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Showing posts from February, 2013

Soft skills can be hard to measure

If you, like me, evaluate and study youth programs, you should know about a new resource for measuring soft skills outcomes. Soft skills -- communication, relationships and collaboration, critical thinking and decision making, and initiative and self-direction -- can be hard to measure. Youth programs can help young people to acquire these skills, which are important for working and participating in civic life.

The Forum for Youth Investment has published a reviewed report of eight tools to do this. "From soft skills to hard data" reviews eight tools that are both practical and rigorous - offering something for evaluators and program practitioners alike.

The report cites the 2010 Preparing Students for College and Careers policy report that "according to teachers, parents, students and Fortune 1000 executives, the critical components of being college- and career-ready focus more on higher-order thinking and performance skills than knowledge of challenging content.&quo…

How do we talk about education without imposing our values?

How do you talk about education with immigrant families? Even those of us most experienced in intercultural communications can stumble when discussing such a value-laden subject.

In my work with the Pathways Project and the Minnesota CYFAR project, both of which have a focus on academic and personal success for youth from nontraditional Extension audiences, parents of the youth involved are committed to their children's academic success. But visions of success can vary.


For example, I recently had a conversation with a Mexican-born mother about her child's education plans. The mother explained to me that she is supportive of her daughter going to college someday, but reacted adversely when I connected it to a career: "Quiero que piense en la felicidad, no de una carrera." (I want her to think about happiness, not about a career.) In that moment, I realized I needed to center the conversation about education around her daughter's overall personal happiness and n…

What is the common core of youth programs?

Should youth programs focus on academics? If so, how much? This ongoing debate has a new twist, with the emerging Common Core State Standards, now adopted by 46 states.

The Common Core sets standards for what students in K-12 should master in math and English language arts to be college- and career-ready, and are expected to be implemented in 2014-15 in each state.

In a recent Forum for Youth Investment article, Devaney and Yohalem explain that the standards "emphasize higher-order thinking skills, that is, they focus more on demonstrating understanding of content and analyzing written materials rather than memorizing specific content." They also question what they may mean for youth programs.

Undoubtedly, practitioners and leaders in youth work should explore and consider the Common Core standards as a policy force that will affect the youth we work with every day. And as Devaney and Yohalem note, there are a number of networks and coalitions in out of school time already…

Yes, you can pull scholarship from your community engagement work

Do you work in higher ed or in collaboration with communities? In doing so, do you develop curricula, training manuals, videos, briefs or toolkits? Did you know that you can simultaneously increase the impact of these products on communities and make them count as legitimate scholarship?

We tend not to think of the youth programs, professional trainings and educational materials we develop as "scholarship". When we want to let others know about how we developed the product, its qualities and its impact, we write a journal article. We think about this as a separate process called scholarship. But there need not be a dichotomy.

Here are four keys to enhancing the impact of your work, both for communities and to advance your career in higher education:
Tap community knowledge - when youth or youth development professionals who would benefit from your work are involved in conceptualizing and creating it, the result is a product that effectively meets their needs and that they can…