FEL!X’s dramatic historical improv methodology has proven effective with children, adolescents, and adults in both school settings and therapeutic environments. The dramatizations have focused upon culture and identity, bullying, dating and friendship, acceptance of “the other,” responding to social cues, and social unrest. Most recently, FEL!X has been adapted to develop resilience to crises.
The name FEL!X alludes to the Latin word felix, meaning lucky or successful. By stepping into the shoes of a wide range of historical characters students better understand how others in the past successfully navigated similar challenges. The developers of FEL!X first tested the methodology in a behavioral health clinic. In this setting, historical role-playing clearly proved to be a significant healing modality, allowing participants to focus on mental health outcomes without the constraints of an academic curriculum. Following this successful application of FEL!X for young people with communication challenges, the developers recognized that the FEL!X methodology could be readily adaptable to other settings and suitable for a wide range of content.
How FEL!X Works
FEL!X incorporates trusted therapeutic and educational techniques based in social-emotional intelligence and social cognitive theories. Research has shown that acting, which requires the participant to step into the shoes of others, leads to growth in both empathy and theory of mind.
By using historical improv, FEL!X methodology creates a comforting distance from which participants can explore sensitive topics such as vulnerability, abuse of power, and trauma. Improvisation encourages students to engage completely and empathize with their character, taking into account their personal circumstance and historical context. FEL!X’s methodology, unlike historical re-enactment, does not use a prescribed script.
FEL!X provides a safe and engaging environment that encourages participation and collaboration. Behavioral rules – agreed upon by all participants – are well-balanced with game-like features. FEL!X participants “step into the shoes” of historical figures from diverse generations, cultures, demographic, and perspectives.
A carefully constructed sequence of prompts eases students into discussing uncomfortable issues from multiple points of view. FEL!X then provides an opportunity for each participant to talk about the topic from their own personal perspective, surfacing struggles they may have resisted acknowledging either to themselves or to others. While learning to view contemporary issues through an historical perspective, participants develop critical thinking skills, cultural awareness, a greater understanding of broad issues, and a sense of being part of history. In addition, participants’ social-emotional skills – self-expression, self-confidence, the ability to foster dialogue, personal reflection and growth, listening, and empathy – are richly enhanced.
For many of our nation’s children and adolescents the current political, social and economic environment is a troubling one. Children reacted in different ways, depending on their individual situations. For some children connecting with their emotions can be difficult. And for all children, understanding the intersectionality of today’s complex societal issues can be challenging.
That’s where GraffitiWall’s FEL!X steps in. Students can assume the role of characters from history and literature as they navigate similar historical events from a variety of perspectives. For instance, a child can become the Taino Queen Anacona negotiating peace with Christopher Columbus despite the abuse and disease brought by the Spanish explorers or Edvard Munch, the artist famous for The Scream dealing with the 1918 flu by creating a new artistic style.
FEL!X: Building Resiliency and Hopefulness During Times of Crisis is built on the versatile and highly engaging FEL!X platform that enables participants to explore difficult and sensitive content, while developing social cognitive skills such as empathy. At the same time, FEL!X enhances critical thinking skills and the ability to analyze and infer the behaviors of others.
Goals & Outcomes
Using historical improv, students role-play a diverse range of historical personas to understand how others have dealt with challenges - some heroically and others more negatively. They will see that humanity has survived and sometimes thrived following trying times, thanks to a mixture of hoping, coping, innovation and collaboration. FEL!X’s Building Resilience establishes a safe, structured environment for social and emotional learning with following outcomes:
- - Be more hopeful.
- - Understand that we're not powerless.
- - Learn how to articulate and make sense of ones current situation.
- - Improve listening and discussion skills.
- - Understand that we can work towards a greater good.
- - Build a greater sense of empathy to counter much of the self-aggrandizing (self-centered) focus of social media.
- - Experience the power of collaboration. This project involves teamwork!
FEL!X was developed by GraffitiWall LLC, an interactive media company, with the guidance of mental health professionals and educators. The core creative team of FEL!X includes Linda Gottfried, the founder and creative director at GraffitiWall, LLC whose background includes developing interactive experiences for entertainment, education, and healthcare, Joseph Gottfried, M.D., Child, Adolescent, and Adult Psychiatrist and Professor at the University of Colorado, and Karen Snider, M.Ed Harvard, Former Project Director at the Boston Children’s Museum and Deputy Director for Exhibitions at the Children’s Museum of Manhattan.
FEL!X: Building Resiliency & Hopefulness During Times of Crisis: A sneak preview of students, educators, and a journalist during the Black Plague Session
Student Mentor, Sam provides helpful tips for FEL!X: Building Resiliency A student’s point of view
Student Video contest Winner: Layla sings FEL!X’s praises
Sam, a FEL!X: Building Resiliency user during the summer session, reflects on FEL!X four months later
Thoughts from FEL!X Alum and Contributors
Advisor, Andy Mink, Vice President of Educational Programs from the National Humanities Center, describes how FEL!X develops “historical empathy”:
All too often, we teach and understand history while knowing the punch line to the joke. Events seem inevitable; steps taken seem obvious in their value or their mistake. One of the most important practices in history education is to engage students in historical empathy—that is, to consider that each day, figures in the past responded to the circumstances with the knowledge available to them, just as we do today. These historical figures interact with each other; they consider choices and pathways; they do the best they can to grapple through complex problems and issues. FEL!X is an ideal tool to practice and develop strong historical empathy by inviting students to assume the roles of experts and leaders in the moment—without nostalgia, without present-ism. I believe that this work is critically valuable to the way we educate our students today.”
Joseph Gottfried MD, Child, Adolescent & Adult Psychiatrist, Professor of Psychiatry, University of Colorado
“As a psychiatrist focused on the treatment of those afflicted with mental illness I find that FEL!X has been especially useful in my practice. Two patients, in particular, greatly benefited from the FEL!X program. One suffered paranoid schizophrenia, the other severe depression and autism. Neither of them had ever engaged in any type of relationship of significance. After sharing the FEL!X experience, they became friends, and are finally experiencing a very rewarding and supportive relationship. I can say with 100% certainty that these friendships would not have happened if it were not for the FEL!X program. FEL!X has led to so much excitement in the children and adults who participated, that at each appointment they eagerly request to do FEL!X again.”
“By examining the parallels between their own experiences in a pandemic and historical experiences, students realized they were not alone and the world had come back from things like this before. It created optimism. Academically, students found a way to connect to history. This allowed them to appreciate learning about history and appreciate that they are living through history.”
“The FEL!X program was a creative and challenging format to help middle and high school students think about their current circumstance without specifically speaking about themselves. They were pushed to think differently, collaborate with others, and learn a bit about other times.”
“Students dove deep into acting, which was impressive. Most impressive was how they collaborated, in addition to beginning to find more examples and skills of hoping, coping and innovating. The very personal takeaways they shared on the final day were inspiring. They gave me hope that for all we can't know about (the) long-term effects of pandemic times on children today, they are ready to lean into all the complicated feelings and find something positive in the moment as well as dream into the future.”
“One of the biggest takeaways for me was all of the ways that others in pandemics dealt with what they were going through. The Black Plague and Spanish Flu may have (been) different diseases in different time periods, but they are still very similar to the current pandemic. People have dealt with pandemics and epidemics in similar ways throughout history.”
“(One of the biggest takeaways was) that knowing about events from the past can be a good way to help us learn how to deal with events in the present.”
Mental Health Professional:
“FEL!X: Building Resiliency has perfect timing for today’s pandemic, social injustices, and mindset of fear and pessimism. It allowed students to understand the intersectionality of today’s complex societal issues. Through role-playing, students learned history, developed critical thinking skills, and fostered empathy, all of which contributed to their resiliency… As a psychotherapist, it was amazing to see students who were struggling with fear and uncertainty in today’s world and watch them transcend it with hope, coping, collaboration, and self-confidence.”
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