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Professional Portfolio

Challenge Course Skills Translation

Challenge Course Skills Translation


I created this document in my role as Program Director for Northwest Teambuilding. We found that teachers often had a hard time justifying the expense of challenge course programs to their administrators. What we quickly discovered was that people needed a document to show them the challenge course skills translation to state standards and expectations. Using my experience as a teacher, I created this as a resource to show how the Grade Level Equivalents (GLEs) correlated directly to activities on the challenge course. In particular, the challenge course is a power tool for teaching soft skills of communication and leadership that are hard to teach concretely in the classroom.

Skills Translation

GLEs How Challenge Courses Can Help

Communications GLE 1.1.1 Applies a variety of listening strategies to accommodate the listening situation.

  • Uses listening strategies for: enjoyment listening, active listening (GLE 1.1.2), empathetic listening, and critical listening (GLE 1.2.1) appropriate to the situation (e.g., mock job/academic interviews, career and technical education job training).
  • NOTES: Listening behavior will vary according to culture, learning style, and situation. Verbal and nonverbal cues must be taught explicitly. Do not assume they are universal.

Communications GLE 1.1.2 Applies a variety of listening and observation skills/strategies to interpret information.

  • Monitors and adjusts strategies to interpret information (e.g., attends and listens carefully, asks clarifying/probing questions, responds with elaboration or paraphrases information, makes connections both within and beyond presentation).
  • Asks probing questions to extend information (e.g., to clarify meaning, to gain insight, to consider other perspectives).

Activities on a ropes course are focused on changing the dynamic of the group to cause them to struggle enough to adapt and grow. Communication is one huge element to that.

To change the communication patterns (and necessitate different listening patterns) activities sometimes involve:
No talking

  • Specific people are able to only ask open-ended questions
  • Specific tasks are given to each individual with specific ways to communicate that information
  • Groups are put into various forms of competition and collaboration
  • Groups are placed in a line or made to stay in contact with each other to change the ability to communicate
  • Groups are separated to make communication more difficult
  • Members of the group can be blinded in trust activities
  • The complexity of the task is increased, forcing the group to specialize in order to succeed
  • Time limits are placed on planning time

Silent Line-Up: The group has to line up be birthday, first name, last name, etc. without speaking.

Mine Field: The group is paired off, one individual is blindfolded in the mine field while the other gives directions from a distance, trying to avoid hitting any objects

Communications GLE 1.2.1 Evaluates effectiveness of and creates a personal response to visual and auditory information.

  • Compares literal and implicit meaning to respond to a statement.
  • Constructs personal meaning from visual and auditory information (e.g., Social Studies: the connection between the rhetoric of the leaders of independence movements in Africa with images of people living and working in these emerging nations).
  • Critiques effectiveness of rhetorical information (e.g., peer presentations, political speeches and arguments).

Debriefing is a concept used heavily in challenge course work. Through the debriefing process, the facilitator guides the group through looking at what happened in the activity, what can be learned from the activity, what can be taken to the next activity, and how all of that learning can be re-applied back to their lives at home, in school, and with friends.

Communications GLE 1.2.2 Evaluates the effect of bias and persuasive techniques in mass media.

  • Critiques the effectiveness of persuasive techniques on target audiences (e.g., ethos, pathos, logos appeals, fallacies, propaganda).
  • Critiques differing points of view for persuasive effect (e.g., Social Studies CBA: Reviews and critiques various visual depictions of globalization found in the mass media to evaluate whether it is portrayed negatively or positively).
  • Critiques the effect of media portrayals of cultures, gender, religion, sexuality, class, and race on society and its subcultures.
  • Judges the effect of different interpretations of the same media text (e.g., different newspapers, radio/television stations, Internet sites).

Ropes course activities can lead quite well into discussing bias. Through debriefing, it can come out how assumption and interpretation can give many people varying views of what was said and what happened. As the facilitator, if this is a group’s goal, taking careful notes (or assigning a student to take careful notes) of the objective observations and comparing that to perceptions can often bring out how biases come out within a group.

Communications GLE 2.1.1 Analyzes the needs of the audience, situation, and setting to adjust language and other communication strategies.

  • Examines the situation and selects a common code for communication when a common code does not exist, using role play (e.g., gestures, sign language, language different from one’s own, dialects, pictures).
  • Selects language that is respectful of others’ feelings and rights (e.g., free from stereotyping, bias, slander, or harassment).

Communications GLE 2.2.1 Uses communication skills that demonstrate respect.

  • Monitors and adjusts one’s own participation according to the situation and the needs of others (e.g., focuses on speaker; avoids interruptions; does not dominate conversation; uses techniques for taking turns; attends to cultural differences in communication styles, such as variations in pause time, pace, volume/intensity, and body language).
  • Responds to the clarification needs of others as necessary (e.g., elaborates, illustrates, or expands on a response).
  • Provides feedback to the speaker in role-play scenarios or classroom activities based on appropriate form of listening (e.g., enjoyment, active, critical, and/or empathetic listening).
  • Refutes others in non-hurtful ways by disagreeing with ideas according to established classroom norms (e.g., “Maya, we agree on everything except your last two points. I think …”).

During the debriefing process, focus is often placed not just on the task but on the process as well. Separating those two can become very helpful in identifying different kinds of success.

Activities that track time and look for a group to perfect a technique are perfect for this. Activities like Faster Than Light, The Machine, and Key Punch are all timed activities that can require a group to work to perfect their process. While recording the time, you can also record the group process, thereby mapping the stages a group goes through. Identifying how to create a good group process can then be learned from example, and students have the opportunity to see what happens when they have poor group processes and effective group processes.

See also examples for Comm GLE 1.1.1 and 1.1.2.

Communications GLE 2.2.2 Applies skills and strategies to contribute responsibly in a group setting.

  • Contributes relevant ideas with support/evidence by clarifying, illustrating, or expanding (e.g., contributes topics related to ideas with support and talks in turn, with consideration for others in the conversation).
  • Critiques group members’ and own interactions/work and adjusts to ensure group success.
  • Examines own cultural biases.

This is perhaps the most pervalent skill a low challenge course works on. Almost all activities require the group to figure how to work together to accomplish their goal.

Debriefing sessions after activities focus on opening discussion and talking about how to critique the group process in a way that is effective without being harmful.

Communications GLE 2.3.1 Analyzes the influence of cultural principles, beliefs, and world views on intercultural communication.

  • Examines the influence of one’s own cultural principles, beliefs, religion, and world views on intercultural communication (e.g., based on Muslim beliefs, a teenage girl may feel compromised by the flirtatious but innocent attention of a teenage boy).
  • Discusses how power and dominance affect intercultural communication (e.g., workplace hierarchies such as boss/supervisor to employee; historical and present relations between cultures).

Communications GLE 2.3.2 Creates personal intercultural communication norms to guide one’s self in a diverse social system.

  • Develops a construct for how physical and human settings can affect communication (e.g., timing, social climate, customs, religion, social practices, politics, values, education).
  • Monitors and adjusts one’s own communication style to engage in the dynamics of diversity and connect with others (e.g., adjusting proximity, volume, intensity, pause time, pace, conversation style, eye contact)

See examples in Communications GLE 1.2.2 for some ideas on this. It can also be taken further with some pre- and post-work with a group, identifying cultural principles both shared and not shared among them, referring back to these principles and eventually coming to a shared true value contract where all cultures are accepted can have a powerful impact on a group especially when brought back to the school or classroom.

Communications GLE 3.1.1 Applies skills to plan and organize effective oral communication and presentation.

  • Determines the topic and the audience and selects a purpose (e.g., monologue, debate, historical reenactment, speech, mock job/academic interview).
  • Matches verbal and nonverbal messages (e.g., voice modulation, expression, tone, body language, gestures, attire).
  • Distinguishes among and uses various forms of formal and informal logical argument (deductive and inductive reasoning, syllogisms, analogies).
  • Uses techniques to enhance the message (e.g., irony and dialogue to achieve clarity, force, and aesthetic effect; technical language).
  • Uses logical, ethical, and emotional appeals to support the purpose.

Planning is a huge skill that groups often need work on when they come to the challenge course. Activities are setup in a variety of ways (some without the opportunity for planning, some that require the group to recognize the need to plan, and some that have a structured planning stage. By focusing on different restrictions in planning, the group can learn through experience the important to communicate and prepare prior to an activity.

Communications GLE 3.2.1 Uses available technology and resources to support or enhance a presentation.

  • Uses resources to achieve a purpose and that can easily be seen and accessed by the audience (e.g., visual aids, equipment, props, artifacts, drawings).
  • Uses technology to inform and/or enhance presentations (e.g., print, on-line resources, visual display, presentation technology, video streaming, digital and video cameras).

Resource management is a huge part of activities. Knowing when to send specific people over a crossing, or how to arrange boards and ropes to help the crossing succeed. Mountain Tops is a great example for this, where two board must be overlapped, and participants must work together to balance the boards so that students can get from one platform to another.

Resources can also be added to activities easily that will make or break the success of the activity.

Communications GLE 3.3.1 Applies skills and strategies for the delivery of effective oral communication and presentations.

  • Makes necessary adjustment in delivery and language during presentations based on interpretation of verbal and nonverbal cues to reflect ongoing responsiveness to audience.
  • Speaks with expression using purposeful volume, articulation, pace/rate, and tone.
  • Uses posture, body language, eye contact, facial expression, and gestures to heighten and emphasize message.
  • Matches verbal and nonverbal messages.
  • Uses standard adult grammar to enhance message.
  • Speaks using an extemporaneous style of delivery (e.g., uses notes and outlines rather than a script).
See Communication GLEs 1.1.1 and 1.1.2 for some ideas on this. Obviously with any activity, there are different roles for people. By using activities with pre-prescribed roles, or by taking away resources from some group members and other resources from others (i.e. half the group has no arms, but the other half cannot talk), you can create scenarios where different people come out as the main communicators. And you create different types of communication that become helpful and even necessary.

Communications GLE 4.1.1 Analyzes and evaluates strengths and weaknesses of one’s own communication using own or established criteria.

  • Articulates the qualities that make communication effective (e.g., body language, pace, volume, tone, expression).
  • Seeks, considers, and uses feedback from a variety of sources to improve communication (e.g., teachers, peers, community members, and family members).
  • Critiques style and content of own communication in public, group work, personal settings, and/or interviews.
  • Justifies language and techniques used when deviating from established criteria (e.g., deliberate use of nonstandard English to create effect or appeal to audience).
  • Weighs effect of presentation on audience (e.g., uses verbal and nonverbal audience response and feedback to determine effect).

Communications GLE 4.1.2 Analyzes and evaluates strengths and weaknesses of others’ formal and informal communication using own or established criteria.

  • Examines accuracy of content and terminology for specific content areas in others’ communication (e.g., compare texts using correct literary terminology).
  • Critiques others’ communication and/or delivery independently and in groups according to detailed culturally sensitive scoring criteria.
  • Offers feedback to peers in support of improving both formal and informal communication.
Using activities that are described in some of the other GLE’s here (particularly Communication GLEs 1.1.1, 1.1.2, and 3.3.1), focus can be place during the debriefing process on analyzing how communication was effective or ineffective. To further emphasize this GLE (if this is a primary objective), activities can be assigned rotating “leaders” who then get feedback from their peers after the activity.

Communications GLE 4.2.1 Applies strategies for setting grade level appropriate goals and evaluates improvement in communication.

  • Sets goals for all forms of oral communication using feedback and creates a plan to meet the goals (e.g., groupwork, formal presentation, conversation, interview, debate).
  • Monitors progress through the use of a variety of tools (e.g., portfolios, logs, rubrics, reflection journals, or video portfolio), making adjustments as needed.
Goal setting is hugely important on the ropes course. Success can only truly be measured if a goal is set. Often times, a distinction can be made through a series of activities between an implied goal, and imposed goal, and a self-set goal. Often times, even if a goal is not imposed on a group, a implied goal exists (i.e. get to the top, ring the bell, grab the trapeze). By starting with activities down low that subvert or hide the actual goal (students have to guess at what the goal is), you can turn upside down the hidden goals they have when they get high.