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Results tagged “Samantha Grant”

Working hard or working smart?

Samantha-Grant.jpg"How could we know as much as we do, spend as much as we do, care as much as we say we do and accomplish so little for so many kids over so long a period of time?"

That is one powerful statement by Ralph Smith, managing director of the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading. For anyone interested in the achievement gap, I encourage you to listen to his speech during this year's Ready by 21 National meeting. You will ride the wave of deep sadness to hope all in this 30-minute presentation. He had me at the first line, but the whole speech is thought provoking.

Outcomes: The big picture of youth work

Samantha-Grant.jpgDoes creating logic models make you sweat? Don't worry, you're not alone. Building logic models -- which depict the resources, activities, outputs and outcomes of a program -- has often been seen as a dry, scholarly activity. But I would argue that a logic model is an important document.

It can help you build a results-based program and engage in a dialogue about what is important. Even if you don't produce the full-blown logic model, I want to highlight two core pieces of one that are essential to your program: outputs and outcomes.

To help youth succeed, allow them to fail

Samantha-Grant.jpgWhy do we shy away from letting young people try and fail?

When I first started my work at the University of Minnesota, 4-H was new to me. I can remember attending a day of judging at the local county fair. I sat in awe of this experience and was envious that I had never had it.

I remember in that county fair judging experience that one youth brought an arts and craft project that was less than stellar. Rather than hyping up the project, the judge got the boy to reflect on what went wrong. In the 10 minutes that they spent together, this young person was able to take constructive feedback, and I honestly think that he walked away knowing how to improve.

People will often tell you that judging is a place for youth to reflect on their learning with the support of a caring adult. True. What they won't tell you is it's a place where failure is okay.

What?! Failure is okay. That might seem like an odd thing to associate with learning, but I would argue that we have to do more in the way of helping youth cope with failure.

Collaborations with schools benefit youth

Samantha-Grant.jpgRecently 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.

What makes an evaluation report compelling? (or not)

Samantha-Grant.jpgOkay, 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.

Arming parents with the tools to gauge program quality

Samantha-Grant.jpgOut-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.

Beyond boring data

Samantha-Grant.jpgBy 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.

Observation should inform program evaluation

Thumbnail image for Samantha-Grant.jpgHave 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.

What's the definition of youth work insanity?

Thumbnail image for Samantha-Grant.jpgHow 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.

Who can assess the quality of a youth program?

Thumbnail image for Samantha-Grant.jpgCan youth and volunteers effectively assess program quality?
Does it matter if adult volunteers or 4-H staff are paired with youth to complete assessments?

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.

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