What we measure and hold up now is pretty limited -- test scores, drug use, cheating on tests. Sometimes we get stuck in the mode of just using the data we have, even when they are not the measures we need. How many times are we forced to consider how well our youth are doing by just looking at deficits or test scores rather than strengths?
September 2011 Archives
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.
Expanded Learning Opportunities (ELOs) is the latest incarnation in a string of labels used to describe our field (in addition to youth development, after-school, out-of-school time, summer learning, extended day, complementary learning, community education, youth services, free-choice learning, and informal education). Depending on audience and purpose, I readily admit to using any number of these labels, as they vary in terms of nuance and origin in some meaningful ways. The Harvard Family Research Project says Expanded Learning Opportunities (ELOs) engage participants through innovative learning methods, complement what students learn during the school day, and strive to support healthy learning and development through positive out-of-school experiences.
Are we creating more confusion with these terms, or are we nudging our way to clarity?
Research has shown the more we practice making decisions the better we become at it. Learning how to make decisions and to be able to defend them helps one to be independent and responsible -- a part of growing up.
As we look at teen decision making, one has to consider the development of the brain during adolescence. Teens' brains are going through a period of intense development, and they naturally seek out risky, novel experiences and peer approval. As a result, decision making can be less than rational.