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April 21, 2016

The end of the school year, with its exams and project deadlines, can be stressful for students and can definitely impact the quality of their out-of-school time experience. They may get frustrated, tired, discouraged or apathetic. When that happens, you might find it hard to engage them in program activities. Here are some surefire tips to provide support during this important time so students can try their best during the school day and in your program.

Recharge

Food: Students burn a lot of energy taking tests and finishing projects! Help teach kids healthy eating habits so they they have the energy they need to get through their day.

Fitness: After a long day of sitting, students may walk through your door with pent-up energy and emotions. Offer a mix of organized sports and recreation time at the beginning of your program so students can get blood flowing to the brain. Integrating movement such as dance or drumming into academic activities can also energize students and enhance learning; you can see these activities in a short video from the Y4Y Aligning With the School Day course.

Positive Affirmation: During stressful times, students may have negative feelings about themselves and their abilities. Encourage them by creating positive message packets, individualized for each student with study tips and small treats. You might also try having students create motivational messages for one another — for example, they could gather in small groups to create cheers or chants that get them fired up for the next day. Positive affirmation is important all the time. Learn more about it with the 5C’s of Positive Youth Development from Click & Go 2.

Remind

Fun Review Strategies: Sometimes students struggle because they are overwhelmed by what they don’t know or what they don’t remember. You can help students feel confident about what they do know, and help them remember important concepts, strategies and skills for the next day. Rather than having them sit quietly and review study materials, prepare interactive games such as Jeopardy or Bingo. Or, try a free online gaming platform like Kahoot to review concepts or skills. If science or math testing is coming up, consider using the Y4Y STEM Vocabulary Builder to refresh student understandings of concepts and processes. Make it fun by splitting into teams and using the terms to play charades or a Pictionary-style game.

Family Engagement: Because families are so important to student attitudes and well-being, help students by sending testing tips home through emails, newsletters or other methods. Tell family members they can contribute to student success by making sure students get enough sleep, exercise and healthy food before coming to school.  For more strategies on communicating with families, check out this video from the Y4Y Family Engagement course. 

Reflect

Circle Time: Sometimes students just need to vent about their mistakes or frustrations, and it can be powerful to hear from other students who have similar feelings or who provide encouragement. Creating space for students to share feelings will help them process their stressful experiences and learn from peers. To get everyone on the same page, use the Group Discussion Guidelines tool from Y4Y.

Active Reflection: This strategy is recommended in the Y4Y Project-Based Learning course, and it can be useful in a variety of situations. Adults can reflect with students to share experiences and thoughts about ways to cope with stress.

Individual Reflection: Provide a silent chalkboard or journaling station where students can express feelings nonverbally before or instead of talking in a group.

Don’t Forget . . . 

Students aren’t the only ones who might feel stress during the end of the school year. Be sure to take some time for yourself as well. Recharge by taking a walk after dinner. Remind yourself that the extra effort you make on behalf of young people can make a positive difference in their lives. Reflect on your experiences and feelings by journaling or talking with colleagues. Taking care of your own physical and mental health might be one of the best things you can do for the students you serve.



March 16, 2016

Teaching and learning are so complex that reducing them to “thinking + doing + differentiation = improved learning” oversimplifies things. Still, it’s a useful formula for moving students to higher levels of learning. Let’s look at how attention to thinking, doing and differentiation can improve learning in out-of-school time.

Thinking. Bloom’s Taxonomy names six levels of thinking. From lowest to highest, they are remembering, understanding, applying, analyzing, evaluating and creating. All levels are important, but students generally have fewer opportunities to call on the higher levels. This is where your 21st CCLC program can step up to the plate. (Download and listen to our 10-minute podcast, Using Bloom’s Taxonomy in Afterschool). To actively engage students in ways that call on more mental muscle, try project-based learning. Growing a flower garden and using the blooms to create bouquets for a community event will produce knowledge, skills and attitudes in a way that “book learning” alone can’t match.

Doing. Wait a minute, you might say. Creating is doing, so why is “creating” listed above as a level of thinking? Glad you asked! The technical answer is that Bloom’s Taxonomy actually calls the six levels “learning domains” instead of “levels of thinking.” So creating is a “learning domain.” But a more useful answer is that acting on what you know makes it real. For example, memorizing and understanding tips on parallel parking is not the same as applying that knowledge. You have to apply the tips behind the wheel before you or anyone else can analyze and evaluate your performance. Application of knowledge yields new understandings that can, in turn, improve performance (“next time, I’ll pull up farther before I back into the parking space”). Hands-on, minds-on learning creates a feedback loop that engages the whole child and keeps the learning going. 

Differentiation. The students in your program probably vary in age, interests and skill levels. You can adjust content, activities or the environment to ensure that every child stays engaged and benefits from participation. For the flower garden project mentioned earlier, a raised garden bed could accommodate the needs of a wheelchair-bound student. If a student is just starting to learn English, pairing him or her with a bilingual student can help. Here are some simple ways to meet diverse needs: Survey students about what they would like to learn and do, use pictures in addition to verbal instructions, give options for doing an activity (“work alone or with your group”), and create quiet spaces and activity areas where students can choose to go if they finish early or need a break. Activities should stretch students’ minds and abilities, but not overwhelm them. Observe what does and doesn’t work for each child.

In short, to facilitate learning for all students, make sure you can answer “yes” to these questions:
•    Do the students in your program have opportunities to analyze, evaluate and create? 
•    Are they asked to apply what they have learned? 
•    Do the content and activities keep them challenged but not overwhelmed?
These questions are relevant for all content, but they are a natural fit for activities in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Get inspired by a 2-minute video (from the Y4Y STEM Learn More Library) and see students and teachers describe what excites them about hands-on science.



February 22, 2016

Next month, spring arrives in Earth’s northern hemisphere, and with it days grow longer, temperatures warm, clocks spring forward, and new growth appears on trees and lawns. Use these and other seasonal events to build connections between everyday life and the concepts students learn during the school day. Find a quick introduction to this idea of “complementing versus replicating” by watching this video in Aligning With the School Day.

Thinking about the seasons, for example, where might you make connections to big ideas in learning standards? Start with Earth’s northern hemisphere, and consider how it differs from the southern hemisphere. There’s geography to consider, and astronomy, too; both offer a range of possible explorations, depending on student interests and grade levels.

Whether you serve elementary, middle or high school students, seasonal events present intriguing opportunities for exploration. More questions that might deserve exploration are these:

- Why do we adjust clocks forward and back in the spring and fall? Does everyone in the world do that?
- Why are there different time zones, and where does the “first” one start? How do time zones affect the way we do things?

The historical and cultural origins of seasonal practices and celebrations can be great jumping off points for engaging families and learning about other cultures.

- Are traditional practices different in countries where it’s warm all year than in countries that have distinct seasons?
- Now that some traditions and celebrations have been shared among many cultures, we may not see big differences from place to place and country to country — what has caused this “homogenization” and how does it change the way people from different places interact with one another?



September 9, 2013

Student-centered, or learner-driven, is the kind of environment you want your program to provide for youth. It’s also a great fit for 21st Century Community Learning Centers programs. Just take a look at this list of how your program can support students’ development, and you’ll see that a student-centered approach is a great match. You can also watch the Coach’s Commentary for a peek into a real program’s efforts to support student development and gain some tips.

Besides encouraging the skills, habits, and behaviors that youth need to be successful, a student-centered approach also builds a foundation for stronger alignment with school-day staff and administrators. If everyone puts students first then other potentially conflicting priorities will take a backseat as all parties contribute what they can to helping students learn and achieve.

Do you want to work on building a common vision with your partners? Watch this video from Y4Y to see an afterschool program discuss vision and goals with its partners.  



September 9, 2013

While homework time may be a core component of your program, it may not be a favorite for all students. There are ways, though, to make homework time feel more productive, fun, and engaging. Try out some of these resources on Y4Y to help transform your homework space and time.

• Use the Effective Homework Time Training To Go to train staff in creating an environment and establishing systems that make homework time a positive experience for everyone. Follow the Training Plan to deliver the training without a hitch.

• Ready for details? Get deep into planning your homework space and time using the Afterschool Training Toolkit’s Managing and Organizing the Homework Environment tips.

• Set up a communication system with each student’s classroom teacher using the Homework Sharing Tool. It’ll help keep both of you informed about the student’s progress and challenges.