The Theory Behind the Game and Curriculum, Branch Out!®

Molly J. Foote, M.Ed., NCC

Branch Out!® is designed to facilitate self-discovery, connection with others, appreciation of diversity, and recognition of the unique strengths and abilities of each player. Through Branch Out!®, we hope to empower individuals to nurture their own growth and the growth of others. The symbol of a tree is used to help players visualize personal growth. As a tree has branches, we too have various facets of ourselves to discover and nurture. Players explore together their branches (facets of self) and roots (the aspects of our lives that provide nourishment and support).

Players sit in a circle surrounding the fabric game board, which displays an image of a leafless tree. As players answer questions about themselves, they place a cloth leaf on the tree to demonstrate their sharing and contribution to the group. Other players who would have answered similarly, place a leaf on as well, to symbolize the commonality that exists among them.



The Branch Out!® game and curriculum has five main areas of focus: empowerment, career development, prosocial skills, diversity appreciation, and community building.


Empowerment: Activities are designed to assist players in acknowledging and recognizing personal strengths and the strengths of those around them. Players are asked to look at themselves as a growing plant─exploring ways they can nurture their own growth and development while nurturing belief in their capabilities. Resiliency is fostered by assisting players in discovering how they can take an active role in creating an environment that is conducive to personal growth. Our hope is to assist individuals in discovering, developing, and nurturing themselves so that, just as a well-grounded tree endures rough weather, they endure the challenges that come their way.

Career Development: Questions for the game are based on six different categories:
  • Work
  • School
  • Home
  • Abilities and Interests
  • Favorites
  • Feelings
The categories were developed based on the career development theory contributions of Parsons, Holland, Super, and Gysbers. Their efforts in career development emphasize the importance of exploring the "whole" person, knowing oneself, ones values, strengths, skills, limitations, experience, education, personality, and dreams. As a result, Branch Out!® game questions are designed to assist players in exploring all aspects of self.


Prosocial Skills: In playing the game, Branch Out!®, players are asked to listen to one another and acknowledge the strengths that each player contributes to the group. Play is varied as a groups' comfort and understanding of one another is better established. In the beginning a player will answer his/her question one at a time. As the comfort level increases, players are asked to withhold their answer while the group discusses what his/her answer may be. By doing so, individuals are given the opportunity to hear from their peers how they are perceived.

According to Cooley (1902), an individual's sense of self is primarily formed as a result of their perceptions of how others perceive them. By having the other players at the board reflect out loud their perceptions of a player, the player gains information that may contribute to his/her sense of self. Players are given the opportunity to practice the skills of listening, empathy, self-expression, sharing, taking turns, self-evaluation, and working collectively as a team.

The environment that we attempt to create when playing Branch Out!® and completing curriculum activities is based on the premise of Carl Rogers "Person-Centered Therapy". C. Rogers (1951) found that when clients received congruence, warmth, acceptance, empathy, and were in a trusting environment, they developed more positive and realistic self-concepts and became more self-expressive and self-directed. As a result, Branch Out!® activities are designed to create a positive, safe environment where players are respected and honored for what they share and are given the opportunity to discover their personal value.


Diversity Appreciation: The value of diversity is explored through curriculum activities and in playing the game. Production of the game also models appreciation for diversity by displaying on the back of each game board, "The Hands Behind Branch Out!®" Each member of production is represented by having a hand with his/her name screen printed on the back of each board. The hands are displayed to honor the diversity that exists among us and acknowledge the individuals that contributed their expertise and skills to the production of the game.

In experiencing the game and curriculum, players recognize and acknowledge the value that each individual brings to the group. Research suggests that awareness of self and others is an integral component in valuing diversity. (Wittmer, 1992) Branch Out!® provides an arena in which players can learn and develop appreciation for one another in a safe, non-threatening manner.


Community Building: According to Abraham Maslow, all individuals have a hierarchy of needs. Maslow suggested that the needs of human beings could be divided into five different levels. He suggested that people do not satisfy the needs of the higher levels until the needs of the lower levels are met. The five levels of need that Maslow identified are:
  • Physiological
  • Safety/Security
  • Belonging/Social Affiliation
  • Self-esteem
  • Self-actualization
(Kunc, 1992). Branch Out!® provides an avenue for players to develop a sense of belonging. Through playing, players acknowledge the similarities that exist among them and make connections with one another. Maslow's theory suggests that we are unable to develop self-esteem unless we have met physiological, safety, and belonging needs. Branch Out!® allows players to gain respect and recognition from others which, according to Maslow, is conducive to developing self-esteem.

Another component in developing self-esteem is self-efficacy. A. Bandura, defined four main influences on the development of self-efficacy as being:
  • Mastery experiences (personal successes, those described as the most authentic and powerful experiences)
  • Vicarious experiences (those that result from observing social models)
  • Social persuasion (positive verbal appraisals/feedback offered by others)
  • Self-feedback based on physiological and emotional states
(Bandura, 1986 ) In playing Branch Out!®, we hope to offer players the opportunity to experience the four main influences on the development of self-efficacy that Bandura defined. Players are asked to reflect on personal success, observe one another, provide and gain verbal appraisals by peers, and provide feedback for oneself regarding feelings and experiences.


Through Branch Out!®, we hope to promote authenticity, self-awareness, appreciation of others, the power of community, and the value in pursuing one's passions.

Game facilitators are given the opportunity to observe and assess players' social skills, self-awareness, and abilities to acknowledge personal strengths. In playing Branch Out!®, facilitators can observe which players may be struggling with esteem issues, who doesn't want to share, who is going out of his/her way to share, etc. In addition to this general assessment based on how players are interacting with one another, facilitators also gain information based on what players' share when answering game questions. (i.e. who struggles coming up with an answer, who has difficulty acknowledging strengths, etc.) Information is also gained from the content of what players' share.

For example, while playing with a group of middle school boys, all of whom were struggling with school and were at risk of dropping out, a player got the question, "What are you most afraid of?" He answered, "My step-dad" at which point three other players said "me too" and placed a leaf on the tree. This experience allowed the group to further explore their fears regarding their step-dads. The boys were able to establish further understanding of one another and support each other in their efforts to resolve their home situations. The example described above demonstrates how question content has provided an opportunity to explore personal issues/conflicts.


References:

Bandura, A. (1986). Social Foundations of Thought and Action: A Social Cognitive Theory. Prentiss-Hall, 1986.

Cooley, C.H. (1902). Human Nature and the Social Order. New York: Scribner.

Gysbers, N.C., & Henderson, P. (1994). Developing and Managing Your School Guidance Program (2nd ed.). Alexandria, VA: American Counseling Association.

Holland, J. L. (1985). Making vocational choices: A theory of vocational personalities and work environments (2nd ed.). Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall.

Kunc, N. (1992). "The Need to Belong: Rediscovering Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs." Axis Consultation and Training Ltd. (Originally published in: Villa, R., Thousand, J., Stainback, W. & Stainback, S. Restructuring for Caring & Effective Education. Baltimore: Paul Brookes, 1992.)

Maslow, A. (1970). Motivation and Personality. New York: Harper & Row.

Parsons, F (1909). Choosing a Vocation. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Rogers, C. (1951). Client-Centered Therapy. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Super, D. E. (1990). A Life-Span, Life-Space Approach to Career Development. In D. Brown & Brooks, L., Career Choice and Development (2nd ed.) (pp. 197-261). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Wittmer, J. (1992). Valuing Diversity in the Schools: The Counselor's Role. ERIC Clearinghouse on Counseling and Personnel Services Ann Arbor MI. ED347475.