Thursday, October 21, 2010

Questions About the Learning in Afterschool Project

By Sam Piha

There have been a number of questions that others have asked related to the LIA project. Below we attempt to respond to some of them.

Q: Much has been written for and about afterschool programs already. Why did you launch the Learning in Afterschool project and how is it the same or different as what has come before it?

A: Yes, there has been a lot discussed and written about afterschool - on outcomes and measurement, how programs should align to the school day, and how to solve educational problems that don’t seem to be easily solved. Somehow, we managed to have these conversations without talking about how children learn. As someone who taught school for ten years and later specialized in child and youth development, I always found this fact a bit strange.

What this project tries to do is focus not on what young people should learn, rather focus on the how- program approaches that promote learning. You will notice that the exemplar afterschool programs - the ones that are the darlings of the afterschool movement - are all exceptional in how they promote young people’s excitement in learning. The same is true of those exceptional educators who are named as teachers of the year in local, state, and national ceremonies. What we hear most about these acclaimed classroom teachers are their abilities to motivate and excite young people in learning. But somehow we bypass the principles that they apply in practice. This project aims to focus our attention and practice on a few learning principles.
Q: Why this, why now?

A: The last decade has been largely focused on securing the resources to take afterschool to scale. Through our work in California and across the country, we detected a kind of malaise among afterschool leaders and workers – a sense that we somehow lost the deeper purpose that undergirded the afterschool movement. In talking with afterschool leaders and workers, we learned that there was a profound readiness to return to the deeper questions of how we want to use the afterschool hours. We noticed an increase in excitement when we focused our discussions on children’s motivation and involvement in their own learning. It seemed like the right time to look ahead at the upcoming decade and consider how we wanted to define and defend afterschool in the future. 

Q: Why did the LIA project select only 5 learning principles? 

A: There are a number of important principles that we did not include and it was a painful process paring them down. What we’ve learned from our past work is that any lists of ideas or principles that you want people to remember need to fit on one hand, which means no more than five. So we chose those five principles that are vital to learning, have not been discussed enough, and are well suited to the afterschool environment. 

We know that the quality of the relationships between adults and youth are critical to learning. We also know that creating a safe environment physically and emotionally is also key. However, we felt that these issues were already well addressed in the literature. 

Q: There are some who would contend that the Learning in Afterschool project raises the bar and only demands more from a field that is already under resourced and overstretched. How do you respond to this?

LIA Afterschool Ambassadors
Retreat on October 1-3, 2010
A: We believe that by being more explicit about learning, we can effectively focus our capacity building to improve program performance in these areas. The trick is only focusing on a small number of principles so as to not overwhelm program leaders and workers. We can accomplish this by focusing our technical assistance and quality conversations using these principles. Designing activities and methods that better promote meaningful learning is clearly more work for the adults. However, the adults find this work more gratifying, and we’re not here to serve the adults anyway.

Q: What about the importance of youth voice and involvement? How are you addressing this within the workings of the Learning in Afterschool project? 
A: You will see that there is a critical component that we call “The Afterschool Ambassadors.” This is a youth-led effort to capture the perspectives of youth and what they value about learning in afterschool. Following a 3-day leadership retreat with over 25 youth from across the state (pictured to the right), they will work to gather and communicate the views of their peers to influence the California afterschool landscape. We have asked them to build their own website and utilize internet and social networking tools, such as YouTube and Facebook. You can become a fan of the LIA Afterschool Ambassadors on Facebook.

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