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Creative ways to survey youth

By Samantha Grant

Put down your smiley face surveys. I mean it. Put them down inside of the garbage can.

I know that as youth workers we want to get evaluation feedback from our youngest audiences. So, what do we do? We create cutesy evaluations that make little sense to kids and even less sense for reporting.

Check out a video that I hope will make you think twice before using a smiley face evaluation scale in the future.




 In the video you will learn why I think this scale shouldn't be used. But it still doesn't answer the question, "How can you collect feedback from really young people?"

Youth in grades K-2 are learning to read. By third grade, those who read at grade level are reading to learn. So I typically set the lowest grade level for written surveys at third grade. I expect that some of those third graders will still need a survey read aloud to them to fully participate in the data collection. Keep in mind that in a typical third-grade class, only about 55% of youth are reading at grade level.

Just because they are young and not fully reading doesn't mean they can't contribute! A first grader can still take part in evaluative exercises, but they need some special considerations. Here are a couple of ideas that you could try:
  • Get into the habit of leading reflection activities at the end of your youth program. Gather as a group and have youth all answer a question. Not only will they reflect on their learning, but they will be able to hear what others in the group experienced, too. Now write down what they said, and you have some rich data plus some stories. 
  • Try a visual form of data collection. Prompt them with a question such as, "What is the most important thing you've learned in 4-H this year?"  Then ask them to write or draw a picture about it. Just make sure to take photos of the cool images they have created, because you'll likely be impressed!
  • Journals are another ongoing way to collect data from youth. At the end of each session, give youth time to write, draw, cartoon or otherwise express themselves in their journals. Embed technology into this strategy and allow youth to complete photo journals. Send them out with cameras to document what they have been doing in their program. 
  • Use some creative strategies, like using a dartboard to vote, or writing postcards home. Creative strategies can add some energy to your program and get youth thinking differently. 

Try out one of these strategies and I guarantee you'll get better feedback than you get from a smiley face evaluation. Check out even more ideas about youth evaluation at Evaluating education programs.

What ideas do you have to creatively collect data from youth?

-- Samantha Grant, evaluation director

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  1. It is such a great opportunity to allow youth to express their own creativity during data collection. In addition to strategies such as drawing / writing, I have seen successful collection of data through youth skits and dances. I love the dual purpose nature of these strategies to both collect valuable information while also providing an environment that fosters youth creativity!

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  2. Great ideas. Your strategies inspire me to want to get out there and ask youth some questions! One question: when you report data collected during reflection activities do you report it differently than data collected in a more directed evaluation activity? Or do you recommend asking questions that are used for program improvement in reflection activities rather than trying to collect impacts that you would include in a report?

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