Wednesday, May 22, 2013

A Conversation with UCI Professor and OST Researcher, Deborah Vandell

By Sam Piha

Sam Piha

In late 2012 and early 2013, we conducted a number of videotaped interviews with educational and out-of-school experts on the Learning in Afterschool & Summer learning principles. These taped sessions included interviews with Deborah Vandell, State Superintendent Tom Torlakson, neurologist Judy Willis, youth development specialist Karen Pittman, Professor Pedro Noguera, two Bay Area school principals, CDE After School Division Director Michael Funk, and others. These videos will be excellent training tools and will be made available very shortly. The videos were shot by youth videographers and produced by Temescal Associates.

Below is a portion of an interview with UCI Professor and OST researcher, Deborah Vandell. To view two short videotapes of our conversation, click here.

Q: The LIAS learning principles were not intended to apply to strictly afterschool settings. In your experience as an educator and researcher, how are these principles, when taken together, relevant to young people’s learning? 
A: I think that the learning principles in after school and summer really get at the core of learning for students - starting in early childhood, going through to university. So if we think about those core principles, the first is active. We know that young people learn by being active. Many years ago, Piaget started talking about the key to learning being children’s activity. It’s in the context of activity that children and young people develop new skills.  

A second principle is the principle of collaboration. And this is also very important. The most influential of the psychologists would be Vygotsky, who talked to us about collaboration, and that children really learn through what we call the zone of proximal development. What young people can do alone is not as advanced as what they can do with others in a group.  So in a group where they’re collaborating, we're able to actually move them into that zone to develop their skills further.  

A third principle, really important within the learning and after school framework, is that learning needs to be meaningful, it needs to be embedded in activities that are important for young people. When I think about the importance of it being meaningful, what really comes to mind is the work of Reed Larson, who did some really important work looking at development of initiative and engagement. What he found is that when young people are in school, what they often are doing is putting forth a lot of effort, but they’re not really motivated - its not something they really care about. What happens in afterschool activities, when they’re really working, when they’re active, they’re choosing those activities and they are also focused on them, it’s the best combination for learning that is meaningful.  

The fourth principle is that programs and activities should be working towards mastery.  Now the striving towards mastery is not an activity that you can do in one day, in half a day, its really an activity that you’re building over time.  When you’re building for a concert, you're practicing, you're developing those skills. When you are getting out to put together a newspaper, when you’re planning a play, which is a complex activity, it gives young people a chance to put those skills together. Notice many of them are also working with others in a group, often with a culminating event. Jacqueline Echols, in a very important book on the role of positive youth settings for development, as part of the National Academy of Science report back in 2002, talked about this learning to support mastery as a key element to support positive youth development.  

And then the fifth principle is that of expanding horizons. Our young people live in a global society. Our young people are living in a society in which science is becoming increasingly important, mathematics and those activities have to really happen in context.  Part of what students can do in afterschool and in summer, in really fine programs, is that we can expand the horizons, beyond where they are in this moment in time.

(This is only an excerpt of our complete interview. To view a complete videotaped interview, click here.)

Deborah Vandell is a Professor of Education and Psychology and Dean of the School of Education at the University of California, Irvine, discusses the relevance of the Learning in Afterschool and Summer Principles. Ms. Vandell has longstanding interests in three areas: (1) early child care and education - its effects on children's social, cognitive, and behavioral development and strategies for improving the quality of early care and education, (2) after school programs and activities - their impact on children and youth and strategies for improving the quality of after-school programs, and (3) children's relationships with peers, parents, siblings, teachers, and mentors as developmental and educational contexts.

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