FAQ: Evaluation and more

Content | Development | Evidence | Evaluation | References


What's in the content of Tackling the Tough Skills?

Life skills

Tackling the Tough Skills covers critical life skills related to attitude, responsibility, communication, problem solving, preparing for the workplace, self-esteem, conflict resolution, anger management, dealing with stress, critical thinking and teamwork.


The curriculum contains five main chapters: Attitude, Responsibility, Communication, Problem Solving and Preparing for the Workplace. The curriculum is designed to build from beginning to end, with the initial focus on Attitude, but educators are free to use the whole book or any sections they want in whatever order. The curriculum offers a flexible format, easily adaptable to meet needs of a wide range of participants and to use within existing time limits. The curriculum has 247 pages in a convenient 3-ring binder, including 93 pages that may be copied by educators as handouts. The book is humorously illustrated, containing original hands-on activities that teach critical thinking skills through individual reflection, discussions, small group work, and role plays. Participants often have “a-ha” experiences, learning through their own discovery, rather than through lecturing.

Copyright restrictions

Tackling the Tough Skills™ is copyrighted. Only the five Addenda sections of the book (93 pages) may be photocopied by educators for classroom use only. No other portions of the book may be reproduced in any form.

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What's the history behind the development of Tackling the Tough Skills?


The curriculum had its origins in sweeping changes in the 1996 federal law that overhauled the U.S. welfare system (Moffitt, 2008). The reform was intended to move welfare recipients into the workforce, toward self-sufficiency and out of poverty. The State of Missouri asked University of Missouri Extension to develop a life skills program to help people transition from welfare to work. A 22-member planning team of campus and regional faculty and community partners conducted focus groups, searched literature and discussed approaches. The team determined five key areas: Attitude, Responsibility, Communication, Problem Solving/Decision Making, and Preparing for the Workplace. No resources were identified that addressed the affective aspects of Attitude and Responsibility in particular, so the team decided to develop a new curriculum. Rosilee Trotta, LCSW, of University of Missouri Extension, wrote the curriculum in 1998. Trotta created original activities to motivate and engage learners. She incorporated teaching techniques and hands-on activities based on her more than 30 years of experience working with and teaching low-income, under-educated adults and teens. Tackling the Tough Skills is a fun, innovative and highly interactive life skills curriculum published by University of Missouri Extension to help hard-to-reach adults or teens prepare for success in work and life. This original life skills curriculum was written in 1998 by Rosilee Trotta, LCSW, urban youth and family specialist with University of Missouri Extension. The curriculum was piloted from November 1998 through June 2000 in a three-week, 90-hour program called WorkWays™ to help adults in the St. Louis area transition from welfare to work. Since it was published in June 2000, Tackling the Tough Skills™ has been available as an educational resource to teach life skills or soft skills to adult and teens. The original book was revised in 2008 to include activities for both adults and teens. Due to popular demand for more teen activities, a teen edition was published in 2011 for exclusive use with teens. Both versions of the curriculum were updated in 2015.

Research-based foundation

  • Ecological model of family resiliency. The theoretical foundation of the curriculum is the ecological model of family resiliency, adapted by Silliman (1995) and based on work by Bronfenbrenner in 1979 and Dunst in 1988. In this model, the Individual is at the center, encircled by Family and then by Community, forming a support system against the stresses of life.
    Reference: Understanding resiliency. In Family Resiliency: Building Strengths to Meet Life's Challenges (CSREES-USDA, National Network for Family Resiliency, Children, Youth and Families Network, EDC-53, p. 3). 1995, July, B. Silliman (PDF)
  • Resiliency factors. Coming from a “strengths perspective,” research has identified 11 resiliency factors taught in the curriculum that are in two categories: “personality related” factors that help a person be adaptive and “interpersonally related” factors, which are protective. The curriculum teaches essential life skills for individuals to improve relationships at home, work, school, and in the community. By learning these critical life skills, individuals increase confidence in their abilities and are more likely to succeed in work and life.
    Reference: "Research Challenge: Developing a Comprehensive Approach to Evaluating a Practice-Generated Extension Life Skills Curriculum for Hard-to-Reach Adults and Teens," 2006, R. Miller.

Pilot testing

The curriculum was pilot tested November 1998 through June 2000 in a new program called WorkWays, helping welfare recipients in St. Louis transition from welfare to work. Rosilee Trotta, the curriculum's author, served as program director. This three-week program met federal requirements for training welfare recipients, providing instruction six hours per day, five days per week, for a total of 90 hours. By the time the program ended, WorkWays had impacted 193 people in St. Louis, with 145 completing the program.

Two book versions

  • Tackling the Tough Skills: A Curriculum Building Skills for Work and Life
    • CB 13 (For Adults and Older Teens): Original (2000), Revised (2008), Third Edition (2015) 
    • After WorkWays ended in June 2000, the curriculum was published by University of Missouri Extension under the new name, Tackling the Tough Skills: A Curriculum Building Skills for Work and Life. Books have been purchased for use in a wide variety of organizations, agencies, schools, churches and educational programs from all 50 states and numerous countries and territories. The book was revised in 2008 and updated in 2015. This version, known as "CB 13," is for use with adults and older teens.  
  • Tackling the Tough Skills for Teens: A Curriculum Building Skills for Work and Life.
    • CB 22 (For Younger Teens): Original (2011), Second Edition (2015) 
    • This version includes the same basic content and activities as the book,but it is targeted  for use with younger teens. The recommended minimum age is 12 years old (middle school). 

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Is Tackling the Tough Skills evidence-based?

Evidence-based education

According to the U.S. Department of Education’s (DOE) definition, the answer is yes. DOE defines “evidence-based education” as “the integration of professional wisdom with the best available empirical evidence [italics added] in making decisions about how to deliver instruction” (Smith, 2003). “Professional wisdom” is defined as judgment individuals acquire through experience. The “best available empirical evidence” means evidence that education “works” may vary and may not always be available. Consequently, educators may need to develop new materials. This was the case with Tackling the Tough Skills™, which was developed to address a specific need for life skills instruction when other resources could not be found. Moving from practice to research, original instructional materials can later be tested to obtain impact evidence. Tackling the Tough Skills™ covers critical life skills related to attitude, responsibility, communication, problem solving, preparing for the workplace, self-esteem, conflict resolution, anger management, dealing with stress, critical thinking and teamwork. Current evidence that the curriculum positively impacts participants’ lives is based on observation and feedback from educators who use the curriculum and feedback from participants, as opposed to random, scientific experimental design.

Evidence of positive impact of Tackling the Tough Skills

  • Varied audiences. Since 2000, Tackling the Tough Skills has been available for purchase by anyone interested in using the curriculum with a group of learners. We have received feedback from educators using the curriculum with diverse audiences of hard-to-reach adults and at-risk teens across the United States and in other countries. The overwhelming response is that Tackling the Tough Skills improves lives and often results in life-changing experiences for participants. We have seen first-hand and heard from educators that it reaches people who were previously hard-to-reach, as well as impacting employees and managers in a corporate healthcare setting. Tackling the Tough Skills was adopted several years ago by National 4-H as one of the life skills curricula used to train 4-H adult leaders of youth. Read comments we've received from educators and participants. On this website are comments from specific audiences impacted, including healthcare workers and managers, ex-offenders, prisoners, unemployed, individuals transitioning from welfare to work and youth.
  • Doctoral study, healthcare workers and managers in a corporate setting (in progress). Since September 2007, Tackling the Tough Skills has been used to teach life skills and emotional intelligence skills to hourly workers and managers in a corporate healthcare setting. The focus of the research is to better understand the experience of healthcare employees enrolled in the class. The course has been integrated into that institution's ongoing employee educational program. The response has been overwhelmingly positive from educators, employees and managers. The study is being conducted by Roxanne T. Miller, Ph.D. Candidate in Adult Education, University of Missouri-St. Louis. 
  • Feedback from Training Program for Trainers. From March 2008 to June 2013, Rosilee Trotta taught a 12-hour Dean's Certificate Program for Trainers at University of Missouri-St. Louis in using the Tackling the Tough Skills curriculum. Many educators and program administrators who participated have used the curriculum for a period of time. They have shared success stories about the impact on their clients of diverse backgrounds and situations.
  • Feedback: Classes with black youth, Soweto Township, South Africa. The Tackling the Tough Skills curriculum has been adapted for use with black youth in the Soweto Township of South Africa. An educator found the curriculum on the Internet and corresponded with Rosilee Trotta for assistance in targeting the curriculum to the youth. Classes started in 2008 and are ongoing. The educator is teaching the youth how to go from their "comfort zone" to a "growth zone," rather than immediately moving into a "fight zone" as they have typically done. The educator also addresses cultural issues he encountered in trying to teach "attitude" concepts to youth whose language did not have a word for "attitude." 
  • Ex-offender group interview, qualitative evaluation. This is a transcript of a 10-minute group interview Roxanne Miller conducted with 10 male and female ex-offenders in St. Louis at the beginning of the 5th week of a 12-week class taught by Rosilee Trotta, the curriculum's author. At the time of this interview, the participants had received 2 weeks of training from the Attitude chapter and 2 weeks from the Responsibility chapter.
  • Qualitative study of insights of three educators who used Tackling the Tough Skills. This is a summary of findings from the study Roxanne Miller conducted as a project in a doctoral qualitative research course. Three educators were interviewed who used the curriculum with various types of audiences, including adults and teens, for varying lengths of programs.
  • Global Peace Festival Foundation's Character Competencies Program with Teens, Atlanta, GA. Evaluation results from 20 hours of character competencies training using Tackling the Tough Skills with 300 teens and young adults during a 2010 summer employment program, funded by a multi-level federal, state, City of Atlanta and nonprofit partnership.

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What evaluations of the curriculum were done during pilot testing to determine effectiveness?

  • Evaluation of WorkWays™ Short-Term Impact, First Year (1999). (PDF)
    • Overview. Kim (1999) conducted an evaluation at the end of the first year to determine the short-term impact of WorkWays™. The main objective of the educational program was to raise the participants’ levels of the five key curriculum areas: attitude toward oneself, responsibility, communication, problem solving and career planning. Due to limited resources, the one-group pretest-posttest design was used. Qualitative group interviews were also conducted.
    • Findings. Kim (1999) summarized his findings as follows:

      The WorkWays Educational Program provided the opportunity for welfare recipients to improve their skills necessary to be successful in the work environment and to meet the resulting challenges of home, family, and community. The evaluation demonstrated that exposure to the Educational Program resulted in a significant improvement in the four key curriculum areas, Attitude toward Oneself, Communication, Problem Solving, and Career Planning. Significance of the improvement in the fifth curriculum area, Responsibility, was inconclusive due to the conflicting findings between the results of the questionnaires and the educators’ reports. Group interview data also showed positive changes in the key curriculum areas. Participants indicated that because of the Educational Program, they had a “better chance of finding a job.” In addition, a high completion rate (82%) is an indicator of a successful program (p. 13).
  • Final Evaluation of WorkWays™ Program (2000). (PDF)
    • Overview. Treffeisen (2000) determined the impact of the WorkWays™ education program on 53 participants who completed the program. The qualitative data was collected through telephone interviews. Results showed the following impact:
      • Progress toward self-sufficiency. Participants showed evidence of improving key skills leading to self-sufficiency as individuals, family members, employees and members of the community.
      • Improved parenting skills and family relationships. Almost half of those interviewed reported improving parenting skills and relationships with their children.
      • More positive attitude and increased ability to control anger. More than one-third reported they were learning to control anger and were developing a positive attitude toward others rather than continuing to be confrontational and angry.
      • Improved relationships and involvement in the community.
    • Participant comments.
      • “It helped me to keep my family together. I just don’t get mad anymore, but try to find out what the problem is and how to solve it."
      • “Three weeks is not long enough. I walked away with a lot more than I came here with. And that is going to keep me going for the rest of my life because now I know how to handle certain issues that I didn’t know how to deal with before.”
      • “I’m glad I was selected for WorkWays™ because it changed my life by leaps and bounds.”
      • “Coming to this class helped me realize that every problem has a solution and there is help available if you ask.”
      • “It taught me how to be a better parent. I spend time playing with my daughter, I didn’t do that before [WorkWays™].”
      • “I’m doing more educational things with my kids such as taking them to the library.”
      • “I learned to deal with my teenagers — not to scream at them but to talk with them and have understanding.”
      • “I learned the importance of responsibility and commitment and most of all I learned the importance of communication with people."
      • “It was like I woke up from a trance and reentered the living — oh, I can do something to improve my situation.”

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Kim, S. (1999, August 16). WorkWays: Evaluation of Educational Program — Short Term Impact, First Annual Report 1998-1999. Unpublished manuscript, Division of Educational Psychology, Research and Evaluation, School of Education, University of Missouri-St. Louis.

Miller, R. T. (2006). Research challenge: Developing a comprehensive approach to evaluating a practice-generated extension life skills curriculum for hard-to-reach adults and teens. In E. P. Isaac (Ed.), Proceedings of the 2006 Midwest Research-to-Practice Conference in Adult, Continuing, Extension, and Community Education, “Impacting Adult Learners Near and Far,” Special 25th Anniversary Conference (pp. 133-138). University of Missouri-St. Louis.

Moffitt, R. (2008, Summer-Fall). A primer on U.S. welfare reform. Focus, 26(1), 15-25. Retrieved from http://www.irp.wisc.edu/publications/focus.htm

Silliman, B. (1995, July). Understanding resiliency. In Family resiliency: Building strengths to meet life’s challenges (CSREES-USDA, National Network for Family Resiliency, Children, Youth and Families Network, EDC-53, p. 3). Ames, IA: Iowa State University Extension. Retrieved from Wellness Proposals website: http://www.wellnessproposals.com/stress/stress-pdfs/stress-management-family-resiliency.pdf

Smith, A. (2003, Fall). Scientifically based research and evidence-based education: A federal policy context. In Research & Practice for Persons with Severe Disabilities, 28(3), 126-132.

Treffeisen, S. (2000, July). Evaluation of the WorkWays Project. Overland Park, KS: Research & Training Associates, Inc.

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