Recently I was part of a school-community partnership group. We were brought together to create a measurement plan for learning objectives set forth by a local school district. The objectives all focused on building 21st Century skills in youth. There was a heavy emphasis on developing global citizens and cultivating youth interests and talents. Too often these traits are thought of as "soft skills"; however research suggests that soft skills are sometimes the most demanded in the workforce. In fact, National Public Radio ran an article that stated that preschool is one of the best training programs because of the emphasis on soft skills in early childhood. Like preschool teachers, youth workers strive to help youth develop skills that will make them more productive citizens.
Results tagged “Samantha Grant”
Okay, time for true confessions here. How many research or evaluation reports do you have sitting on your desk? You know there was blood, sweat, and tears put into the creation of those documents, but somehow you don't feel compelled to read them. Why not?
I'm willing to guess that the answer is either: A. you don't have time or B. the reports are way too boring. (By the way, reason A is just a disguise for reason B.)
The truth is that many evaluation reports are dull, but there are also great ways to spice them up by focusing the message and using pictures and stories to illustrate points. I have set a goal of unlearning some report-writing habits to make mine more interesting, and thus more likely to spur action.
Out-of-school time providers beware! I'm a parent and know a lot about program quality. Last week as my daughter pirouetted her way into her preschool dance class, I found her dance teacher looking at forms instead of greeting the students. As a youth worker myself, I understand the demands of balancing 20 things at once. But I couldn't help thinking about how this non-greeting affects the learning environment.
I get it that I'm not the typical parent -- I'm the one who grills potential daycare providers on their use of developmentally appropriate practice, because I understand what that is. But I am interested to study more about how the average parent can become a better consumer of learning opportunities for their children. I know that my knowledge has impacted the decisions that I make for my children, and I believe the same would hold true for other parents.
By now, we are all convinced of the importance of doing evaluation of our programs. I hope we've all begun to collect data to inform our stakeholders and ourselves about how our programs are doing. I have blogged about practical evaluation in youth programs, and the theme of evaluation has been echoed by others in their posts.
Let's assume that you are collecting and analyzing data about your program -- what next? I argue that you must put in as much effort in communicating data as you did in collecting it.
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.
How often in programs do we continue to do something because "It's that time of year again"? A quote from Albert Einstein reads, "Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." I don't think Einstein was thinking about evaluation when he coined this phrase, but it nicely articulates our tendency to continue to offer youth programs without "checking under the hood" periodically.
As an educator for program evaluation, I believe strongly in using evaluation to guide and improve youth programs and to prove their worth to others. I know that others will agree with me on this. But I think we often fail to intentionally build evaluation into our program design and as a result our programs suffer. Jane Powers's research on youth participatory evaluation demonstrates that the act of intentionally engaging youth in the evaluation experience helps to not only build stronger programs but also youth development skills in participating youth.
Early results from our Minnesota 4-H Quality Improvement Study suggest that youth and volunteers can indeed assess quality and can work with local 4-H clubs to improve their programs. We have also learned that, for the most part, whether youth are paired with adult volunteers or staff made little difference.