- NW Snowsports Instructor
- Tech Zone
- Who We Are
by David Berkey
When I first heard about the Gradual Release of Responsibility, a.k.a. “GRR,” I wasn’t on snow, yet there was snow around us, albeit not much. This year, the fog and wind in November at Timberline forced us indoors, with groups all clamoring for space to be heard – Grrrrrrr! Fortunately, the group presentation by Linda Cowan was in the cafeteria, behind glass, and we could hear everything. Linda’s topic was GRR. What I discovered was a tool to potentially assist instructors, new and experienced alike, to become better instructors. It’s not complicated. Most instructors utilize some form of this model in one way or another. I’ve been experimenting with this model in my clinics and classes. All I can say is, “It works!”
After talking to others about Linda’s presentation, I found a lot of skepticism. On our drive back to Seattle, my fellow Training Directors (TDs) discussed if there were any merits to this system. I was in the “pro camp,” while another pointed out his doubts as to its value to the customer. He pointed out that if he pays for a clinic or lesson, he would prefer not hearing from his peer group. He would want input from the paid professional. That was a good point, but I pointed out that it’s up to the professional to guide the discussions, so all students could benefit from easily measured, specific actions. By each student participating, each better owned the information provided.
No sale. He thought that GRR would produce more Grrrrrrrrrrr, or frustration for the student. Still, I wanted to experiment. I needed to find out for myself. As it turned out, I demonstrated GRR’s usefulness in our Level I clinics. Read on and
you’ll see how.
As I mentioned already this acronym stands for Gradual Release of Responsibility. It was developed, as I remember Linda’s story, by a swim coach. He found that by using GRR, he could offer more targeted, personalized instruction at a cognitive level, which provided for greater understanding by his swimmers. They actually helped or taught each other, with guided feedback from the coach, whereby he could constantly check for understanding, providing correction where necessary. This model is such a hot button in education that the Northshore School District located on the “east side” with its district office in Bothell, WA has adopted it. Being an educator in that district is why Linda is so familiar with the concept and a great resource, should you want to understand more. Fortunately, her home turf at Stevens Pass is my turf too, so we get her guidance more frequently, if needed.
As you can see by the Figure aove, and which can be found on the PSIA-NW website, it illustrates that the teacher and student are in what we call a dance. The teacher takes the lead and shows, or
demonstrates, as in “I do it,” then he/she involves the students in a “we do it” together, as in student and teacher dancing together, to check for understanding and provide individual feedback. The instructor then gives the reigns to the students in a “you do it” (teacher watches/guides), with students dancing and guiding each other, increasing their level of understanding by them paying attention to specific desired movements or outcomes.
Finally, students move to a “you do it alone” mode, becoming independent, dancing by themselves. Students end up with better ownership of what was taught. As instructors, we set them free, as hopefully better skiers. But, do our clients truly have ownership of the knowledge we have imparted? I have found that by applying GRR, my students are more self-aware, with a better understanding of body movements and the cause and effect of those movements. They seem to value what they’re taught and want more lessons. They want to learn.
I can best explain this by some examples. How else do teachers best explain their actions?
Example 1: Earlier this season, we started clinics for our Level 1 candidates. Some are quite young and one in particular was frustrating one of the TDs. He just wasn’t paying attention, standing still and listening. Remember the doubt expressed in the car when returning from Timberline? This was one of those TDs, and he was irritated with this candidate’s lack of attention. (Grrrrrrr!) I asked if I could try something. With his blessing, I paired everyone up, asking everyone to pay attention to their partner’s movements. The task we had demonstrated was an edged traverse. I again explained the points to look for, but asked them to only observe the outcome: to see if their partner’s tracks were evenly spaced, both being parallel and if the tracks showed signs of slipping or edged skis. I asked them to work with each other, then asked them to comment on what they observed in front of the group. OMG! They had to pay attention.
In addition, both of us TDs could check their individual levels of understanding and keep them from not straying from the defined outcome. Rather than correct overall skiing, I wanted them to concentrate only on those body movements that affected the creation of the desired tracks in the snow. As we were also working on body alignment and balance and how it affects good skiing, we could guide them toward the cause and effect of correct body alignment to a traverse. After half a run working with the pairs, I asked them to take on a bit more responsibility and work on each other to a meeting point down the hill, trying to perfect each other’s tracks. At this point, both of us TDs were to back off and observe what they did, only stepping in when there was a question or obvious lack of understanding. Sometimes, we had to remind them of the goal: 2 parallel, edged tracks across the snow while in a balanced, correct stance. In the end, we did some free skiing, keeping to the theme of stance and balance. As for input from us TDs, we kept it to a minimum, encouraging them to be aware of their stance while skiing and answering questions.
The results: 1) the disruptive student became engaged, taking the Grrrrrr out of the experience, 2) each student had a more cognitive experience about a simple traverse, and 3) it provided us with another class management tool. In the end, they better understood how a poorly accomplished traverse reflected a lack of alignment skills, which affected their free skiing.
Example 2: If GRR worked in a large clinic, why not in a class situation? My classes range from skiing easy blues to greens on one day to skiing the mountain on bumps and off-piste the next. My approach has been the same in applying GRR. I start each lesson with a goal and skill for students to try and accomplish. This skill may be taught throughout several lessons, but I break down the skill into bite size chunks, so we can concentrate on a specific body part or movement, which the students can easily observe.
At first, I demonstrate and explain, like we all do, using the “I do” stage of GRR. Then, I pair the students up, switching partners throughout the lesson, moving into the “We do together” stage. If it’s an odd number, I even pair one of the students with me. I become one of them when reporting observations. I use myself as the example of what I expect them to be observing. I instruct each set of partners to watch each other, reporting back what they observe, sharing those observations with the class. That way, I can make corrections as necessary. As they start to work more independently in the “You do together” stage, I invite the class to chime in to help with the corrections. I try to be more the observer. At first they were tentative. But after several attempts, I was blown away by what students observed and understood. I was amazed how quickly pupils started to understand the cause and effect of body movements to ski performance. It was just so cool! Normally, this level of understanding has been owned by the top performers in the class. Now, it was everyone in the class, and I knew to what level they owned the knowledge.
The other advantage is that all the students become engaged in the process. They have to pay attention, to understand, in order to teach another person. Students want to live up to expectations, and I set those expectations by defining what to observe and their responsibility to their partner. All I can say is they have responded to this approach. Remember the skepticism about utilizing such a model I discussed previously in this article? Professional vs. peer group input during a class? To confirm that GRR was working to their benefit, I asked my classes if they’d rather me just teach, not have them help each other, or continue having them help teach each other? I received a resounding affirmation of preference: being included in the teaching/learning process made the class more fun. They really liked
the GRR format.
I am wondering if anyone else has been trying GRR in their classes or clinics. If not, I urge you to try it. To me, this tool has brought more focus to each lesson and understanding from the pupil. GRR has also permitted me more time to check for understanding on an individual level, being able to customize the lesson for each pupil. Bottom line, I’m sold. It has been a great tool for me and taken some of the Grrrrrrr out of instructing, especially when dealing with larger groups. Thank you Linda for bringing this model to our attention. It’s a great tool.
by Ed Kane
Last season I was at Winter Park resort with the North American Ski Journalists. I got there just as the SIA on snow demos were ending and just before a storm blew in so that we could enjoy some new snow over packed powder. The highlight of the trip, however, was the opportunity to spend the day with a role model from the past and to try out what could turn out to be the next advancement in ski technology. The role model is Wayne Wong and the new twist in skis is the “Anton Ski Active Suspension System.”
I started skiing seriously in the early 1960s and started teaching in the mid 60s. This was a very creative time period in the history of skiing in the US. PSIA was becoming actively involved in creating guidelines and materials that would unify the teaching approach throughout the country and the world was becoming aware of our instructional philosophy through our involvement in the semiannual international Interski meetings. Skiing for the general public was also beginning to mature and grow through the influence of magazine publications, films and TV. In this latter venue much of the material was provided by a small group of very imaginative and high energy skiers known at that time as “Freestylers.”
One of the most colorful of these was Wayne Wong a Northwestern native (if you count BC as part of the Northwest). His long black hair, sun glasses, bandanna, winning smile and flashy skiing caught the imagination of the skiing public including me. I spent a lot of time in the early ‘70s trying to master his style and tricks (the worm turn was about my only success). Wayne was Certified by the Canadian Ski Instructors Alliance at the age of 16 and in 1975 he was part of the Canadian Inter-Ski Demo team. He won the first “Freestyler of the Year” award in 1972, was Europa Cup champion in 1973, Rocky Mountain freestyle champ in 1973 and Japan International Freestyle champion in 1975. If you check out the latest Winter 2011 issue of 32 Degrees you’ll see some vintage photos of that era. He was inducted into the Canadian Ski Hall of Fame in April 2009 for his influence on skiing culture. Wayne continues to be actively involved in the ski industry and hasn’t lost much of his ability, stability and flash over all the years as can be seen in the accompanying photos. It was truly a memorable experience skiing with him for the day.
The reason we were able to spend the day with Wayne was that he is promoting a ski line that is viewed as the next step into the future of skiing. He and Anton Wilson were at Winter Park for the SIA show demonstrating their new line of skis (www.antonskis.com). To be perfectly correct, they would be better described as a ski with a built in suspension system shown in the photo below. This was developed by Anton in an effort to get a better ride on skis and to enable the user to more easily make carved turns. The ski is a shaped wood core wet glass wrap which is quite soft in both flex and torsion. A suspension system is mounted to this ski which consists of an adjustable base plate upon which the bindings are mounted and a composite spring system anchored near the tip and tail of the ski. The base plate can be adjusted to put more load into the tip and tail which also increases the camber of the unloaded ski. The combination is an adjustable ski with a range of characteristics intended to make the ride smother and keep more of the ski in contact with the snow especially while turning.
We got to spend the day skiing with Wayne and Anton exploring the design on the groomed runs, in the trees and in the bumps. During that time, Wayne spent time coaching some of the group on achieving more efficient movements to get more performance out of the skis. Midway through the day we started to play with the adjustment mechanism so that we could experience the performance differences. I found that on the softest setting the system was quite responsive and very stable at moderate speeds on soft snow and in the bumps. The turns for the most part were carved and required very little in the way of extreme stances or movements to hold a nice arced turn. However, at higher speeds on steeper terrain they tended to be a bit unstable, chattered a bit and it was difficult to hold the intended line. In the afternoon, after increasing the stiffness through the adjustments in the suspension system these latter turns in the steeper terrain were much more comfortable.
On the whole, the ski/suspension system seems to perform as described by Wayne and Anton. It is likely that, if these catch on, the general public may find something of this nature a less challenging way to experience efficient skiing movements early in their learning experience. Such innovations may be able to bring more growth and retention in the skiing population. However it must be noted that currently these skis are in the “designer” category of skis due to their high price point which is driven primarily by the intensive touch labor required to install the suspension system. I for one will watch the development and acceptance of these in the market place. In the meantime, I was lucky enough to spend the day experiencing a hint of the future.
[connections_list id=90 template_name=”div_staff_bio”]
Text by Greg Dixon Photos by Zack Jones
I was first introduced the term “flex drive” while in a track clinic with David Lawrence, currently a member of the PSIA National Nordic Team, a few years back. The topic at hand was that of propulsion, and how track skiers utilize both extension as well as flexion movements to create additional glide on their skis. Not having the benefit of constant vertical descent and thus often opposing gravitational forces, it is important that track skiers direct every movement they make in an efficient manner to maximize glide. The extension movement is a more obvious one. As you “push” off a leg or extend your arms to pole you move your body forward. As important as the extension movements are, they are only one half of the equation, and will only get you so far so fast. The flexing movements are the other half of the picture that need to be utilized in order to increase performance.
The mechanics behind the flex drive, as it pertains to track skiing, is that as the skier extends off one leg they transfer their body weight to the new leg. As they land on the new leg they use flexing movements from the ankle, knee, hip, and spine to drive the center of mass forward and create a longer, continuous glide. When performed correctly the skier is able to utilize every movement they make to create forward motion, thus increasing efficiency and limiting the use of excess energy.
In the downhill ski world less emphasis is placed on how much energy we utilize when skiing down a run. With gravity creating all the propulsion needed, the downhill skier is often more concerned with speed control and how to avoid an excessive pace on any given slope. Instead of using all of their movements for forward motion, the downhill skier often tries to resist the directional pull of gravity and will utilize braking movements that send their body back and away from the desired direction of travel.
As gravitational pull is resisted, more and more energy is consumed by the skier that will often lead to exhaustion and limiting performance. Other detriments in utilizing braking movements are that the skier will often put themselves out of balance as they push themselves away from their skis. While out of balance the skier’s ability to create adjustments for terrain and remain in control are compromised. A cycle of inefficiency is created, where the skier tends to fight their way down the hill rather than flow with it.
The track concept of flex drive is one that can be as useful to the downhill skier as it is to the track skier. All the movements that are made should direct the skiers mass towards, rather than away from the desired direction of travel. As the downhill skier creates extension movements from their joints, those movements should direct the center of mass forward in order to keep up with the pace and path that the skis are taking through the snow.
From this extended alignment, the skier is open to utilize flexing movements to continue their path through the turn and maintain travel with the skis. Flexing from the ankles, knees, hips, and spine the skier can direct their center of mass in a forward manner and create propulsion through the finishing part of the turn. This will allow for a smoother ride over terrain, as balance is maintained over top the skis, and the ability to make adjustments is enhanced.
Speed control is dictated by the path you direct your skis through the snow rather than the use of exhausting braking movements. The ability to flow takes over the desire to fight.
At a basic level, the use of properly timed and directed flexing movements, simply help to maintain balance while in motion and increase efficiency in our ride. Beyond that, these movements can be utilized to enhance the performance and dynamic capacity of our skiing. As the track skiers use the flex drive to create additional propulsion, the downhill skier can use the same movement to generate speed, and allow for quicker entry from turn to turn. The skier can use the flexing of the joints to propel their mass forward and actually drive the skis rather than just stay on top of them. A deep ankle bend will allow the skiers mass to move closer to the tips of the skis, the closer to the tip the skier moves their mass the more they are driving the ski forward.
If the skier works this forward motion diagonally across the skis, as opposed to just forward, they will also be able enter the next turn with less effort, and will have greater ability to dictate what path their skis take through the next turn. It is this continual drive forward that creates fast, fluid, and agile skiers.
The idea of flex drive embodies the concept of efficient movements. All the movements that we attempt to make while creating our path across the snow should be done with the direct intention that they are useful to us and do not hinder us from our desired outcome. Consider this as you are creating your own path, what decisions are you making to direct yourself along your path and are they truly moving you in the direction you want to go.
Special thanks to Zack Jones for the photos. See his work at www.zackjonesphoto.com
[connections_list id=59 template_name=”div_staff_bio”]