Friday, December 4, 2015

A New Framework for Youth Development

By Sam Piha

Sam Piha
The Wallace Foundation asked the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research (UCCSR) to conduct a study on the factors that influence young adult success. Foundations for Young Adult Success is not the first youth development framework, but it does offer an improved guide to factors influencing positive development. We believe that this study is well aligned with the California Quality Standards for Expanded Learning Programs and the LIAS principles

Jenny Nagaoka, lead author of this study, will share the report findings at the HKL V conference in Berkeley on December 10, 2015 at the David Brower Center. She will also be the featured speaker at the HKL Speaker’s Forum on December 11, 2015. 
Jenny Nagaoka

Her colleague, Camille Farrington, will share the study at the HKL V conference in Los Angeles on January 21, 2016 at the California Endowment. Below are some of our questions that Camille responded to. 

Q: There have been previous frameworks for youth development. What inspired you to develop this updated version? 

A: In 2013, the Wallace Foundation asked us to take a broader look at the range of factors that support college and career readiness. We proposed to broaden that even further to look at Young Adult Success across a variety of domains, including education, work, relationships, and civic engagement. The project gave us the opportunity to bring together our colleagues with expertise in early childhood (Stacy Ehrlich), adolescence and the transition to high school (Camille Farrington), young adulthood/transition to college (Jenny Nagaoka), and after-school/youth development (Ryan Heath). 
Dr. Camille Farrington

It also allowed us to expand on our 2012 report, Teaching Adolescents to Become Learners, which focused much more narrowly on course performance for students aged 10-20. In both projects, our goal was to translate some very complex research from across a wide range of disciplines to make it accessible, relevant, useful, and actionable for educators and youth practitioners (and parents) who work with children, adolescence, or young adults.

Q: What do you believe the chief takeaways are from the report? 

A: For me, the three big takeaways are: 
  • Development is multifaceted, and even if you're only interested in one domain (for example, cognitive domain and knowledge development), you will be much more successful in that domain if you recognize the interrelationship with all the other domains (social, emotional, behavioral, ethical, as well as the psychological tasks young people are engaged in) and intentionally address and leverage those other domains in your work. If you don't engage those other domains intentionally, they can end up working against you and undermining your efforts at knowledge development. I think this is a particularly salient message for teachers! 
  • No matter what age of children/youth you are working with, it is powerful to keep in mind a "north star" destination of a young adult with agency, integrated identity, and a set of competencies (our 3 "key factors"). How is the work you are doing today helping to move this young person toward that goal? 
  • Developmental experiences are powerful levels for moving toward this young adult goal. Over the past couple decades, we have swung from a focus on inputs to a focus on outcomes. Inputs are important, outcomes are important, but we also have to pay a lot more attention to the process whereby inputs become outcomes -- and that is the role of the young person's EXPERIENCE in a learning setting. What kinds of active and reflective experiences are young people having, and how does this shape their opportunities for development? In schools, this means expanding our focus beyond curriculum and instruction and looking at what kids are actually DOING in their classes.

Q: Unlike previous frameworks, your report offers a developmental picture for different age youth. What inspired this? 

A: The Wallace Foundation was particularly interested in understanding how important factors develop over time. We took the project as an opportunity to really dig into that question. It seemed important to acknowledge that each of the key factors and foundational components can look quite different at different stages of early development, and understanding those differences is crucial to better knowing how to interact with and support youth in varying developmental stages.

Q: This is an excellent educational tool. Do you have any plans on a follow up toolbox that will help programs translate the report into practice? 

A: We loved this project and the opportunity it provided for us to really go deeply and broadly into the empirical research and practice knowledge about youth development and learning. After 25 years of working in partnership with the Chicago Public Schools, one of our strengths as an organization is our ability to do effective "translational research" and create coherent frameworks that provide new insights and knowledge for practitioners. That said, we also recognize our limitations. While we would be very interested in acting in an advisory capacity on a toolbox project, we think that is work that is best carried out by practitioners. One of our Steering Committee members, a gentleman who was a principal and is now a district administrator in CPS, said that Consortium research tells practitioners "What" and "So what", but that the answer to the question "Now what?" is the responsibility of those working directly with young people. I think that same edict applies here!

Q: What are the implications of this work for those who work in community-based youth programs?

A: A fundamental role for adults is to create rich developmental experiences for young people and to pay attention to what kids "take away" from those experiences. Adults can create a variety of "action" experiences that provide opportunities for kids to encounter, tinker, practice, choose, and contribute. Adults can also provide critical "reflection" experiences, where kids have opportunities to describe, evaluate, connect, envision, and integrate their experiences. 

We shouldn't leave it to chance that kids make the most beneficial meaning out of the experiences they have, but neither should we tell them what meaning they ought to make. The research suggests that asking questions and letting young people talk about their thoughts and experiences may be one of the most important roles adults can play in fostering development. 

Dr. Camille A. Farrington is Senior Research Associate at the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research. She is one of the authors of the recently released Wallace Report entitled, Foundations for Young Adult Success. Her work focuses on policy and practice in urban high school reform, particularly classroom instruction and assessment, academic rigor, academic failure, and the role of noncognitive factors in academic performance. Dr. Farrington is lead author of Teaching Adolescents to Become Learners: The Role of Noncognitive Factors in Shaping School Performance (2012, CCSR), author of Failing at School: Lessons for Redesigning Urban High Schools (2014, Teachers College Press), and Principal Investigator for the UChicago Becoming Effective Learners Survey Development Project.

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