indicates the importance of the subject in Spanish speaking cultures. The YouTube video list includes gaslighting in the context of interpersonal relationships, government, politics, business, business relationships, psychology, propaganda, cinema, and childhood psychology. In short, it would appear that gaslighting can happen to just about anyone, at any time, and in almost every interpersonal relationship context. The ubiquity of ‘gaslighting’ makes it an excellent subject for an OODA loops based lesson.
Verbs: analyze, personalize, internalize, reflect, judge, observe.
The following lesson follows the OODA loop process designed by Charles Boyd. Please read my previous posts on the topic.
Level: CEFR B2 – C2 (adaptation to other levels is possible.)
Time required: Flexible, minimum 4 hours.
Activities: Listening, reading, speaking, (writing optional)
Materials and resources (in order of use) : Your Reality (available in YouTube) Worksheet (optional PDF available here), Access to YouTube and other electronic media. PDF. Reading: Gaslighting in relationships: Vox This may be added in at any point after watching the Your Reality Video) We’ll leave the gaslight on for you Anderson Cooper 360 (YouTube). Links follow in the text.
TRIGGER WARNING: Be aware that the video used for this topic is psychologically triggering for some people. While there is no violence depicted, psychological abuse forms the plot and action in the video. Some students might find it particularly upsetting. The same may be said of the subject matter, but I feel the benefits of discovering what gaslighting is, in a personal way for each student outweighs the disadvantages.
Observe Stage summary: Observe means to simply survey the issue at hand. One objective is to determine what gaslighting is, while another is to observe that gaslighting occurs in other areas of life than just intimate dependent relationships. Benefits of this stage. Observation and synthesis of the materials presented is mostly student centered.
Verbs: observe, interpret, read, speak, decide, discuss, weigh, judge, assimilate, analyze, personalize,synthesize, write
Observe: 90-120 Minutes.
Introduction to students: Explain the steps of what they will be doing first. Example:
Today we will be observing a phenomenon called gaslighting. I am not going to define it for you, it’s a little complex, so it will be critical for us to just observe what’s happening before we try to define it. So let’s get started. We will be watching a video called Your Reality, and the only help I can give you now is that the video shows important aspects of a relationship.
As a general warm-up, ask students what they understand about a dating or love relationship. What words come to mind.
Report: Have students write one word about romantic relationships on the board or in survey mode in a moodle or other LMS. (These words are used for orientation purposes, but may be displayed for everyone to read and question)
Observe: Ask students for any words that stand out or seem unusual. What words appear most often.
The video for the lesson is called “Your Reality”
Present: Present video: We will spend the next 21 minutes watching the video. Please note mentally or in writing what you see. You can also ask to stop the movie if you have a statement or personal thought you might like to share. Just a couple of notes, there is some very brief profanity, as well as alcohol use in this video. This topic may seem personal, but your task as a student is to be objective and not take things personally. If, however, you do feel a personal reaction, ask yourself why you are so struck by the events in the video.
Observe: Have students watch the video. Teachers should consider watching the students; look for body language and note when students cringe, cross their legs, fold their arms or other signs of discomfort. This will help disarm students who tend to not want to share truthfully, or will help identify which moments teachers need to broach delicately.
Orient: Orient the students to view the topic from an objective point of view first. The teacher might suggest that everyone reacts to an argument with their significant others differently and some responses such as silence on the part of one partner doesn’t automatically mean manipulation toward the other.
At this point it’s quite likely students will have lots to add, but teachers need to keep the conversation objective. The obvious starting point would be to put the title of the film on the board or overhead. If students are shy they may need coaxing to respond..
On board or overhead: Your Reality. Ask: Is reality a subjective or objective experience? Thoughts?
Teachers might want to have students write down answers on board or record them for others to see. In the video how many reality sets do we see ? At first there are three, then really only two, then only one).
At this point the teacher can begin to ask more direct questions about the film. For example, the teacher could inquire as to which moment led the students to think Alicia might be susceptible to being gaslit (She tells Sofia her mom says she selfish, other clues)
When does it become obvious that Mark uses controlling behavior?
What are the things you noticed? When do we start to mistrust Mark? Why doesn’t Alicia share this mistrust?
Nota bene: It’s important to monitor students’ comfort level with their discussion. At some point the conversation may take on a life of it’s own…a good thing, but stand by as a referee.
Orientation part II. Does gaslighting only happen in relationships? Can women be gaslighters, too? (Manipulative behavior knows no gender). What about in your everyday life? What about politics?
Watch the first five minutes of the video We’ll leave the gaslight on for you.
Feedback from orientation phase on board or have students turn in anonymous answers to the following question: Where do you see or have you seen gaslighting in your own experience? Ask for a two to three word answer, i.e. on TV with el peje, in my family, at work, at school etc.
tally the answers on the board for all to see. This concludes the orientation phase.
Decide phase summary: The ‘decide’ phase reflects what students decide to do about the problem. It’s quite possible that they may decide to do nothing because it’s just not important to their experience; a good litmus test of student engagement and interest BTW. It’s not likely with this subject matter. To proceed with the subject at hand, have students review the responses to the question. Where do the commonalities among answers lie?
Chances are good there will be a preponderance of answers relating to relationships, and maybe family ties. Some others still will be based on social media and politics.
Group the answers where possible and then ask the students simply, “Are these important enough matters that if we did something about it, people might listen?”
Let the students decide which gaslighting situations are of importance to them. (There will likely be some very personally felt aspects to these situations).Think catharsis…and it may be desirable to explain cathartic reactions to students so they may become a bit more comfortable with whatever emotions they are feeling. (By the way, these things like cathartic reaction, personal experiences, etc, are part of the constant feedback in the OODA loop)
Once students decide that it is important (I doubt it will take much convincing) to do something, comes the final stage of the OODA which is to act.
Act phase summary: This is the stage in which student apply their knowledge and act on the problem at hand. While I prefer students make up their own learning objects here are few ideas to help get the ball rolling
- Create an anti gaslighting app
- The university is concerned about gaslighting in the upcoming elections. How can they help students and the general public find out the truth.
- It takes one to know one. Create a publicity campaign that explains in a few words along with appropriate imagery what a gas lighter does.
- Find examples of gaslighting in the public media. Explain it to an English speaking foreigner who might understand the concept or local politics.
There are several other ideas that come to mind, but these should get the class started.
Have students present their findings and objects to the class. Students can assess each others works by observing the work and the presenting student’s clarity of the object presented, if the object is relatable to others (oriented), if the decisions they made were realistic and if the object is effective for its stated purpose. (Act)
Teachers can follow similar assessment guidelines with added categories for language use, visual appeal, usefulness, etc.
Finally, it may be of value for the teacher to evaluate how their students’ reactions to the class through anonymous surveys. This will allow teachers to follow their own OODA loop for creating content, evaluating feedback and adjusting the tasks for future use.