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Showing posts from 2011

Digital media: New literacy finds a place in out-of-school time

I met Nichole Pinkard in October and she inspired me! She genuinely got me excited about podcasts, video production, computer graphic design and digital sound production. And hey, I'm a former high school English teacher. How did she do it? She grabbed my attention when she shifted the emphasis off learning technical skills and put the emphasis on mastering creative and innovative digital literacies for the 21st century. How does it relate to our work with youth?

It was the attention to literacy -- the ability to understand and communicate effectively in multiple ways -- that made me say "Yes, I get it!" It's about being able to take in, produce and transmit written, verbal, visual, auditory and digital knowledge. Today literacy requires more than a pen, paper and print text. Truly an educated person today must be able to critically embrace both the traditional and the explosion of new digital forms of literacy.

Nichole works with Digital Youth Network, a …

Create learning environments that bring out the "angel in the marble"

One of the most difficult aspects of working with groups of young people is managing behavior. As adults, when unruliness or its potential ensues, it can be hard not to revert to "adult default," ignoring our desire to incorporate youth voice in order to re-establish a more comfortable level of control.

So how much should effective "behavior management" be about managing behavior, and how much should it be about managing (or really, creating) the environment? To me, the goal of behavior management is not for the adult to control the child -- the goal is for the child to learn a sense of independence and inter-dependence that brings about self-control.

Making a case for the child-centered classroom, Pereira and Smith-Adcock say that "as an individual, the child thrives when encouraged to freely explore and construct personal meaning through making choices for self and experiencing the results of those choices." And in fact, we know from other research that…

Occupy youth programs

From Occupy Wall Street to government and campus protests, to overthrowing leaders -- there is definitely something happening with youth today. I remember sitting in a class last winter watching a live link to the protests in Egypt and feeling like the world had shifted. So much has happened in such a short time, and youth are playing an important role in it. What does that have to do with youth programs? Perhaps everything.

This statement by Shannon Service in YES! magazine sums it up for me "After three decades of dormancy, youth activism is again flowering. But today's flower children are a hardy new variety. They're economically, ecologically, and electronically sophisticated. They're also globally organized, dead serious about democracy, and determined to have more fun than their opponents."

So my question to all of us is this: What are youth programs going to do to respond?
I think the answer may lie in engaging youth in ways we have yet to imagine. I …

Where are all the youth work studies?

It's old news that youth workers have trouble finding accessible, relevant journal articles that speak to their practice issues. It's no surprise that youth workers pursuing scholarship on youth development practice have trouble identifying outlets for their publications. Now, somebody has quantified the dearth.

A new integrative review of literature on youth development research in the Journal of Youth Development (see page 20) found that between 2001 and 2010, only 13% of the articles in five top-tier journals on youth and adolescence could be categorized as positive youth development research. If we include the online Journal of Youth Development itself, which focuses on bridging research and practice, the figure jumps (not too high) to 19%.
The analysis included these six journals:
Journal of Research on AdolescenceJournal of AdolescenceJournal of Adolescent ResearchYouth & SocietyJournal of Youth and AdolescenceJournal of Youth Development
Robert Barcelona and Willi…

Reflecting on a century of youth development research and practice

Youth development is regularly described as an "emerging field." Yet youth development has been at the core of many youth-serving organizations founded in the early years of the 20th century such as 4-H, Scouts, and Camp Fire. In the past 100 years, youth development practice has evolved and advancements in youth development research have been made. What have been key trends, major contributions and core issues during the field of youth development's "coming of age"?

The current issue of the Journal of Youth Development: Bridging Research and Practice commemorates the 100th anniversary of many national youth-serving organizations. For this special issue, authors were invited to reflect on research trends and contributions that have influenced the field over time as well as to consider issues of practice that continue to evolve and challenge the field.

Collectively, the articles provide an account of youth development over the years, covering such issues as how …

How do young people learn? We don't exactly know

A number of researchers have argued that youth are a distinct group of learners compared with children and adults, yet surprisingly little research has been put forth on the experience of youth learning. Most research on learning has focused on either children or adults; and adult learning principles misguidedly remain the core philosophy for most educators and youth workers who work with youth audiences.

As stated by Knud Illeris, youth learning is "...a gradual transition from the uncensored, trusting learning of childhood to the selective and self-controlled learning of adulthood". Research on the experience of youth learning is important because it could provide a foundation for understanding how young people learn.

Of the studies that do exist, Choy and Delahaye indicate that when they study for exams, youth commonly use a surface approach to learning, a form of scanning that is usually absent of reflection, because formal education conditions them to do so. However, g…

Wake up to the expertise of older youth

In preparation for a workshop I did recently on mentoring teenagers, I googled "mentoring older youth" to learn about current research and practice. Virtually all of the links that came up made the assumption that older youth were troubled youth, or high-risk youth, e.g., "juvenile delinquents," pregnant and parenting teens, youth in foster care or with parents in prison. What is that about?!

It's ageism, plain and simple. There is such a pervasive belief that teenagers are not to be trusted, are "screwed up," are something to be avoided or "dealt with" rather than that they are creative, ever-changing, exciting, cool people with strengths and expertise. You see this not only in the research that is conducted but also in the news, movies and TV, conversations with friends, family and neighbors, as well as where we spend our public dollars (youth intervention versus youth development).

Gisela Konopka and other youth development proponents en…

Great expectations are good predictors of science careers

When young people are asked, "What kind of work do you expect to be doing when you are 30 years old?", it turns out that their responses are quite accurate predictions of their college majors.

A 2006 study of young adolescents' career expectations, led by researchers at the University of Virginia, investigated whether 13-year-olds with an expectation for a science-related career obtained science degrees at higher rates than 13-year-olds without this expectation. They do - or at least they did - in a national sample of youth studied during the years 1988 through 2000, and published in 2006.

The study factored in differences in academic achievement, academic characteristics, and demographics, and followed young people living in the U.S. over time. Young people were asked to select one employment option from a list (only one!) and their career expectations were sorted into two groups -- science-related and non-science.

The science-related careers were further separated into…

Access and the opportunity gap

In his inaugural address a few weeks ago, the new University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler called upon us to move the university forward in terms of research, access, and excellence, using the word "access" 13 times.

Issues of access apply to out-of-school-time learning, as well as higher ed. Listening to the latest reports and events in our field have sparked important questions for me about access to positive educational opportunities for all young people.

How can we ensure that all youth (especially those who need it the most) have access to well structured and well implemented programs? How can out-of-school time (OST) programs connect youth with positive learning opportunities? How can we as youth development scholars and practitioners level the playing field for all youth?

For OST opportunities to be effective they must be well structured, staffed by caring adults, and provide youth with a real opportunity to contribute and be engaged in their communities. Research…

Is all this online socialization a good thing?

Teens are texters. They almost all have cell phones, which they are more likely to use to text than call their friends, on average about 50 times a day. They are heavy users of the Internet, and of social networking sites (SNS). Is all this online socialization a good thing?

We've heard about the downside. The driving while texting or talking on a cell phone. The cyberbullying. Sexting. The idealized presentations of self in online profiles. The continuous partial attention that keeps us attentive to messages from our online friends while giving less to the teacher, hurting school performance.

The best answer to my question might be 'it's complicated'. Because there really are some great benefits that offset the risks to all this online socialization.

In a recent research study by the Girl Scouts, more than half of the girls surveyed indicated that their online social networking helped them feel closer to their friends. About half indicated that social networking had …

Let's measure everything that matters

What outcomes do we want for our children and youth? What outcomes can we expect from expanded learning opportunities during the non-school hours?

What we measure and hold up now is pretty limited -- test scores, drug use, cheating on tests. Sometimes we get stuck in the mode of just using the data we have, even when they are not the measures we need. How many times are we forced to consider how well our youth are doing by just looking at deficits or test scores rather than strengths?

I believe we do need to be accountable for our collective impact, not just our program and organizational impact. I also believe that we need a set of valued and visible measures for youth -- measures that:
are valued for what they do capture about youths' experiences while they are in those expanded learning opportunitiesare visible to the public and remind people of how important and needed community learning opportunities are for our youthinclude academic measures, but go beyond themdon't just …

Observation should inform program evaluation

Have you ever watched a youth program where everything seemed to be working? As a youth worker, your gut reaction can be a good gauge of when things are "clicking" inside youth programs and when things need improvement. Sometimes with the current pressure to show the outcome and impact of our programs, we lose sight of the skills we develop through experience in youth work - our ability to observe and assess.

Observational methods in evaluation or research are gaining popularity in school and youth settings. In Minnesota 4-H, we have been investing in the Youth Program Quality Assessment. This standardized observational tool allows youth workers to assess safe environments, supportive environments, interaction, and engagement. There are many other tools for assessing youth program quality. Check out The Forum for Youth Investment for a review of tools.

An article in the spring 2011 Afterschool Matters publication takes a look at the Self Assessment of High-Quality Academic E…

Decision-making -- a risky business for teens

Research has shown the more we practice making decisions the better we become at it. Learning how to make decisions and to be able to defend them helps one to be independent and responsible -- a part of growing up.

As we look at teen decision making, one has to consider the development of the brain during adolescence. Teens' brains are going through a period of intense development, and they naturally seek out risky, novel experiences and peer approval. As a result, decision making can be less than rational.

It's during this period of development that brain wave activity is busiest in the prefrontal cortex. This area is responsible for advanced reasoning: cause and effect, planning, managing impulses, etc. Teens strengthen their thinking about thinking at this time. Along with this development comes actions like teens being quick to point out inconsistencies between adults' words and actions, and viewing conflicts from different perspectives. For example, is a clean room a…

What is the best way to foster self-directed learning?

The Great Minnesota Get-Together is in full swing! As I walk through the 4-H Building, exhibits display the intense work of youth from across the state. These youth have researched, created and implemented more than 3,000 projects covering a range of topics that amazes me. The reason for this impressive variety is the imagination and self-direction of the youth themselves - the glory of 4-H projects is the self-directed learning that takes place.

What is self-directed learning? Maurice Gibbons, one of the leading thinkers of SDL, defines it as when "the individual takes the initiative and the responsibility for what occurs. Individuals select, manage, and assess their own learning activities, which can be pursued at any time, in any place, through any means, at any age."

Malcolm Knowles, the pioneer of SDL, described it as a process in which individuals take the initiative, with or without the help of others, in diagnosing their learning needs, formulating learning goals, id…

Let's build upon the positive outcomes of camping

Happy birthday to camping! Over the past 150 years of organized camping in the United States, we as a field have done a good job of transforming camping into an educational experience in outdoor group living with measurable positive outcomes. Research shows that a well planned youth camp improves self-esteem, environmental awareness, peer relationships, and has other measurable positive outcomes. However, we often leave these outcomes at camp, and fail to build upon it. By thinking of camp as a stand-alone, situational learning experience, we miss an opportunity to capitalize on the gain. How can we make the most of what we work so hard to achieve at camp?

As anyone who has been to summer camp knows, the camp experience can be a rich and memorable one. These can be profound experiences for youth, producing lasting memories. Research shows numerous positive outcomes for youth who participate in organized camping opportunities. Among them are:
Self-esteemPeer relationshipsIndependenceAdv…

The dangers of praise -- how not to do a "good job!"

What's wrong with praising youth? Actually, there's quite a bit wrong with it.

Countless research in the past 30 years shows overwhelming evidence that praising youth can harm their development. For example, in 1998, Mueller & Dweck wrote that praising intelligence can undermine their motivation and performance. While it may seem counter-intuitive and even downright unfriendly, the research is clear. Praise leads to unhealthy attitudes and behaviors in youth.

When we praise young people, it gives them the message that we -- adults -- are the judge of what comprises a good job. It does not allow youth to explore whether they think what they did was good and why. Praise takes the center of focus and control from youth and puts it back in the hands of adults.

The effects are surprisingly negative for youth: shorter task persistence, more eye checking with the teacher, a focus on maintaining their own image, a shut down in challenges, less self-motivation, and highly competiti…

Career-focused mentoring benefits youth while they're still in school

Do you as a youth professional mentor youth? Mentors can be critical to the success of careers and reduce high turnover in early career stages. Mentoring youth at a young age to find their passion can make a critical difference for them even before they enter the world of work.

Mentoring can be particularly valuable for youth who do not have a caring adult in their life besides their parents. An ongoing relationship with a caring adult is a positive indicator for youth development.).

Mentoring relationships provide valuable support to young people; help guide youth through the sometimes awkward developmental stages that accompany the transition into adulthood. Great mentors listen carefully without taking on the other person's problem or giving advice, enabling the protégé to articulate the problem and sort our solutions. They also provide feedback and confirmation.

Mentors can offer academic and career guidance, and be role models for leadership, interpersonal and problem-solvin…

What are the implications of professionalizing youth work?

The newest resource postings on the Next Gen home page indicate that there is momentum toward professionalizing the field of youth work with core competencies, ethics, and certifications. I am hearing a variety of reactions to this trend. Some believe it holds great promise for advancing our field because it validates our knowledge base, values our impact, and provides a measure of quality assurance. Others are hesitant or alarmed by the potential for reduced flexibility as a more formal structure develops rules and regulations that may inadvertently pose a barrier to high quality youth work.

In the fall of 2010 the University of Minnesota Extension Youth Work Institute piloted a new 15-hour workshop called Leadership Matters. Twenty-two youth work supervisors and managers delved into the complexities of youth work supervision and leadership. One segment of the workshop examined core competencies, certifications and core knowledge. One particular activity that generated a great…

Social media skills are essential in a participatory online world

Social media have profoundly changed how we experience our connections with each other. But the connections are more than just social -- they help us to create and contribute to our world. They enable us to participate as citizens in today's participatory culture.

In a webinar this week put on by our center and PEAR , Karen Brennan drew on her research with Scratch, a computer programming language developed at MIT for use in education, to talk about the socialization-creation continuum. At the midpoint of this continuum is that space where we are most engaged and productive, doing more together than we could have achieved alone.

Several years ago Henry Jenkins and his team at the Comparative Media Studies Program at MIT described that midpoint as a participatory culture, as one with "relatively low barriers to artistic expression and civic engagement, strong support for creating and sharing one's creations, and some type of informal mentorship whereby what is known by th…

Are We Staying Responsive?

Youth work is, and always has been, about human potential and human transformation. It is a practice that emerged 'on the streets' in response to the sometimes severe and dire needs of young people who were struggling to find their way. In New York City, as in other places in the country, smaller community-based agencies are striving to hold on to their capacity to meet young people 'where they are at.' There is concern that youth work as a humanistic, transformative and responsive practice is quietly disappearing, being replaced by more narrowly defined opportunities to learn during nonschool hours.

In my research into the developmental opportunities provided by after-school programs, the literature consistently suggests that neither younger nor older children fare well in rigidly structured programs but benefit from attending flexible programs with varied activities, supportive staff, and a recognizable product resulting from activities. When youth work becomes a p…

What does it mean to be driven by data?

From evidence-based practice to data-driven decision making, the role of data in driving everything forward is becoming omnipresent. As a recovering quantitative sociologist this excites me. As a person devoted to building the field and making a difference in the lives of youth it raises both opportunities and concerns.

Like driving a car, youth work is a navigational sport filled with hundreds of decisions on a moment-by-moment basis. Whether it is the development of the field of youth work or the development of a young person, we process thousands of bits of data to make decisions.

But the data driving these decisions, like many others, are a real mix -- some conscious and quantitative and some unconscious; some rational and some emotional. We drive differently when we are angry than when we are happy.

If youth work is to become a data-driven field, we had better make sure we know what that means and take a strong role in shaping the data available and how they are used.

In driving…

Top 10 tech tools for our work

Do you feel overwhelmed by all the technology options? Do you find it hard to choose from, or even keep up with, the flurry of possibilities?

I'm not an early adopter. I still have a land line telephone, buy CDs from a shop, and don't have cable TV. But professionally, I want to stay up to date on tools for doing my work as a researcher and evaluator. I imagine they could help program staff be more productive and progressive too.

Here are my top 10 tools, based on personal experience, recommended by people I respect or that just look interesting, organized from finding and organizing information at the start of a project, to collecting data and presenting it to others.
Google Scholar. This academic search engine is my go-to place to search for scholarly literature across many disciplines and sources; peer-reviewed papers, theses, books, abstracts and articles, from academic publishers, professional societies, preprint repositories, universities and other scholarly organizations…

Ideal learning environments: An impossible dream?

Is it possible to build the ideal learning environments described by the thinkers in our field? Or is it better to strive for a "happy medium" between theory and the realities of practice?

Now and then I like to dust off and reread literature that shaped my thinking. Milbrey McLaughlin's report, Community Counts: How Youth Organizations Matter for Youth Development influenced my thinking on how to build intentional learning environments and put into perspective the value of community.

McLaughlin says that the most powerful learning environments are intentionally youth-centered, knowledge-centered, and assessment-centered and reflective of the community they are in.
McLaughlin constructed a theory of ideal learning environments focused on youth, knowledge, program assessment and reflective of the community. It is hard to find fault with these ideals:


Learning environments are effective when young people know that they matter and that they are central to what …