As a youth development after school program, we use the bicycle as a tool to build resilience and develop social emotional learning in youth. To achieve this outcome, we employ a number of teaching methods, based on proven theories of learning and tools including the SAFE model, experiential learning and outcomes-based lesson plans.
Research shows that young people benefit from programs that intentionally focus on social and emotional learning in a process that guides them through a sequential series of engaging activities focused on the development of specific skills. According to CASEL, programs that make the greatest difference incorporate a “SAFE” approach - they are sequenced, active, focused and explicit. We have closely aligned our Earn-a-Bike program, known to the kids as ‘Bike Club,’ with this model to ensure we are reaching our outcomes.
Our program activities are sequenced and built from easiest to hardest to help the young people achieve progressive skills. We always start our sessions with an opening circle and end with a closing circle so that there is a rhythm to our program that gives it a simple, consistent and familiar sequence to encourage comfort and promote a safe learning environment. Each week we address increasingly complex issues and discussion topics. The mechanical skills part of our program starts with simple mechanics and builds to more complicated activities each week. New skills are broken down into smaller steps and mastered sequentially. Studies have shown that students do better when their educators have them practice the same thing over a spaced-out period of time. Our programs run for 10 weeks, which gives the kids ample time to practice the knowledge and skills thatthey have learned while also allowing our facilitators plenty of opportunity to check for understanding.
Best practice in social and emotional learning suggests that after school programs should have active forms of learning with minimal lecturing. On average youth in Bike Club spend 70% of time in activity, playing games and practicing bike mechanics. We use a facilitator, rather than lecturer, style of teaching in our programs, which promotes self-learning and helps students develop critical thinking skills. By using this style of teaching, we train students to ask questions and help them to find solutions through exploration. This is harder to do than simply lecturing facts and testing memorized information, but it contributes to a much longer-term retention of knowledge and skills.
This describes the presence of at least one program component focused on developing personal or social skills. Beyond bike mechanics, our programs have a theme each week where the youth discuss topics such as community, empathy, motivation and friendship. We use closing circles as a discussion forum for these topics as well as a way to confirm learning outcomes. Questioning to check for understanding is an evidence-based teaching strategy that has been shown to improve student results. One of our favourite ways to do this is by playing “Rock, Stick & Leaf” where each student has to share something that ‘rocked’ about Bike Club, something that will ‘stick’ with them and something they wish to ‘leaf’ behind.
The most effective youth programs are specific about what they are trying to achieve. They are also clear about what has been achieved. Our opening and closing circles are a chance for us to discuss the outcomes with the kids so they are engaged in their own learning process. Even the games in our programs have a purpose – which we debrief post play-session. We also value feedback – both as a form of learning for the young people, but also as a form of learning for ourselves. Feedback is an essential part of effective learning. Our closing circles allow us to have a formal feedback structure for the young people, but we also give the kids surveys to ask for their feedback on our programing.
David Kolb published his model of learning in 1984, where he suggested that effective learning requires four stages: ‘(1) having a concrete experience followed by (2) observation of and reflection on that experience which leads to (3) the formation of abstract concepts (analysis) and generalizations (conclusions) which are then (4) used to test hypothesis in future situations, resulting in new experiences.’
Two Wheel View programs incorporate all elements of the experiential learning model, by giving the young people an opportunity for hands-on activities, such as the bike mechanics lessons as well as time for observation and reflection in closing circles. Subsequent sessions and opening circles in the 10-week program allow the youth to form theories and develop solutions for themselves, which they get to test in further activities.
Kraft & Sakofs identified four characteristics that further define experiential learning:
The learner is a participant rather than a spectator.
The learning activities require personal motivation in the form of energy, involvement and responsibility.
The learning activities are real and meaningful in terms of their consequences for the learner.
Reflection is a critical element of the learning process.
These characteristics are also incorporated into the program model for Bike Club. The youth are highly engaged in the program and as the weeks progress, they take on even more responsibility for the activities and their own learning. This helps them understand and reflect upon the link between the bike mechanic skills they gain and the social and emotional learning they develop.
Outcomes-based lesson plans
Having clarity about what you want young people to learn is important. In fact, research has shown that the effect of such clarity is about 32% greater than the effect of holding high expectations for students – which also has a significant impact on learning outcomes. Each session of the Earn-a-Bike Program has a dedicated theme and pre-determined learning outcomes. The goal of all activities within a particular session - the weekly mechanics activity, games, snacks and discussion circles – is to assist in the development of these specific outcomes. Sessions begin with an opening circle to explicitly identify and discuss the learning objectives with the young people and end with a closing circle to confirm learning outcomes. Graduation focuses on being part of the community and learning and sharing; not getting a ‘free’ bike.
Youth who complete Bike Club gain bike mechanic skills and earn a community-donated, recycled bicycle of their own, a brand new lock, bell and helmet, and an opportunity to participate in a TWV expedition. However, much more important than the bicycle are the other lessons they learn. While acquiring bicycle mechanic skills, youth will develop and practice social and emotional competences such as emotion management, empathy and teamwork. Development of these competencies leads to higher self-confidence and self-esteem in youth.
 Michigan State University. (2013). Sequenced, active, focused and explicit programs contribute to kids’ social and emotional learning. http://www.canr.msu.edu/news/sequenced_active_focused_and_explicit_programs_contribute_to_kids_social_an. Retrieved October 25, 2018.
 Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL). https://casel.org
 Donovan, J.J., & Radosevich, D.J. (1999). A meta-analytic review of the distribution of practice effect: Now you see it, now you don’t. Journal of Applied Psychology, 84(5), 795–805.
 Killian, S. (2015). Top 10 Evidence Based Teaching Strategies for Those Who Care About Student Results.
http://www.evidencebasedteaching.org.au/evidence-based-teaching-strategies/#footnote_3_752. Retrieved October 25, 2018.
 Bellon, J.J., Bellon, E.C. & Blank, M.A. (1991) Teaching from a Research Knowledge Base: a Development and Renewal Process. Facsimile edition. Prentice Hall, New Jersey, USA.
 Kolb, D. A. (1984). Experiential learning: Experience as the source of learning and development (Vol. 1). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
 Kraft, R., & Sakofs, M. (1985). The theory of experiential education. Association for Experiential Education, Boulder, CO.
 Hattie, J. (2008). Visible Learning: A Synthesis of Over 800 Meta-Analyses Relating to Achievement, and Robert Marzano’s Classroom Instruction That Works: Research-based Strategies for Improving Student Achievement. Routledge, Abingdon.