Teaching Landing Patterns Using Backward Chaining

In the USPA Coach Certification Course, candidates learn a strategy for presenting material to their students called “backward chaining.” This method involves presenting concepts from the end result, working backward step by step and then putting the concepts together as a whole. Backward chaining works particularly well for teaching landing patterns, because skydivers naturally work backward (from where they want to land) when deciding on their landing approaches.

The following is an example lesson using backward chaining that is geared toward jumpers making their first solo canopy flights. (You may notice that it also uses another strategy taught in the coach course, the whole-part-whole method.) For this lesson you’ll simply need dry-erase markers to use on an aerial map of your DZ. The bullet-pointed sentences below represent questions you should ask your student.

Explain
First, tell your student what he will be learning by saying something like, “Now we will address the landing pattern, that is, what tasks you perform when you are landing your canopy, specifically from 1,000 feet to the ground. By the end of this section, you will have correctly drawn out five landing patterns based on different conditions.”

  • Why might flying a designated landing pattern be important?

Demonstrate
On the aerial map, draw a normal landing pattern from 1,000 feet to the ground. Briefly note how to use the windsock for direction indication, the names of each leg (downwind, base and final) and the altitude at which each should begin, and designate the target. Resist the urge to go into a lot of detail. At first, students need only the big picture: what their goal is and what their end result needs to be (the first “whole” in whole-part-whole). Details (“part”) come during practice.

Practice
Now have your student actively participate using the marker and map:

  • Circle the intended landing area, the target you are aiming for.
  • If the windsock indicates wind is mostly from the south, draw your final approach leg in the direction you will fly it.
  • By what altitude are you starting final? (Point to the spot on the aerial map that the student should be at 300 feet.)
  • Where and by what altitude do you start to fly your base leg? (Have the student mark where he should be at 600 feet.)
  • Draw your base leg.
  • Where and at what altitude do you enter the pattern? (Have the student mark where he should be at 1,000 feet.)
  • Draw your downwind leg.

After backward chaining each part from the end result (landing at the intended target) to the beginning (entering the pattern), ask the student to bring the parts together into a whole:

  • Draw a landing pattern as if winds are from the south, starting with the downwind leg, then base, then final, and recite the altitudes as you do so.

Then have the student backward chain a landing pattern with winds from the north using the same steps. Once he’s successfully done so, you can check his comprehension of the topic by asking:

  • What if you find yourself quite high halfway through the downwind leg? (Have the student draw the whole pattern and check that the downwind leg swings out slightly.)
  • What if you find yourself quite high when you are entering the base leg? (Have the student draw the whole pattern and check that the base leg is angled downwind.)
  • What if you find yourself at an incorrect point at 600 feet when you are entering the base leg? (Have the student draw the whole pattern and check that the base leg is angled upwind.)
  • What if you find yourself quite high on final?
  • On final, if it appears that your target is moving toward you, where will you land in relation to it?
  • On final, if it appears that your target is moving away from you, where will you land in relation to it?
  • If the target does not appear to be moving, where will you land in relation to it?

At this point, review the material, compare the student’s goals to his performance, and ask questions that require him to seek a deeper understanding of concepts such as:

  • Thinking of what “traffic” means when you’re driving your car, can you guess how “landing pattern” and “traffic pattern” are different?

This lesson plan is effective, asks many questions of the student, gives a lot of guided practice and tests for higher levels of comprehension, all while taking up very little time.

—Jen Sharp | D-17516
Instructor Examiner Rating Course Director,
AFF Instructor, Tandem Instructor and Coach Examiner,
DZO, Skydive Kansas in Osage City

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