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Extension > Youth Development Insight > December 2013

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Why does everyone ask, "Are you satisfied?"

Pamela-Nippolt.jpgIf you are like me, you are often asked to rate your level of satisfaction with quality -- at the doctor's office, at restaurants, at the service station, while shopping online. This practice takes extra time and resources both on the part of the provider AND on the part of the participant.

So why do so many businesses and organizations want to know our opinions about their service, product or program?

The answer is deceptively simple. High satisfaction is a key sign that program participants will continue their participation in the program.

boy-thumbs-up.jpgAs youth development professionals, we understand that program retention increases the chances that young people will reap the benefits - also known as program outcomes - from a high-quality program.

So, a comprehensive monitoring and evaluation approach for a youth development program has, at its foundation, a system for measuring participant satisfaction. In the case of youth programs, Caller, Betts, Carter & Marczak outlined three groups who are important to involve in determining satisfaction with programs - the youth participants themselves, their parents, and the program stakeholders in the community.

We know that parents play a big role in paving the way and making it possible for young people to participate in 4-H. For the past four years, Minnesota 4-H has asked parents and older youth to complete a satisfaction survey after their first year of involvement in 4-H.

What satisfaction or quality-related ratings does your team most need to understand, manage, and improve the programs that you lead?

-- Pamela Larson Nippolt, evaluation and research specialist

You are welcome to comment on this blog post. We encourage civil discourse, including spirited disagreement. We will delete comments that contain profanity, pornography or hate speech--any remarks that attack or demean people because of their sex, race, ethnic group, etc.--as well as spam.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Learning in place: Thoughts about place-based education

Cathy-Jordan.jpgWhat difference does it make where a child is, when he is learning?

Last year I had the opportunity to bring David Sobel of the Center for Place-based Education at Antioch College New England in New Hampshire to my children's K-8 school for a staff development workshop and public forum on placed-based education (PBE). What I learned from Sobel got me thinking about three things:

  1. What are the benefits of learning in place to its multiple stakeholders? 
  2. Can youth out-of-school time programs make use of the principles of PBE?
  3. Do diverse youth have equal access to PBE?
According to Promise of Place, a public-private partnership in Vermont, PBE has its roots in environmental education, community development and service learning. PBE:
  • Immerses students in local heritage, cultures, landscapes, opportunities and experiences
  • Uses these as a foundation for the interdisciplinary study of language arts, math, social studies, science and other subjects across the curriculum; and
  • Emphasizes learning through participation in service projects for the local school and/or community.
Sobel would add that PBE provides learners with a path for becoming active citizens and stewards of the environment.

In PBE, learning focuses on local themes, systems, content and contexts that are personally relevant to the learner. Learning is grounded in and nurtures the development of a connection to and a love for one's place. Learning on the local level forms the foundation for understanding and participating in regional and global issues in developmentally appropriate ways.

According to a report of the Placed-based Education Evaluation Collaborative, PBE fosters stewardship by helping students learn to take care of the world by understanding where they live and taking action in their own backyards and communities.

Benefits to stakeholders

A growing body of research points to numerous benefits of PBE:
  • Higher student engagement;
  • Strong academic achievement especially in the area of writing, higher standardized test scores (reading, writing, math, science, social studies) and higher GPA;
  • Improved behavior in class;
  • More enthusiasm for learning because learning is more relevant to students' daily lives, their home, and community;
  • Greater pride and ownership in their accomplishments and enhanced self-esteem, conflict resolution, problem solving and higher-level thinking skills.
In addition to student benefits, PBE invigorates educators; results in higher teacher retention; encourages positive relationship among students, educators and the community; and builds strong community support for education. Communities and the environment also benefit through student service projects.

PBE in out-of-school time

youth-built-le.jpgPBE can take place in the school, in the local community and in the natural environment, and programs can take place during school hours as well as during out-of-school time. Youth out-of-school time programs could be ideal settings for, and greatly enriched by the application of principles of PBE.

Access to PBE

I could not find much information with respect to the question of whether diverse youth have access to PBE, in the literature or on the web. PBE is definitely appropriate in urban, suburban and rural settings and in built environments as well as natural ones. All of these contexts can provide the natural, economic, social, political and cultural dimensions that form the foundation for learning in PBE. But has PBE "caught on" in some locales or types of schools or programs more than others, in some cultural communities more than others, or in schools or youth programs with different levels of resources than others?

What are the attitudes, skills and training necessary for adults to provide quality PBE? Is training and professional development widespread so that educators and youth workers serving youth in diverse contexts can offer quality PBE?

What are your opinions, observations or experiences? Are there certain contexts or populations for which PBE works better, or worse? Would there be different challenges to, or benefits from, implementing PBE in some contexts or with specific populations, compared to others?

-- Cathy Jordan, director and associate professor

University of Minnesota Extension's Children, Youth, and Family Consortium

You are welcome to comment on this blog post. We encourage civil discourse, including spirited disagreement. We will delete comments that contain profanity, pornography or hate speech--any remarks that attack or demean people because of their sex, race, ethnic group, etc.--as well as spam.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Adventures in social and emotional learning

Kate-Walker.jpgThe Voyageur Outward Bound School is an example of a program that fosters social and emotional learning (SEL). After our recent SEL symposium, I spoke with Poppy Potter, the director of operations and master educator at VOBS, a program that works to bring out these skills in young people.

KATE WALKER: Tell me about the Voyageur Outward Bound School.
POPPY POTTER: Our mission is to change lives through challenge and discovery. We use experiential programs to impact our students' lives. Whether a 28-day canoe expedition, or a High Ropes Insight Program, our programs are designed to demonstrate to our students that "they can do more than they ever thought possible." Our founder Kurt Hahn talked about teaching "through" rather than "for" and this philosophy is still present in all of our courses today.

KW: What are the program's goals? What SEL competencies or skills does your program develop?

PP: We hope our students look back on their course and discover that the trajectory of their life changed after their VOBS experience. We want our students to find they have better managed life's challenges and made better choices because of what they learned on their Outward Bound course. We strive to demonstrate that through discovery of their strength of character, their ability to lead and their determination to serve their community, that they help create a more resilient and compassionate world.

The competencies Outward Bound students experience and gain perfectly align with SEL. Language we use to describe the skills and attributes students gain include self-confidence, resilience, problem solving, collaboration, compassion, effective communication and social and environmental awareness. Similarly, when looking at the recent studies about grit, our students discover that perseverance leads to success through grit and determination, creativity and collaboration, and ultimately that they can choose to live differently by making choices that lead toward their dreams and goals.

boys-with-sled-dogs.jpgKW: What are the program components that promote and reinforce social and emotional learning?

PP: Students participate in programs ranging from 1-50+ days that are designed to help them discover and build the strength of their character, leadership skills and develop an ethic of service. Our expeditions are designed with a deliberate progression for students as they move toward new awareness of their capabilities:
  • Training phase: Knowledge = Success. During this part of our programming students 1) gain personal, interpersonal and technical skills, 2) practice problem-solving and decision-making skills, and 3) experience natural consequences and rewards.
  • Main phase: Transfer Responsibility = Gained Confidence. Our instructors facilitate challenges for participants to 1) face adversity, 2) experience successes and failures as learning opportunities with coaching and feedback, and 3) solve real problems using effective communication and conflict resolution skills.
  • Final phase: Own It = Apply It. Instructors recognize and affirm participants, resulting in 1) students receive increased responsibility, 2) collaboration skills as the students create and move toward a common vision, and 3) application of mastery of skills to achieve personal and group goals.
Within this progression, we have many course components that promote social-emotional learning.

KW: How does that happen?

PP: All of our staff are trained and mentored to move through a course design process using our educational framework. All VOBS programs are created with specific design principles that allow for a consistency in our programs, regardless of each program's uniqueness:
  • Learning through experience. We facilitate engaging, relevant, sequential experiences that promote skill mastery and incorporate reflection and transference
  • Challenge and adventure. We use familiar and unfamiliar settings to impel students into mentally, emotionally, and physically demanding experiences while managing appropriate risks
  • Supportive environment. We design experiences that support physical and emotional safety and develop a caring and positive group culture.
Lastly, we teach and work by these values: compassion, integrity, excellence and inclusion.

KW: Has the program been evaluated for SEL outcomes? What is the evidence of effectiveness?

PP:We use the Outward Bound Outcomes Instrument (OBOI) to evaluate outcomes of participating youth. OBOI is a validated survey developed by the national Outward Bound organization that includes nine measures. In a November 2012 evaluation of urban youth from River's Edge Academy, students reported the following gains from participating in VOBS activities:
  • 90% increased self-confidence
  • 87% increased goal setting
  • 90% increased resilience
  • 86% increased empowerment
  • 89% increased problem-solving
  • 92% increased communication
  • 86% increased group collaboration
  • 87% increased compassion
  • 90% increased environmental awareness
How does the VOBS story resonate with your own youth program? Are you intentionally fostering SEL competencies? If so, how? And how do you know if your program is increasing SEL in youth participants?

-- Kate Walker, Assistant Extension professor and Extension specialist, youth work practice

You are welcome to comment on this blog post. We encourage civil discourse, including spirited disagreement. We will delete comments that contain profanity, pornography or hate speech--any remarks that attack or demean people because of their sex, race, ethnic group, etc. -- as well as spam.
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