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May 19, 2020

The ability read, write, speak and listen plays a vital role in helping us communicate and understand a full range of thoughts and emotions. Y4Y’s recent webinar series, “Literacy for Frontline Staff,” covers critical steps in arming your 21st CCLC program with strategies for improving students’ language and literacy skills. The three-part series can be viewed in the Y4Y archive. Guest speaker Meredith Fraysure shares her experience as an elementary teacher, literacy-based STEM curriculum developer and 21st CCLC program evaluator. Short on time? You’re in luck! Here’s a summary that hits the highlights.

Prepare for Liftoff

The afterschool environment has benefits and challenges in presenting literacy learning opportunities. Students may be mentally exhausted at the end of a school day, especially if they’re English learners, yet it’s the perfect environment for low-pressure, fun and engaging activities. Meeting students where they are and using a tailored, small-group setting is best.

Keep in mind that low-income students may have few books at home, and they may be exposed to a more limited spoken vocabulary than peers from more affluent families. Those who struggle with the basics of reading are less able to access academic content, and poor reading skills can also impact areas of living such as understanding basic health-related information. In fact, Ms. Fraysure says the greatest challenge for young readers is taking that step from “learning to read” to “reading to learn.” These concerns drive initiatives to improve student literacy. Building their skills and confidence inspires students to explore areas of interest and even passion, producing competent and knowledgeable citizens. Fostering a positive relationship with books that interest students is a good place to start.

Reading, of course is only one element of literacy education. Here’s a description of all four elements:

Reading is the process of simultaneously extracting and interacting with written text, and involves phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, fluency and comprehension.

Speaking is the communication of thoughts and ideas.

Writing addresses how we structure language.

Listening refers to how we actively filter information and respond appropriately. Owing to the brain’s ability to effectively create white noise, this can be a greater challenge for some brains than others.

Always Start With Data

Data are at the heart of all you do in 21st CCLC programming. You’ll look for quantitative data about literacy through statewide assessments and school-day assessments, including benchmarks, unit tests, reading assessments and progress monitoring tools. Without a doubt, your most successful activity designs will be well coordinated with the school day, especially around qualitative data about each student. Invite your students’ school-day teachers to share a list of student literacy needs and a “wish list” of supports your program might provide. To help you collect important needs assessment data, Y4Y offers tools such as a Literacy Focus Group tool, Comprehension Checklists and a Reader Questionnaire for Students.

To better understand the elements of literacy and reflect on what to assess, try these tools from the new Y4Y Literacy course: Developmental Stages of Reading, Literacy “I Can” Progression Ladders, Literacy Anchor Standards and Phonemic Awareness Continuum. You don’t need a background in literacy to use these tools or to help students improve their skills.

Let’s Get SMART

With your data at the ready, your 21st CCLC program will develop literacy SMART goals. SMART stands for specific, measurable achievable, relevant and time bound. You’ll develop  goals that apply to the program on the whole, and a separate set of goals for the literacy activities that you’ll design. Use Y4Y’s Activity and Program SMART Goals tool to ensure that your goals are addressing the literacy needs of your students on the whole and day-to-day.

Keep these tips in mind as you design literacy activities based on your SMART goals:

  • Building “reading stamina” is an important goal for early readers. Be honest with students about why it’s important, especially as they switch from “learning to read” to “reading to learn.” Studies show that just 20 minutes of independent reading each day, of a student’s chosen material, makes a tremendous impact on academic achievement.
  • Your middle schoolers may already find themselves behind in reading, which means being behind in other subjects at school as well. Don’t ignore the social and emotional component of building reading skills. Now more than ever, it’s critical that students have a voice in what they’re reading. Fostering a love of books is one of the best things you can do for young people at this age!
  • Reading aloud to students at all grade levels has importance when it comes to literacy. Listening, after all, is one of the four building blocks of literacy, and hearing books means a different mode of appreciating the way language is structured.

Let Your Activities Soar

Your next step is to design and facilitate literacy activities aligned to student needs. Use strategies to increase the time students spend reading and writing after the school day.

The Third Dimension

When intentionally designing literacy activities in an afterschool setting, consider three dimensions:

Logistics: Think about what your students’ needs and goals are. Then consider how to use available resources, time and space to address those needs and goals.  

Literacy elements: Decide which element of literacy – speaking, reading, writing or speaking – you’ll focus on during each activity. Most activities will involve one or more of these elements, and that’s a good thing!

Explicit or embedded instruction: Now we’re really cooking! Is your activity an academic intervention (meant to help students catch up) or an academic enrichment (where you have the luxury of helping your student get ahead)? Generally, intervention activities include explicit instruction, whereas enrichment activities tend to use embedded instruction. Let’s dive a little deeper into intervention vs. enrichment activities.

Intervention Activities

Let’s say your program has discovered that you need to help students meet individual academic goals. Your activities are going to be explicit, or in other words, designed specifically to target needs and teach the elements of literacy. For example, if you have students who struggle with decoding words and reading fluently, an intervention might be to set up four literacy centers that focus on high-need reading skills. These centers might include an online learning program, a small-group literacy game, an independent practice activity and a small-group instruction center. Students could rotate through these centers in very small groups, doing activities at each center that are designed explicitly to build a single literacy skill.

The keys to intervention activities? Explicit design and small groups.

Enrichment Activities

When your 21st CCLC program is poised to enrich the academic achievement of students, you are more likely looking for activities with embedded literacy learning. This can often be done by adding one or more literacy elements to an activity you’re already doing.

Some examples of enrichment activities might be asking students to interview each other during snack time or allowing students to follow through on their voiced preference to start a newsletter that involves research, writing, and using an online platform to tell about your program.

It’s much easier to embed literacy components into large-group activities than it is to modify small-group activities. If your program is more geared toward enrichment, you likely focus your attention on large-group activities already. If your program logistics don’t always align perfectly with students’ literacy needs, don’t lose sight of the fact that even small gains matter in the lives of the students who need them the most. Check out Y4Y’s Embedding Literacy in Enrichment Activities Training To Go for ideas and guidance on training staff.

Do I Have to Read the WHOLE Book?

Ms. Fraysure shared some of her favorite large-group, embedded learning activities around single chapters of favorite children’s books. This best practice entices students to finish books on their own after they’ve had a taste of a story — especially when they’ve become invested through the chance to do something fun. One example is to have students read Chapter 19 of Roald Dahl’s “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” Ms. Fraysure asks students to visualize the elaborate machinery described when the characters first enter the candy-making room, then build their own “Rube Goldberg” machine. We’ve all seen a Rube Goldberg machine: they’re those multi-step contraptions that use a complicated process to perform a simple function. Using only items found in the room, students can employ concepts of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) as they work collaboratively and dive into all four elements of literacy with this fun activity.

On a smaller scale, younger students might look at Dr. Seuss’s “Sneetches” and present their ideas on how the machine might be applying stars to the bellies of these memorable characters. To illustrate how creatively children can think, Ms. Fraysure shared that one of her students proposed that the machine, in fact, is uncovering existing stars!

BDA

The before-during-after (BDA) framework is a great tool to keep in mind as you intentionally design reading activities. Check out Y4Y’s BDA Lesson Planner for practical steps to meet the objectives of making predictions, learning new vocabulary, demonstrating comprehension, participating in discussion, responding to text in a meaningful way, and developing work skills through collaboration and listening to others.

More Ideas for Literacy Activities

  • Check out Y4Y’s Guided Oral Reading Tool to improve students’ fluency.
  • Stage a readers theater. Speaking is an often-overlooked literacy skill, especially in younger students.
  • Use fun repeated reading exercises such as trying out different voices.
  • Arrange a writers workshop to hone skills in prewriting, drafting, revising and editing, and publishing and production.
  • Journal! Let students start out with pictures that help them develop the practice of communicating their thoughts and feelings, then work their way up to a broader use of language.
  • Use rich language to describe a painting or a piece of music with no lyrics.
  • Write a reflection on a science experiment.
  • Have students talk about how they used math in their everyday lives the previous day.
  • Do you have a mix of native English speakers and English learners? Build confidence through hands-on activities that help level the playing field, allowing them to pair with each other if they’d like so that they can better communicate in a team project.

You don’t have to totally revamp your 21st CCLC program or become a certified English language arts teacher to be successful at improving students’ literacy skills. You can accomplish a lot if you’re willing to scaffold learning and support the school day. If you’re trying a new strategy, don’t be afraid to ask for instructions to be simplified to be sure you’re implementing right.

Nail the Landing

To “nail the landing” in your literacy routines and activities, there are three things you can do: engage families in literacy, implement literacy activities with fidelity, and assess the impact of activities.

An Engagement in the Family!

You’re all too familiar with the barriers families face in engaging with your 21st CCLC program, yet we know how critical program engagement is to getting families’ support at home too. Parents and guardians might have limited access to transportation, multiple jobs, cultural or language barriers, younger children to care for, socioeconomic concerns or even their own scars and lack of confidence around literacy. To overcome such barriers, be consistent but accommodating and flexible in your expectations, and work to build trust with students’ adult family members. Don’t forget that adults like to have fun too!

One great family engagement idea is to host a grocery store scavenger hunt with sponsorship from a local merchant. Families get a clipboard with a list of inexpensive items that the store could donate as charity to your program. Maybe the items are presented in simple riddle form. Throw in some math, asking how much it would cost to buy three pounds. What would your total be at the end? The whole family activity takes less than an hour, but families come away with a better understanding of your role in their child’s life, quality time spent with their child, and maybe some free food. Some programs have developed partnerships with supermarkets willing to provide program snacks through the year.

How about a Living Wax Museum event? First, students research a public figure, past or present, and take notes so they can portray that figure in a Living Wax Museum. When the event starts, students “get into character” and take positions around the room. Families move from student to student, asking questions about the character each student portrays. It’s an opportunity for students to read, write, speak AND listen!

Themes are always winners. Camping, a picnic theme, or a cultural fair that celebrates the different backgrounds represented in your program all offer opportunities to have some fun and engage families.

Ms. Fraysure offered clever solutions to common barriers to successful family engagement. Are parents heading into second-shift jobs at pickup time? Try a before-school breakfast (with support from your grocery store partner). Another idea is to engage parents on their “home turf” by starting a lending library. Each week, a student takes home a different bag with a book and journal inside. Families are asked to read it together and jot down what their family discussed about the book. Or you could offer a “How It Works” seminar for families, perhaps given by a community college partner, to explain the literacy tools your program uses and how they can impact students’ lives.

Measure Your Success

The success of your family engagement efforts needs to be measured just like your in-program efforts. Walk around at events and get a sense of family response, directly and indirectly, by asking and observing. Do you see an increase in engagement at pickup after an event? Watch for signs, big and small, that you’ve earned families’ trust. Don’t forget: Y4Y offers customizable tools that can help, like the Family Engagement Follow-Up and Supervision Checklist and Family Satisfaction Survey.

Speaking of Measuring…

How will you know if you’re you implementing your literacy programming with fidelity? Keep those program and activity SMART goals close at hand throughout implementation. Be sure to “read the room” along the way, communicating consistently with your site coordinator or program director, especially when you’re trying something new. For the program to succeed, YOU need to believe in it too, which you will if you have a voice.

Fidelity has four measures:

  • Adherence – Did you follow the steps of the activity design plan?
  • Dosage – Did you spend as much time on the activity as was intended?
  • Engagement – Did the students fully participate and show interest?
  • Delivery – Did you engage students enthusiastically and guide them appropriately?

When you know going into an activity that these are the ways success is measured, you have a higher chance of implementing that activity with fidelity. Here are three additional strategies that will ensure that you successfully meet your program and activity SMART goals: (1) Create a decision-making process to guide your implementation. (2) Establish evaluation routines so that you’re making real-time observations and adjustments as needed. (3) Create guidelines for families’ progress — because 21st CCLC programming is a true success only when families play a big role in your outcomes.

Y4Y’s Implementing With Fidelity Guide is the perfect resource for addressing the right questions as you implement literacy activities in your program. Also check out the Continuous Improvement Planner to stay true to your SMART goals. Finally, be sure to check out the Discussion Board created for Y4Y’s three-part virtual series on literacy, where many more links and resources are housed.



May 19, 2020

If you work in a 21st CCLC program, you give of yourself daily for the noble purpose of helping young people reach their full potential. With widespread school closures this spring due to COVID-19, you kept giving — calling and texting students to check in, creating activity kits for delivery with school lunches, hosting Family Fun Hours and virtual story times online — while trying new ideas and technologies to keep students engaged. Decades from now, many will have good memories of a difficult time because of your efforts.

But there’s one thing you might not be doing well: Taking care of yourself. Y4Y shared a few tips for self-care during an April 1 webinar on supporting staff and families during school closure when you’re working from home:

  • Stay active (mind and body).
  • Get dressed each day.
  • Eat healthy.
  • Get plenty of sleep.
  • Connect with others.
  • Make time for yourself.
  • Be realistic.

At first glance, these ideas might seem pretty basic. They are! In fact, they’re the “infrastructure” of self-care. But just because something is basic doesn’t mean it happens on its own. The basics deserve your attention, and you deserve the basics.

If the idea of taking a day or an hour for yourself seems foreign, here’s something to keep in mind: Just because it’s called “self-care” doesn’t make it “selfish.” In fact, the opposite is true. If you allow yourself to become depleted, you won’t be able to support others.

Give yourself the gift of time. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.

Tip: Check the Y4Y Discussion Board for the April 1 webinar and click on “How to Practice Self-Care” for a graphic that will remind you to let go of the things you can’t control, like predicting what will happen or the amount of toilet paper at the store.



November 20, 2017

Guest blogger: David Mazza, Y4Y Educational Technology Specialist

Business, government and education professionals often use videoconferences for training and collaboration. If you’ve attended an online Y4Y Showcase, virtual training or webinar, you’ve participated in a videoconference. It’s a great way to connect people to peers and subject matter experts.

But have you ever used videoconferencing with students?

I recently raised this question with staff from various 21st CCLC programs around the country. Only a few said yes. Others cited possible drawbacks such as the time it takes to organize a videoconference, not having the equipment or skills to organize one, and not knowing how to use videoconferencing to support program activities or student interests.   

These concerns are understandable. However, in my 20 years as a technology facilitator for various education projects, I’ve often used teleconferencing to connect students to professionals and to students in other locations. I’ve seen the benefits, and I think the pros outweigh the cons.

Intrigued by the possibilities? Here are some ideas for overcoming common concerns:

Concern #1: Technology is mysterious.

If you don’t have confidence in your technology skills, or if you’ve never set up a videoconference, you might be hesitant or not know where to start. Fear not. Students know a lot more about technology than most of us, and they usually enjoy being the “tech person.” Plus it gives them a chance to develop real-world skills! Friends and colleagues who enjoy technology are another good resource. If your school or program has a technology specialist, make sure to give that person a call!

There are many types of software you can use for videoconferencing, and some are free. For example, Google Hangouts, Skype, and Zoom all have free versions that you can download and use for two-way audio and video. They are simple to use. You’ll need a laptop with a built-in camera and microphone. You’ll also need an internet connection. Wireless networks can be used, but for the best results, have that laptop hardwired to the network. Get in touch with the internet provider for your school or program site, and let the provider know what you want to do. The provider might have tips or suggestions that will make your life easier.  

Concern #2: Organizing a teleconference seems time consuming.

No one says you have to organize a teleconference overnight. Start small, plan ahead and take it one step at a time. Your to-do list for getting your feet wet might look like this:

  • Check your hardware and internet connection to make sure you have what you need.
  • Look online for short videos that demonstrate free videoconferencing software like Google Hangouts, Skype and Zoom.
  • Ask colleagues and students for suggestions about software programs to use, and possible ways to make videoconferencing part of an upcoming project or activity. They might have suggestions, or offer to help.
  • Download a software program you like; play around with it; and practice with a tech-savvy colleague, friend or student.
  • Plan a simple videoconference activity (like using Zoom to connect to a staff member or volunteer at home or down the hall for a virtual game of Simon Says).

Concern #3: It’s hard to think of ways videoconferencing could be truly useful.

Don’t worry. Once you get comfortable with videoconferencing, you’ll come up with more ideas than you need! For starters, try a virtual career exploration project. Videoconferencing can connect students virtually with people who do different jobs in the public and private sectors. Your virtual guests can tell how their school and community experiences prepared them for their careers. (This is a good way to involve students’ parents and other family members, as well as local companies and community partners.) Local companies could do a virtual tour of their businesses. The mayor might Skype in to tell how she prepared for the job and what her workday is like. Parks and museums are also great sources for content that could fit your needs. 

Set Yourself Up for Success

Remember, if videoconferencing is new to you and your site, it will also be new for the students. If you’re using a videoconference to bring a guest speaker to your program, share a short bio about the speaker, make sure students know why the speaker was invited and what topic will be covered, and tell them about “videoconferencing etiquette” (such as paying attention, not interrupting and holding questions until the end, unless instructed otherwise). Be prepared to introduce the speaker, and prepare a few questions in advance for students to ask. Having these questions makes for a smooth start and will reduce the reluctance of the students to ask the first questions.

Look for Ways to Collaborate

Projects in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) are a natural place to start using videoconferencing. Students in different sites can exchange ideas, work on a project together, and demonstrate their learning. If you have a large group of students, connect your laptop to a larger monitor, if possible, so that everyone can see more easily. Also, connecting external speakers to your laptop will make it easier to hear presenters.  

Don’t Be Surprised if Students Ask for More!

Teleconferencing can be a terrific tool for engaging students and holding their interest. As you get better at using it in your program, don’t be surprised to hear students ask, “When can we do this again?”

Share What You Know

Y4Y is always here to offer help and guidance, and we’d be happy to answer your questions as you begin. We’d also like to hear about your experiences in using videoconferencing with students. What did you do? How did it go? How did your students respond? Please share your ideas and experiences in our online discussion space.

Happy videoconferencing!

Y4Y Resources

Here are a few project ideas from Y4Y to jump-start your thinking about videoconferencing as a gateway to a world of learning:

NASA STEM Challenges. Videoconferencing could connect students to scientists in your community — and to students in other locations who are involved in the NASA STEM Challenges.

Gathering and Sharing Information. This little package of ideas, templates, and a sample activity plan shows how you can connect videoconferencing and other online activities with what students are learning in school.   

Learning in Virtual Spaces. Virtual field trips can enhance learning in social studies, history, science, the arts and more!