Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Adding an 'S' to LIA

By Sam Piha

We know that young people learn across the day regardless of whether they're in school or out of school. We also know that much is to be learned during the summer months when school is closed. What is new is the knowledge that children suffer learning loss if they do not have quality learning experiences during the summer. Also, accumulated summer learning loss results in the serious achievement gap between those young people of means and low-income youth.

Because the quality of learning experience during the summer makes all the difference, we have expanded our Learning in Afterschool project to include learning in the summer. We have changed our banner to read Learning in Afterschool & Summer and will be adding additional outreach efforts to reach summer program providers and placing new resources on our website. We look forward to working closely with the Partnership for Children and Youth, the National Summer Learning Association, the Afterschool Alliance, and other important advocates for summer learning. 


Thursday, February 23, 2012

A Response to an Interview with Alfie Kohn

Sam Piha
In our blog posted on October 11, 2011, we alerted our readers that Eric Gurna and his organization, Development Without Limits, is now offering Please Speak Freely, podcasts of interviews with afterschool and educational thought leaders. After a recent interview with education thinker, Alfie Kohn, Eric asked me to listen to the interview and respond as a guest blogger. My response follows below. 










A Critical Voice
By Sam Piha, Director of Temescal Associates
Over the last 25 years, Alfie Kohn has been a critical voice in education. He has, through his writings and presentations, urged us to focus on the child instead of the student; on learning instead of achievements. As the pressures of No Child Left Behind increased, he was unafraid to speak freely about these topics. Thus, it is most appropriate that he is featured on “Please Speak Freely.”
Alfie Kohn
I greatly enjoyed the lively exchange between Eric Gurna and Alfie Kohn, in particular their discussion of extended learning time, creativity, and motivating kids without the use of rewards or punishments. (If you also enjoyed the podcast, I highly recommend that you view some of Alfie Kohn’s video presentations on YouTube). 
The latest rage in educational reform seems to be the notion of extended learning time (ELT). We have known for some time that children learn regardless of the time of day or the particular season. This idea is not new to those in the afterschool and summer learning movements. However, ELT for many appears to be about extended seat time and extending the school day. In my recent interview with Karen Pittman (Forum for Youth Investment), she cautioned, “The most important thing to remember is simply that more time doesn’t necessarily equal more learning. Learning opportunities must be high quality if they are going to produce more learning – whether they happen in classrooms or CBOs.”
By Alfie Kohn
The critical questions facing those who are considering extending the school day, are who will be involved, what methods will be used, and what guidelines will shape quality learning experiences? In California, the Learning in Afterschool & Summer project is promoting that all extended learning be active, collaborative, meaningful, support mastery, and expanding the horizons of the participants.
Alfie Kohn and Eric also talked about the importance of promoting young people’s creativity. Creativity is re-entering the educational debate as evidence by two recent articles in Education Week. According to Sarah D. Sparks, “Teaching creativity has been a hot-button topic this fall, from the National Academy of Education's annual meeting in Washington to a Learning and the Brain conference in Boston. Yet researchers are just beginning to determine what makes some students more creative than their peers, and how the classroom environment can nurture or smother that ability.” You can also view an entertaining presentation by Sir Ken Robinson on how we can kill young people’s creativity.
By Alfie Kohn
Alfie Kohn also talked about how rewards and punishment for academic achievement do not motivate or increase young people’s learning. We know that young people have a built-in drive to learn about and master their environment and they experience an innate joy in this. The question for educators inside and outside of school, is how to tap into, and not extinguish, this natural drive. 
Daniel Pink and RSAnimate created an entertaining and brief video entitled “The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.” He presents evidence that shows that being self-directed, the joy of mastery, and the sense of purpose trumps the offering of rewards. To only offer carrots and sticks for performance “assumes that we are just better smelling horses”.  His video provides good food for thought and I highly recommend afterschool program and educational leaders share it with their staff and facilitate the hearty discussions that will follow.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Measuring Soft Skills in OST Programs: An Interview with Nicole Yohalem, Part 2

By Sam Piha


The Learning in Afterschool project is promoting five learning principles that are well rooted in education and youth development research. Teachers and youth workers alike know that these principles are important to engaging young people in learning. Although these principles are vital to developing important skills, sometimes referred to as 21st century skills, many refer to them as “soft”. Further, the lack of accessible tools that measure these skills has been a problem for the OST field. 

Recently the Forum for Youth Investment published From Soft Skills to Hard Data: Measuring Youth Program Outcomes, which offers a survey of measurement instruments that measure many of these skills. They include:

Nicole Yohalem

  •      Communication
  •      Relationships & Collaboration
  •      Critical Thinking & Decision-making
  •      Initiative & Self-direction


Below, we interview Nicole Yohalem (Forum for Youth Investment) one of the co-authors of this report.


Q: What criteria did you use in selecting instruments?

A: We considered several factors. First we looked for measures where a majority of the contents mapped directly onto one of our four areas of interest. We looked for measures that were appropriate for use in a range of settings, including OST programs, and focused on tools that can be used with upper elementary through high school age youth, since a lot of useful work has already been done by CASEL to review measures for use with younger children. We also prioritized measures that are accessible to practitioners and relatively easy to use. Because we are committed to ensuring practitioners have access to tools that yield reliable (consistent) and valid information, we also looked for instruments that at a minimum, had been investigated for scale reliability, factor structure and sensitivity to OST program impact. 

Q: How might the guide be helpful for OST programs?

A: In selecting measures there are some important things for program leaders to consider. First and foremost, outcome measures should reflect the goals and activities of the program. Programs should measure outcomes that they value and that they are actively trying to influence. Second, it is important to select measures that will yield reliable and valid information. Finally, there are all the practical issues to consider – cost, ease of administration and accessibility. 

The guide includes information about all of these considerations. For each instrument we summarize the origins and focus on the tool, include sample items, and discuss user and technical considerations. Where possible we also include information about length, cost, format, supplemental tools, and training. Our technical reviews focus on the extent to which reliability and validity have been established. 

Q: Finally, do you see this new resource helping to address any important risks or opportunities facing the OST/afterschool movement at this time? 

A: Unfortunately we haven’t done a good job of coming to consensus on what to call important skills like critical thinking and decision-making, relationships and collaboration, communication and initiative and self-direction. I hear these referred to as social-emotional skills, soft skills, 21st century skills, new basic skills, higher-order thinking, non-academic outcomes…the list goes on. 

If we could get more consistent about naming these and measuring them, programs will be more likely to identify them as target outcomes and demonstrate their ability to move the dial on these skills. At the policy level, we have historically under-invested in programs that are good at developing these skills. With the education and business sectors increasingly recognizing their value to school and workplace success, we have a unique window of opportunity to demonstrate the important role that afterschool programs play in supporting learning and development. 


________________________________________________________________
Nicole Yohalem
Director of Special Projects, The Forum for Youth Investment
Nicole oversees Forum projects on out-of-school time, postsecondary success and bridging research, policy and practice; speaks on behalf of the Forum at national conferences and events; and serves as an advisor to several foundations, organizations and initiatives connected to the Forum. She has authored numerous reports, articles and commentaries, and oversees several regular Forum publications, such as the Ready by 21, Credentialed by 26 issue brief series.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Measuring Soft Skills in OST Programs: An Interview with Nicole Yohalem, Part 1

By Sam Piha


The Learning in Afterschool project is promoting five learning principles that are well rooted in education and youth development research. Teachers and youth workers alike know that these principles are important to engaging young people in learning. Although these principles are vital to developing important skills, sometimes referred to as 21st century skills, many refer to them as “soft”. Further, the lack of accessible tools that measure these skills has been a problem for the OST field. 

Recently the Forum for Youth Investment published From Soft Skills to Hard Data: Measuring Youth Program Outcomes, which offers a survey of measurement instruments that measure many of these skills. They include:

Nicole Yohalem

  •      Communication
  •      Relationships & Collaboration
  •      Critical Thinking & Decision-making
  •      Initiative & Self-direction


Below, we interview Nicole Yohalem (Forum for Youth Investment) one of the co-authors of this report.

Q: Of the many important skills, why did you focus on the four skill areas presented in your paper?

A: We didn’t want to create a new framework because there is so much good 
existing work out there.  So in identifying these four areas to focus on, we reviewed commonly used and cited frameworks from the Collaboration for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL); the Partnership for 21st Century Skills; and the U.S. Department of Labor. We identified the common constructs across those frameworks, focusing specifically on skill-oriented outcomes and those that are amenable to intervention by afterschool programs. We also focused on skills that are cross-cutting, which means we left some things out that relate to specific content knowledge (e.g., technology, global awareness). That’s how we came to communication, relationships & collaboration, critical thinking & decision-making and initiative & self-direction. We aren’t suggesting this is a comprehensive list of important skills, or that these are the only skills afterschool programs should focus on. We may tackle additional areas in an updated report next year.

Q: Why are these “soft skills” deemed important?

A: There is growing evidence and recognition that these skills and dispositions are critical – to academic success, workplace success, and to overall wellbeing.  Teachers, students, parents and Fortune 500 companies all think these kinds of skills are critical. In a 2006 national survey of employers, collaboration, work ethic and communication were among the most important skills necessary to succeed in the workplace. On the academic side, focusing on social skills is linked with developing a positive connection to school, improved behavior, and increased achievement.

Q: What do you see as the role of OST programs to build these skills? In other words, why are OST programs well positioned to build these skills?

A: We feel these kinds of outcome areas could really be a strategic niche – in economic terms – a “comparative advantage” for many youth programs. Afterschool programs operate with limited resources yet have significant flexibility compared to schools. These are skills that youth programs are good at building and supporting, and they matter for learning and development.

Q: Why did you think it was important to identify instruments to measure these skills?

A: We know that high quality afterschool programs can help young people develop these and other skills, but to live up to this potential, activities need to align with outcomes and programs need tools that are accessible and that do a good job of measuring them. When you are tracking things like attendance, grades or standardized test scores, which many afterschool programs do, data are typically obtained from school records, which means program leaders and evaluators rarely face decisions about what instrument to use.

To be continued in Part 2

________________________________________________________________
Nicole Yohalem
Director of Special Projects, The Forum for Youth Investment
Nicole oversees Forum projects on out-of-school time, postsecondary success and bridging research, policy and practice; speaks on behalf of the Forum at national conferences and events; and serves as an advisor to several foundations, organizations and initiatives connected to the Forum. She has authored numerous reports, articles and commentaries, and oversees several regular Forum publications, such as the Ready by 21, Credentialed by 26 issue brief series.

Friday, February 3, 2012

How Kids Learn: LIA's First Conference

By Sam Piha

On January 27th, over 180 people from across California and the country met at the David Brower Center in Berkeley to hear from experts on How Kids Learn - the first conference sponsored by the Learning in Afterschool project. Participants included representatives from school districts, youth organizations, private funders, the State Department of Education, and afterschool advocates.

Experts shared their best thinking and recent research in 20 minute presentations to the audience. Speakers included Paul Heckman, Associate Dean of Education at UC Davis; Michael Merzenich, a leading brain researcher at UC San Francisco; Alexis Menten from the Asia Society; Shawn Ginwright, a professor and community practitioner from San Francisco State University; youth from San Francisco's Youth Empowerment Fund; Carol Tang from the Coalition for Science After School; and many others. For a complete list of presenters, see the How Kids Learn website.


Thanks to the youth and young adults of Change Agents, we will feature a videotape of each presentation on our Learning in Afterschool YouTube channel in the very near future.
Clockwise: Paul Heckman, Michael Merzenich, Alexis Menten,
Shawn Ginwright, Youth Empowerment Fund, and Carol Tang.