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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. 


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.

 



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.



September 30, 2016

Y4Y Showcase Webinar: College and Career Readiness
Thursday, October 13 from 1:00 - 2:30 p.m. ET

How does college and career readiness fit with 21st CCLC programs? Learn more through this Showcase event highlighting You for Youth's new course, College and Career Readiness. During the Showcase you will discover resources and real life 21st CCLC program examples to help you design enriching activities, develop key partnerships and engage families in college and career readiness. Our guest expert, Jennifer Kobrin, Director of myPLACE & Digital Initiatives for the Mayor's Commission on Literacy in Philadelphia and former content specialist for the You for Youth website, will be joining the discussion. Jennifer will share her expertise on effective college and career readiness programming and building partnerships with families and communities.

Get Registered here!

 


Project-Based Learning
Wednesdays from 1:00 - 2:00 p.m. ET
October 19 through November 9

Engaging students through exciting activities, aligning with school-day standards and training inexperienced staff can feel overwhelming. Fortunately, project-based learning can help you plan for success.

This free, four-part learning experience, featuring Y4Y Education Specialists Monique McDowell-Russell and Allyson Zalewski, combines online webinars and discussions with offline activities and explorations.

We encourage 21st CCLC program directors, site coordinators, academic liaisons and instructional directors to attend. Registrants will commit to attend all four webinars and to participate in online discussions and other activities. For participating in at least three of the four webinars, you can earn a certificate of participation to provide to your district, state or employing organization.

Don't miss this opportunity to build a strong instructional foundation for your program. 

Register Now!



August 2, 2016

Help your students succeed in life by building college and career readiness into your program. Find ways to fold this future-focused mind-set into activities for all grade levels. Like all Y4Y courses, you'll get research-based information; lots of ready-to-use, adaptable tools; and training materials for professional learning sessions. 

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Select College and Career Readiness to start your learning!