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Developing interpersonal skills in adventure-based learning – Level 6

Developing interpersonal skills in adventure-based learning – Level 6

A range of learning experiences for physical education is suggested below. Teachers should select those that best meet the learning needs of their students.

Intended outcomes

Students will:

  • demonstrate responsible attitudes towards safety and use physical and interpersonal skills to manage risks in adventure-based learning activities (6A3, 6B2)
  • demonstrate an understanding of how interpersonal skills affect group work and teamwork by influencing people's behaviours, decisions, and sense of self-worth (6C1)
  • plan, implement, and evaluate strategies to develop their interpersonal skills (6C3)

Links to NCEA achievement standard

These activities will help to prepare students for assessment against the following NCEA achievement standard:

Key areas of learning

  • Physical activity
  • Outdoor education

Background information

The interpersonal skills that could be developed in these activities include conflict resolution, active listening, being assertive, giving and receiving compliments, leadership, and 'followship'. (Some of the qualities of 'followship' include co-operating with a leader and being a good team player.) Because students will have completed physical education and health education programmes in years 9–10, they can be expected to have prior knowledge of these interpersonal skills. However, if teachers identify a need to develop students' interpersonal skills, this should be done before (or at the same time as) these adventure-based learning activities.

Students will have opportunities to discuss, during the 'reflection' and the 'generalising and abstracting' phases of the experiential learning cycle, which interpersonal skills they will actually need to use as part of their chosen strategies.

It is very important to allow students sufficient time to debrief, to consider the questions, and to discuss their answers. Students learn to use the socio-ecological perspective (see the 'Defining socio-ecological perspective' section) and to understand health promotion (see the 'Defining health promotion' section) as they consider and discuss the questions used in each phase. Provide enough time for generalisations and abstractions to unfold, and for students to see how their learning can be transferred to new contexts. Critical thinking and critical action are an important part of this learning.

Useful resources for these activities include:

The experiential learning cycle

This cyclical approach to learning is based on the principle that students' understanding will deepen when they are involved in successive activities involving reflection, generalisation, abstraction, and the transfer of knowledge. The ultimate aim is for students to develop the attitudes and values and the critical-thinking skills that they need in order to take critical action in appropriate situations, including situations beyond the classroom or school, when necessary.

The experiential learning cycle can be used in one teaching and learning session or be spread over several sessions. If the cycle is completed repeatedly in a range of contexts, different phases of the process can be emphasised at different times. Repeating the cycle enables students to apply their newly constructed knowledge and understandings to new and different situations.

Activity: Adventure-based learning using critical thinking and experiential learning

There are four phases to this activity.

Phase 1: The experience

Select any relevant adventure-based physical education activity (or set of activities) that offers students opportunities to identify and develop the interpersonal skills needed to work safely and effectively as a group in the context of physical activities or outdoor education.

Give the class an opportunity to warm up before beginning the chosen activity. Start the first class session with an icebreaker activity, such as 'Truth is stranger than fiction' or 'Who are you?' Follow this with a warm-up activity, such as 'Categories' or 'Pairs squared'.

Explain the chosen activity (the experience on which this cycle will focus) and the other phases of the cycle that will follow. Share the learning goals with students and establish success criteria.

Students now engage in the chosen activity and complete it.

Teachers' notes: Warm-up activities

Warm-up activities are suggested for the first session. Subsequent class sessions might start with a warm-up activity and then a game, such as 'Bean Bag Tag' or 'Ricochet', and initiative games, such as 'Object Retrieval', 'Toxic Waste', or 'Sticky Steps'. All these activities and others are described in Rohnke and Butler, (1995). Other pointers:

  • Use 'trust activities', if they are needed, to give students opportunities to apply the interpersonal skills that they have developed
  • Groupings for the activities can range from pairs to small groups to larger groups or teams where the group dynamics increase in complexity
  • As students go through the experiential learning cycle, provide them with learning activities that present increasing levels of challenge

The questions used in these activities are based on questions used by Henton, 1996, Chappelle, Bigman, and Hillyer, 1998, Luckner and Nadler, 1997, but it is important to encourage students to generate their own questions throughout this process. When students are first learning to use the experiential learning cycle, allow more time for them to respond to the 'reflecting' questions (phase 2), and introduce them briefly to the concepts of generalising and abstracting (phase 3) and transfer of knowledge (phase 4). Later, students will be more focused in their reflecting and will be able to devote more time to phases 3 and 4.

Phase 2: Reflecting

Ask students to discuss their experience of engaging in the activity, reflecting on what happened and what they observed. They could use the "questions for reflecting" listed below to focus their discussion.

During the discussion, help students to become aware of how different people often have different perceptions of the same activity. This awareness will help to develop their ability to think critically.

Questions for reflecting

  • What happened?
  • What behaviours did you observe?
  • Who did which tasks?
  • Who made the decisions?
  • What was being said in the groups?
  • Was everybody participating?
  • What specific examples of people co-operating did you notice?
  • What were the rewards for co-operating?
  • Were effective forms of communication being used? What were they? Were ineffective forms used? What were they?
  • Was any feedback given? If so, was it effective?
  • What effect did your actions have on the involvement of others in the group?
  • What effect did other people's actions have on your involvement in the group?

Teachers' note

The development of critical thinking is built into the experiential learning cycle. Students begin using critical thinking in the reflecting phase (for example, when they identify and analyse the different views that people may have of the same experience), and their critical thinking can be further developed, in the phases that follow, by the use of appropriate questions. Through critical thinking, students will gain a better understanding of the socio-ecological perspective and of health promotion.

Phase 3: Generalising and abstracting

Explain to students that they will now take the specific information they gathered when they reflected on their experience and generalise from it, forming opinions based on evidence and deliberately making value judgments. They could use the 'Questions for generalising and abstracting' listed below to focus their discussion.

Questions for generalising and abstracting

  • How did the activity feel (for you)?
  • How did your actions affect others in the group? Who was advantaged? Who was disadvantaged?
  • What do you think you did that helped the group (or an individual) to complete the activity or that hampered the group (or an individual) in completing the activity?
  • How could the group's communication be improved?
  • How does the group respond to feedback?
  • What is the best way for the group to make decisions? Is there one best way?
  • What can you personally do to foster a co-operative environment at school or at home?
  • How do people feel when they have input into a plan? Does this affect their commitment to acting on that plan?
  • What are the characteristics and qualities of a 'good leader'? Why is it important for there to be leaders – in groups, in the community, and in the country? What do you base your opinions on?
  • What are the characteristics of a good follower? Why is it important for there to be followers – in groups, in the community, and in the country? What do you base your opinions on?
  • Does having leaders and followers suggest that there is a power imbalance in a group?
  • Is anyone advantaged or disadvantaged in a group that has followers and leaders?
  • What is difficult about being a follower (or a leader)? How might a person overcome such difficulties?
  • What support is available in our society to help people develop interpersonal skills? Is this support equally accessible to all people who might need it?
  • What kind of support needs to be provided to help all people who might need it to develop interpersonal skills?
  • What are some of the social implications if people lack interpersonal skills?
  • What can we learn from the use of interpersonal skills (or the failure to use such skills) in sports situations?

Phase 4: Transfer of knowledge

Explain to students that they will now use their opinions and value judgments to plan critical action. They could use the 'Transfer of knowledge questions' listed below to focus their initial discussion before they move on to actually planning action.

Transfer of knowledge questions

  • What needs to change (for example, to improve people's use of interpersonal skills in sports situations)? How can you contribute to making this change?
  • If we believe that we need to co-operate more with each other, how are we going to do it?
  • If you believe that people will listen to you when you speak up about your feelings, how are you going to plan to speak up more (not just in this group but with your family and in other school groups)?
  • How can you show people that you are listening to them and that you respect their feelings?
  • How can you ensure that you include everyone when working in a group rather than just your close friends?
  • How can you give effective feedback?
  • How can you utilise your personal strengths in situations that require interpersonal skills?
  • How can you take action to develop and use interpersonal skills in the school, in your family, at your work, or in other social situations?
  • How can other people take action to develop and use interpersonal skills in the school, in their family, at their work, or in other social situations?
  • What action is needed to support the development and use of interpersonal skills by the people in the school, in other organisations, and/or in the community?

Students could now go on to plan critical action based on their findings. (Refer to the 'Importance of critical thinking' page for information about critical thinking and critical action.)