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September 8, 2020

Each year, a new variety of products shows up in stores, restaurants and TV commercials as marketers aim to capitalize on the pumpkin spice fad. But is enough enough already? Education has seen its own share of fads. New ideas present exciting possibilities, but there’s nothing wrong with “old ideas” that are working well. How can your 21st CCLC program keep pace with the latest school-day wisdom and separate true innovations from passing fads?

Just as pumpkin pie isn’t going away anytime soon but pumpkin spice shoe polish may be short-lived, consider these tips for recognizing which of your tried and true program elements are keepers, and which you can, and maybe should, bid farewell:

  • What’s the evidence base for the new idea, especially when it’s used in programs with student demographics like yours?
  • Reflect on all aspects of your student population. Does the fad/trend “fit” your students?
  • What are your resources and partners, and does the fad/trend make good use of these? Or, does it spread any of these too thin?
  • Is the new idea consistent with your mission, climate and culture?
  • Are you involving student and family voices in adopting new ideas? You can customize Y4Y tools to do so.
  • Make a good, old-fashioned pros and cons list!

Here are a few examples of current trends or fads in education with some points to consider.

Phasing Out Direct Instruction?

Sometimes it seems there’s a tug-of-war between advocates for the “guide on the side” approach and the “sage on the stage” instructional approach. To supplement and enrich the education efforts of the school day, your program might lean toward hands-on, self-guided learning experiences and the “guide on the side” approach.

Is there an argument to be made for keeping direct instruction in your program? Consider these benefits of direct instruction:

  • Sometimes direct instruction is the most efficient choice. Time is at a premium in your program. On less in-depth subjects, a few minutes of direct instruction, with opportunities for questions and discussion, can be the way to go.
  • Let the sage be a sage. You might have opportunities to bring in guest speakers like STEM professionals or business advisors with a wealth of content knowledge but no teaching experience. You wouldn’t want to miss opportunities to tap into their wisdom by overburdening them with instructional duties. But you can structure the experience to make it beneficial to the students and the sage. Y4Y’s College and Career Readiness course offers a tool for developing guiding questions for partnerships, which may be of use in this arena.
  • Different instructional strategies offer different opportunities. Small-group discussions and collaborative work, for example, call on students to use different skills than direct instruction. Using a variety of strategies can help you to learn more about students’ skill gaps and areas of strength.
  • Direct instruction gives students practice in exercising patience and attention. Self-management is one of five skill domains in social and emotional learning that’s addressed in the Y4Y course on the subject. The recent switch to virtual learning environments has been an eye-opener for most educators on the advantages of having students accustomed to focusing their attention on the leader, even if lessons have an interactive format.
  • Some students benefit from the clarity and structure that direct instruction provides. While the argument is made by some that direct instruction doesn’t accommodate different learning styles, eliminating it entirely could be a disservice to those students who benefit from its clarity and structure.

What arguments can be made for minimizing direct instruction in out-of-school time?

  • Other instructional strategies like project-based learning put 21st century skills in action. These are skills like critical thinking, initiative, self-direction, leadership, productivity, accountability, responsibility, communication and collaboration.
  • Direct instruction is difficult to individualize. It doesn’t accommodate all learning styles.
  • Student voice and choice are more difficult to incorporate into direct instruction. Approaches like project-based learning give students more options.
  • Variety engages students. Often when students arrive at your 21st CCLC program, they’ve spent their day receiving direct instruction. The less you rely on this method, the better your chance of keeping students engaged.

OUTCOME: Reducing (but not eliminating) direct instruction in your 21st CCLC program earns the pumpkin pie award: it’s a trend or “fad” that’s likely to become a tried and true practice. Many Y4Y courses give examples of appropriate use of direct (“explicit”) instruction alongside other approaches. Keep direct instruction as a spice in your drawer and use as needed.

BYOD?

BYOD, or bring your own device, is a trend toward encouraging students to bring their own devices to school and afterschool programs. If you search online, you’ll find long lists of advantages, ranging from cost savings to increasing interactivity to boosting student ownership of learning. But what about equity? In a best-case scenario, there’s some disparity in the socioeconomic levels of your students and the devices they own, IF they can afford devices at all. BYOD can draw attention to these disparities in a way that could make some students uncomfortable or put them at a disadvantage. Also, an array of different devices could lead to frontline staff spending more time as tech support than as activity leaders. A different stance could be adopted if your students are all loaned the same device from their school district, but in 21st CCLC programs, there are some rural districts where going to the expense of supplying devices is of limited use due to lack of internet access.

OUTCOME: BYOD is a fad in education that earns the pumpkin spice shoe polish award: enough is enough! Although we’ve made close friends with technology under current circumstances, requiring students to bring their own device to your program may not be the most equitable or practical choice.

Maker Lab or Computer Lab?

In many educational settings, the idea of a computer lab where technology is a stand-alone subject is giving way to maker labs (makerspaces) or design labs where students might make use of technology to create things, but the technology itself isn’t the central focus.

Your 21st CCLC program likely doesn’t have its own computer lab, but you probably have access to some technology. There might be excellent reasons to focus on the basics of using a computer in your program, such as

  • Students can’t access technology in their homes to augment their classroom learning or do homework assignments, and they need extra time to learn and practice technology skills.
  • A lack of funding in your district means limited school-day access to technology.
  • The primary concern of your student population is learning English, so computer instruction might need to begin with very basic technology terms and concepts.

Even if these circumstances describe your program, you can be looking to a long-term shift toward your program serving as more of a maker/design space. The arguments for this trend/fad include

  • You’ll build learning opportunities on the premise of real-world problem solving.
  • You’re allowing for design thinking and problem solving by broadening materials and devices to include items like Legos, art supplies, robotics components, a sewing machine or even woodworking equipment like scrap blocks with a hammer and nails.
  • You can customize Y4Y’s Questions for Inquiry-Based Learning tool and incorporate technology as one of many resources — particularly for conducting research — in your real-world problem-solving activities. Just plan to take a beat for those students needing basic instruction in technology.

OUTCOME: Moving from a computer lab to a makerspace or design lab is a trend/fad that earns the pumpkin pie award! This transition is an expansion of your current offerings, and can grow with the budget, partnership, staff and student census fluctuations your program experiences. Nothing is lost; instruction on technology basics is always at your disposal. But moving with the times and adopting a richer, creative, hands-on approach to learning is a winning idea.

 


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