Academic journal article Journal of Outdoor and Environmental Education

Skill Instruction in Outdoor Leadership: A Comparison of a Direct Instruction Model and a Discovery-Learning Model

Academic journal article Journal of Outdoor and Environmental Education

Skill Instruction in Outdoor Leadership: A Comparison of a Direct Instruction Model and a Discovery-Learning Model

Article excerpt

Abstract

In this paper I discuss some of the strengths and weaknesses of two different approaches to teaching motor skills to students in outdoor education and outdoor recreation settings. Using acronyms to describe their stages: DEDICT is a six step, direct instructional model that some outdoor leaders may already be familiar with; and FERAL is my adaptation of a discovery learning approach that can be used to teach students and participants skills. It is my premise that both models are theoretically sound in terms of motor skill acquisition theory and the physical education literature on skill instruction. I discuss and critique both models with reference to the theories of motor learning, the stages of skill acquisition, the role of feedback, the characteristics of effective practice, the value of demonstrations, the role of verbal instructions, and experiential learning theory. Finally, I offer some recommendations on how to optimise the effectiveness of skill instruction in outdoor leadership using both models.

Teaching outdoor education, or leading outdoor recreation experiences, often involves teaching people how to perform certain skills. The quality of this instruction can become critical if the skill level of students has the potential to influence the students' level of safety and well-being, or their ability to focus on other learning objectives (see, Thomas, 2005). However, many outdoor leadership training pathways do not involve the formal study of motor skill acquisition. Also, physical education teacher training programs may not teach skill acquisition principles in ways that are specifically adapted to outdoor leadership settings. Skill performance in outdoor education may involve different timeframes, environmental circumstances may influence what counts as a skillful performance. In an outdoor leadership setting the definition of a skill might be highly practical or functional rather than normative. Suffice to say, it would seem that further consideration of skill acquisition principles may enhance the preparation of outdoor leaders. The terms outdoor leaders and outdoor leadership are deliberately used in this paper because they are inclusive of both outdoor education and outdoor recreation practice.

In one of the few papers focusing on motor skill acquisition in the outdoor education literature, Higgins and Morgan (1997) provided a good example of how a potentially flawed understanding of skill instruction led to a common, but poor, instructional practice in a kayaking instruction context. They described how some instructors were taking a shortcut and teaching the pawlata roll to beginner kayakers so they could experience success in re-righting a capsized kayak. However, the pawlata roll requires a change in the kayaker's grip on the paddle, places less emphasis on the important role of hip-flick, and encourages an over-reliance on the paddle to re-right his or her kayak. Hence, the ultimate goal of developing a reliable and effective kayak roll that works well while paddling on the river is sacrificed in order to provide quick results.

Higgins and Morgan (1997) base their criticism of the aforementioned practice on the rationale that good skill instruction develops 'open' skills that can be applied in a variety of contexts and "while success is a very strong motivational force for our students (and for us as teachers) and its value must not be dismissed, we should address the issue of whether or not we are encouraging good (open) habits" (p. 4). Hence, if I teach motor skills in a way that encourages early success I could actually compromise, and even impair, the effectiveness of my students' skill acquisition in the long term. This is one example of why outdoor leaders may benefit from a better understanding, and application of, the principles of motor skill acquisition (MSA) and skill instruction. As explained by Hodges and Franks (2004), "we would not expect to visit a doctor and receive health prescriptions based on common sense, but we are happy to receive coaching from practitioners who are unaware of the principles underlying provision of instruction" (p. …

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