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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.



January 21, 2016

Guest blogger: Patrick Duhon, consultant and former director of the Providence After School Alliance

This is the second of two articles on planning for summer programming. See part 1, on budgeting, in the December 2015 newsletter.

Now that you’ve lined up funding, you can start planning your summer learning activities. Focus on these five Rs: Leverage and deepen your relationships with students by providing relevant and rigorous programs that get them more excited about learning, which will also help you recruit and retain youth throughout the summer.

Blend the best of informal and formal education to deepen summer learning:

Positive youth development: Make this your starting point. Establish a primary focus to get positive impacts on social, emotional and academic outcomes. Think about how to develop the whole child through recreation, civic engagement, service and leadership opportunities, academics, creativity and fun. 

Inquiry and “habits of mind”: Consider which of the state’s college- and career-ready learning standards you can advance. Your best targets are probably the habits of mind, which you can support through project-based learning and activities that help youth apply and extend their academic skills. Discuss these with school and district instructional leaders to determine how your program can build in essential 21st century skills.

The “sweet spots” for out-of-school time: Some areas are especially suited to the relaxed, hands-on learning environment of summer and afterschool settings (watch the video “This Is Dan”).

STEM learning: Helping youth explore their interests through hands-on inquiry can unleash amazing potential. Science and math move from just “subjects” to critical tools for understanding the world. Integrating art and design into activities can engage youth and wrap the learning in fun. Connecting applied mathematics and literacy to activities in STEM, the arts and other areas expands learning rather than replicating the school day.

Career and technical education: Exposing students to these areas helps them explore careers they probably didn’t know about. Give them a taste of work in science and technology to add relevance and motivation to those academic areas.

Students with special needs: English learners, students with IEPs and students who struggle with other issues can all build skills and experience success through hands-on learning. Providing tailored, expanded learning activities for these and other students makes learning more fun and relevant.

Partnerships between formal and informal educators: Many certified teachers who work in summer programs say they have built new pedagogical practices through partnering with community-based experiential educators. Have your summer program staff lead cross-training sessions. Perhaps district staff can help build shared understanding around learning standards, and informal educators can lead sessions on hands-on ways to meet standards. This supports more collaboration, and helps to shape effective school-community alignment for summer and year-round partnerships. For resources and videos from programs that have strong models for summer learning, see the Providence After School Alliance and Boston AfterSchool & Beyond.

Data and measurement: Work with staff and partners to review your data from past summers and discuss how to build stronger this year. To measure the impacts of your summer program, use tools that address a broad set of youth outcomes, including development of 21st century skills. The Every Hour Counts network, the National Institute on Out-of-School Time and Harvard University’s PEAR program offer resources and tools that can provide guidance.



September 11, 2015

The levels of excitement and chaos may seem to rise out of control when the school and program years get started. Not to worry, because Y4Y can help you “nail” the right combination of both elements to engage students and take advantage of their desire for free exploration. You create the framework through project-based learning, then tap gently to facilitate student learning and development.

Real-Time Virtual Learning

Your peers across the country have made Project-Based Learning the most popular course on Y4Y. Because of that, the Y4Y project team continues to work on new ways to extend your professional learning around this effective strategy. We call our newest offering a real-time virtual learning series; our first cohort started September 1 and will complete their experience on September 25. Virtual cohort members agreed to attend at least three of four live webinars, to participate in online discussions, and to conduct offline activities and explorations. The series will provide certificates of completion to cohort members who meet the participation requirements.

If you missed the enrollment window for “Project-Based Learning: Hands On, Minds On,” we can let you know about future real-time virtual learning events. Give us your e-mail address, and we promise to be in touch.

Here’s a glimpse into the first week’s webinar, where discussion included ideas about how to incorporate student voice into project planning. Activity leaders may start the process with a student brainstorming session that defines which topics students want to explore. If you don’t regularly give students opportunities to conduct such sessions, the “Planner for Brainstorming” tool on Y4Y will help you establish a structure, conduct the session and reflect on results.

Focused Podcast

As you begin a project and help students form work teams, you’ll consider how to group students. The first podcast produced for the learning series is titled “Who Are They?” It discusses how personality types play out in team settings, and can help program staff think about creating teams and assigning tasks in ways that help students develop both social and academic skills and knowledge. 

Online Course

If your program wants to help students grasp the big ideas of school-day academics and develop the 21st century skills they need to succeed in college and career — while you also create a fun and engaging environment for learning — try project-based learning. Research shows that this instructional approach, also called inquiry-based learning, helps students master core content, increases motivation to learn and improves attitudes toward learning. Get more details about these and other benefits in the Project-Based Learning Research Brief, one of the tools in the Y4Y course.

You may choose to start project-based learning through one of its close cousins, such as service learning or civic learning and engagement. Projects in these areas can connect students to their community and civic life in fun and fulfilling ways.

Wherever you start, look to Y4Y for learning resources and helpful tools. Most of all, get ready for the controlled chaos of busy teams of students who get totally engaged in pursuing answers to their driving questions.

 



September 8, 2014

The new Literacy module was designed with the needs of your program’s youth foremost in mind. It helps you explore how crucial literacy is to learning and suggests how you can incorporate literacy activities into your programs in ways you may not have considered before. 

For example, after you learn about the Five Components of Reading and about the Six Developmental Stages of Reading in the Introduction to Literacy, you can choose from a variety of tools to put these ideas into practice.

One such tool is the BDA Lesson Planner, which will assist you in the fifth component of reading, Comprehension. The lesson planner guides you through the steps necessary to help your students think about what they are about to read “before” they start, to read actively “during” the exercise, and to summarize and synthesize what they read “after” they finish.  BDA – Before, During, After.

In addition to the lesson planner you’ll also find a BDA Training Starter, and even a completed Sample BDA Lesson to help you create your own. Take a look at the new Literacy module today and see what ideas you can find to help support and enhance the literacy skills of the youth in your programs.