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March 16, 2017

Phillip A. Collazo, MSEd., Education & Training Specialist, Kids Included Together

Knowing a little about biology and brain chemistry can make a big difference in helping students lower their stress levels. Here’s a promise: You won’t need to memorize formulas or spend hours in special classes. As 21st CCLC practitioners, you work in the ideal environment to build pleasure into learning.

What Research Says

According to research conducted by Dr. Stuart Shanker, stress ranks as one of the greatest barriers to learning. He wrote extensively about decline in the mental and physical well-being of U.S. children due to stress. 

When humans experience stress, our bodies produce cortisol, which some call the “stress hormone.” High levels of cortisol have been linked to “increased anxiety, depression and challenging behaviors in children and youth” (Ruttle et al., 2011), and to “higher risk for developing learning difficulties or impaired cognitive abilities” (Suor et al., 2015).

Our bodies can balance the negative effects of stress by producing endorphins, or “feel-good” chemicals. Fun, active and engaging activities that also encourage positive social interactions are some of the easiest and healthiest ways to activate endorphins and reduce classroom stress. Both exercise and relaxation can help. 

In an ideal world, children and youth would spend their days learning at their own pace, while also having fun in and out of school. In reality, curriculums, learning objectives and high-stakes tests often control the content and pace of the school day. How can we help children reduce stress and make learning more fun? Here are two strategies that work well together.

Stress Reduction Part 1: Manage Time to Match Focus

This solution involves managing time by strategically grouping content — what Preston (2013) calls “activity chunking.” Many educators have successfully used versions of this strategy for years. 

Start by setting realistic and achievable expectations. Consider your students’ natural attention span, and chunk activities accordingly. Preston recommends calculating the average focus time of students by adding five minutes to their age. For example, the average six-year-old should be able to attend to an 11-minute lesson. Psychologists, scientists and researchers hold varied opinions on attention span, with estimates ranging between 15 and 40 minutes (Briggs, 2014).

For tasks that can complement academic content while still giving students a chance for a break, incorporate activity centers into your program. With common classroom materials you can plan quick exercises that develop key STEM and literacy skills. With these suggested STEM and reading activities, you can “chunk” in as needed to help students refocus.

Stress Reduction Part 2: Activate Senses to Feel Good

Plan activities that capture your learners’ interests, and then play to their strengths. According to Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences (1991), we all have “a unique blend of capabilities and skills (intelligences).” Plan activities and short breaks that use a “six-sense” approach. Look for ways to get students to use their eyes, ears/voice, fingers, muscles, balance and social skills. End it all by encouraging the group to take two deep breaths together. The sensory activities release those feel-good endorphins and help students refocus for their next learning activity.

Here are a few ideas for building the senses into activities and breaks:

- Ask young students to act out characters when they read a story aloud. Older students may enjoy dramatic readings of poetry or plays. Don’t be shy: add a musical soundtrack with some group humming to keep the beat.
- Stand up and “shake your wiggles out” now and then.
- Play a creative game of Acrobat-Simon-Says, use call-and-response chants, or create finger play songs.
- For older students, include time for meaningful socializing by encouraging share-outs, group polling or content debates.
- Play games like “I Spy” or practice yoga poses. See “Tips for Helping Your Child Focus and Concentrate” from PBS Parents for more ideas.​

Everyone Benefits

Fun, active and engaging activities that benefit students can also benefit the adults in your program. Chunking activities can help you organize so you provide better support to help students meet academic goals. Managing time frames and achieving small goals increases educators’ sense of accomplishment, just like for students. Best of all, these strategies work for students of all abilities and can help make your program more inclusive. 


Resources
For information on creating an inclusive setting that welcomes students with disabilities, visit the Implementation Guides section of Y4Y to find resources on addressing individual needs, engaging all learners, supporting social-emotional development and other topics.

References
Briggs, S. (2014). The science of attention: How to capture and hold the attention of easily distracted students. Retrieved from opencolleges.edu
Northern Illinois University, Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center. (2009). Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences. Summary. Retrieved from facdev.niu.edu
Preston, J. (2013). Increasing attention span and engagement in the classroom through chunking: A method that works for all grades. Retrieved from brighthubeducation.com
Ruttle, P. L., Shirtcliff, E. A., Serbin, L. A., Fisher, D. B., Stack, D. M., & Schwartzman, A. E. (2011). Disentangling psychobiological mechanisms underlying internalizing and externalizing behaviors in youth: Longitudinal and concurrent associations with cortisol. Hormones and Behaviors 59 (1), pp. 123-132.
Suor, J. H., Sturge-Apple, M. L., Davies, P. T., Cicchetti, D., & Manning, L. G. (2015). Tracing differential pathways of risk: Associations among family adversity, cortisol, and cognitive functioning in childhood. Child Development 86 (4), pp. 1142-1158. 

 



January 19, 2017

The right trainings don't just broaden skill sets – they help your staff achieve their full professional and personal potential. But finding time to incorporate professional learning into your program can be a challenge.  Fortunately, Y4Y can help.

Our Trainings to Go tools allow you to develop a professional learning strategy that matches your staff's needs. These guides include everything you need for a productive learning session: slides with customizable content, handouts and a suggested script outline. Most lessons take about an hour to complete, and provide practical, hands-on tips for integrating new ideas into daily activities.

In each of the Y4Y courses you’ll find Trainings to Go that target topics important to your program. Do you want to be more active in promoting understanding of STEM topics for your students? Try the STEM Every Day Training to Go. Are you hoping to make new strategic partnerships in the coming year? The Recruit Partners Training to Go is for you. Want to make literacy skills a priority in your program? Start with the Five Components of Reading Training to Go.

Whether it starts with a resolution for the New Year or a reality check with yourself and your staff, professional learning belongs on your to-do list. Spend a little time now to plan professional learning events for your program. The benefits to staff and students will more than repay the effort!

 



December 16, 2016

It’s not too soon to begin reviewing your program data – especially around this time of year. So, take a moment to review some tips on using data to make your program stronger and your students more prepared for college and their careers.

Check out archived sessions from the 2016 21st CCLC Summer Institute for helpful guidance on several areas of program management. For data use, go to Plenary Session 4, which discusses using data to demonstrate and improve alignment with the school day. The session offers plenty of useful information, but if you’re in a hurry, jump to the timecodes below for a few quick takeaways to help you use data to improve program outcomes:

[12:17-15:44] Consider using a logic model to illustrate the intended result of a new season of programming. Then, capture data so you can see which factors really make a difference for student outcomes. The logic model can also help explain your program’s goals and successes to parents, community partners and other audiences.

[24:30-24:56] Look closely at your data to see how successfully you’ve promoted staff professional development, built partnerships and aligned program content with the school day. These practices can be powerful levers to improve student outcomes.

[27:36-29:33] Work with your state’s afterschool network to find ways to effectively leverage data from your program and other programs in your state. You can find information about your state’s afterschool network from these websites: the Afterschool Alliance and The Power of Afterschool.

[35:25-37:18] Keep the lines of communication open between your program and your partner school district by using teacher-staff meetings, surveys and tools that facilitate information exchanges and drive mutual support. The more you know about the school day, the better you’ll be able to create action plans that support students.

 

 



November 21, 2016

Monique McDowell-Russell, Y4Y Lead Education Specialist

“Every little step” is more than a song lyric. It can be a mantra for high school students making the transition into the “world out there.” In 21st CCLC programs, we have the challenge and pleasure of helping students develop a path to what they want to do after graduation. While the new Y4Y course on College and Career Readiness can help us set high expectations for students of all ages, this is especially urgent for students who are nearing the end of their K-12 experience.

So, how do we plan? Here are some tips for ways to get — and keep — your teenage students on track for postsecondary success.

 

What we can do as professionals:

- Create a one-page document, with your program logo, that provides information on where to get help with financial aid and other services (both in and out of state) for high school seniors and college students.
- Collaborate with the high school to promote an event for families that explains how to apply for financial aid.
- Post flyers about job fairs and help students explore job opportunities.
- Identify tour opportunities for vocational and technical schools, colleges and universities, and help to arrange field trips for students and parents.
- Invite staff and students from vocational and technical schools, colleges and universities to speak at your programs. Don’t worry; it’s free. Invite parents and guardians to come, too.
- Help to develop or implement transition plans and services for students with disabilities. Parents can invite you to join the planning team, so consult with them about being included and ask them to suggest ways your program can support their child’s dreams for the future.
- Work with the district’s special education office to understand the diploma options available for students with special needs.
- Always keep your door open for a conversation!

 

What students can do:

- Create a list of interests and activities they enjoy doing, then reflect on how these connect to college and career choices.
- Create a list of vocational and technical schools, colleges and universities they may be interested in.
- Write down their questions and raise them during group discussions. There are no wrong questions!
- Keep parents and guardians in the loop.

 

What we can do together:

In a word, communicate! Try to meet once a week during program hours either in a group or one-on-one. Focus discussions on student questions and concerns. Hold some sessions at convenient times for parents, so they can become more knowledgeable.

 

More Y4Y resources to consult:

College and Career Readiness Tips for Families

Guiding Questions for College and Career Readiness Partnerships 

College and Career Readiness Research Brief

 

Graduation is a big step for high school students, but remember: every little step to get there counts, too!

 



October 17, 2016

Congratulations – you’ve completed the first month of the new school year! By now, you’re probably settling into a program routine. Maintaining consistency is great for educators and students alike — as long as it supports your program goals. To get the best results for students, think of consistency as an element of program fidelity. Fortunately, you can achieve fidelity in many ways, including using project-based learning or specific approaches that support literacy. Whatever path you choose, staying true to program design helps students gain proven benefits backed by years of research.

If you’re pressed for time, check out Y4Y’s Click & Go 3 for a mini-lesson covering the key concepts of fidelity of implementation. It also provides tools to help you plan for success and measure progress, answers to frequently asked questions and more. For an in-depth presentation from Y4Y experts, watch the Y4Y Showcase: Implementing Your Program With Fidelity. You’ll learn more about using Click & Go resources to train staff and stay on track, and hear what successful 21st CCLC programs have done to maintain fidelity of implementation.

Don’t let your good intentions and careful planning blow away like fall leaves. Stay true to program content to give your students the quality experiences they deserve.