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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!



May 13, 2016

So, you finished your first school year as a new subgrantee of the 21st CCLC grant — whew! Now what? Start by giving yourself a pat on the back, then applaud your success and smile. For some of you, though, it’s on to the summer program!

To look at your successful first year, you might start by focusing on how you were able to engage the participants in their setting. How were your classes, clubs, programs, activities? By providing a wide variety of activities, 21st CCLC programs foster social skills, build and enhance communication, and support the intellectual development of participants. Your and your colleagues can ask this question: “Did we provide exceptional opportunities for both academic and social growth?” Gather some information to answer this question by working as a group to complete the Follow-Up and Supervision Checklist available in the Y4Y Tools.

After assessing the participants’ experience, take a look at the staff experience. Ask this: “As professionals, did we take full advantage of our abilities to meet the goals and objectives of our program?” The Y4Y tool on Determining Program Needs can assist with this particular exploration. 

Your talented team members have knowledge and skills that can help you offer powerful and engaging programs, so you can capture the imaginations and interests of every participant. These abilities help to create activities that align with program goals and objectives as well as important college- and career-ready learning standards. 

When 21st CCLC practitioners guide young people through hands-on activities that include the opportunity for conversation and learner-centered study, you embed the potential for positive development. This first year, you brought to life new topics of interest and facilitated learning that occurs outside of the formal school setting. One result is a fun and expressive learning experience that impacts everyone involved. For more about the benefits of active learning, see the Project-Based Learning Research Brief and look into the Project-Based Learning course.

So celebrate the scholarly standards and enrichment activities! Move forward, and continue to prepare. Summer is right around the corner, and everyone is ready for it. 

If you are new to the 21st CCLC world, please explore these Y4Y resources as you work to provide a high-quality program this summer and during the coming school year:

Guidance for New Programs Webinar for Replay

Follow-Up and Supervision Checklist

Program Implementation Planner

Summer Planning With Y4Y (Coffee Break #2) Webinar for Replay



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.