Tuesday, October 18, 2016

How Race and Class Influence Student Learning Outcomes and Development

By Sam Piha

Sam Piha
We have been following the work of Dr. Pedro Noguera for several years. Dr. Noguera is now a Distinguished Professor of Education at the Graduate School of Education and Information Sciences and Director, Center for the Study of School Transformation at UCLA. Dr. Noguera has been a speaker at past How Kids Learn conferences and has shared his thoughts on the relevance of the Learning in Afterschool & Summer (LIAS) learning principles. This video can be viewed here.  

In partnership with LA's BEST, we recently hosted a Speaker’s Forum in Los Angeles on September 13, 2016 featuring a presentation by Dr. Noguera entitled, How Race and Class Influence Student Learning Outcomes and Development. He was introduced by LAUSD Superintendent of Schools, Michelle King. 

You can view his presentation by clicking on the video below.  

Monday, August 29, 2016

Quality STEM and Afterschool: An Interview with Dr. Carol Tang

By Sam Piha

Carol Tang is a long-time champion of quality STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) activities in afterschool and summer programs. She is the Executive Director at the Children's Creativity Museum in San Francisco, and former Director of the Coalition for Science After School. She is also a Board member of the How Kids Learn Foundation

She agreed to a video interview about the relationship between the Learning in Afterschool & Summer learning principles and quality STEM activities, which can be viewed below. This brief video interview is a good resource for afterschool staff to discuss. 

More recently, Dr. Tang agreed to answer additional questions about quality STEM activities. 

Q: Can you list a couple of qualities that good STEM activities demonstrate? 

A: While some folks may believe that STEM activities need to have science facts or math formulas to be good, in fact, high-quality STEM activities may not look like a traditional science lesson at all! Good STEM should include open-ended questions where children have a chance to apply their existing knowledge and experience in a hands-on activity. The best STEM activities are ones where more questions are generated than answers and where children end up wanting more time to explore. All STEM activities should also have dedicated time for children to share their ideas with each other and work together to solve challenges. 

Q: Why do you think that afterschool and summer youth programs are a good setting to promote STEM knowledge and activities? 

A: I strongly believe that out-of-school time offers a unique opportunity to engage youth in STEM learning--partly because these experiences don't feel like a homework assignment. Afterschool programs and their staff are already aware of children's individual interests and learning styles and they are prepared for the daily challenge of delivering engaging programming. I find that afterschool staff intuitively value open-ended exploration, collaboration, and unstructured play and these are exactly the principles that should be applied to good STEM experiences as well.

Q: Are there certain populations that have less access to STEM experiences and are ones that we should target?

A: Many studies have shown that children in both urban and rural communities lack access to both classroom and out-of-school time STEM enrichments that are crucial for inspiring interest and building confidence in STEM. This means that even children who have an aptitude for STEM may never get the role models and encouragement they need to see themselves pursuing STEM in the future. Many studies have shown that if girls and students of color do not receive experiences that both spark and sustain their interest in STEM, they will no longer identify with STEM in their lives. In my eyes, this is not just a tragedy on an individual level, but it is a loss for our society that depends on the creativity and talents of all.

Q: In your work, what have you seen as the challenges to those offering STEM activities in out-of-school or informal learning settings? 

A: I am heartened to see that in the years since I started championing STEM in afterschool, the awareness of its importance has become more and more common across settings and programs. The challenge I still see however, is that there are not enough resources within programs to maintain a diversity of STEM offerings to keep kids engaged throughout their formative years. Even when programs do offer high-quality STEM, it's often based on just a few activities or an occasional visit by a partner. Even in well-resourced communities, there is still a lack of continuous experiences that can deepen a young person's budding interest in STEM topics. 

Q: In what way do you think STEM activities intersect with social justice? 

A: First, while all children can benefit from access to the economic stability that STEM careers can bring, wealthy children have safety nets that other children do not; thus it is more imperative that low income families have the ability to climb the economic ladder through STEM jobs. But my passion for STEM goes beyond STEM jobs. There is just no getting around the fact that the environmental, health, and technological issues we face as a society impact different communities in vastly different ways. If under-resourced communities are not armed with the knowledge about the impacts of pollution, lack of healthy food, loss of natural spaces, and climate change, they cannot protect their own interests. I strongly believe that STEM not only offers a good defense, but it can provide the way for positive solutions. Communities can use STEM and creative problem-solving to tackle the issues that impact them and not wait for trickle-down solutions.

These societal and community challenges can be harnessed and used to engage children's interests in STEM. The most powerful experiences are ones where young people design their own projects to address the issues they care most about. It's been well-documented that girls and students of color are more deeply engaged in STEM projects when they have real-world applications. That is when they personally see how STEM can be both personally satisfying and impactful for their communities.

Q: There is a lot of talk about the importance of promoting a sense of "agency". Is there any way this is related to quality STEM activities? 

A: As a former scientist, I think that a STEM "mindset" is empowering because there is no question or problem that I think is impossible to tackle. I have a set of skills and attitudes that allow me to understand that even the hardest challenge can be broken down into questions, variables, and experiments--it might be hard and complex but I have faith that creative and prepared people can solve it eventually. So ultimately, I think participating in STEM activities gives youth agency--the set of skills, abilities, and attitudes to think critically, plan, and successfully carry out a project. They develop agency through the one STEM activity in front of them that one afternoon--but more importantly, over time, good STEM activities will strengthen their sense of agency and ability to be successful in life.

Carol M. Tang, Ph.D. is the Executive Director at the Children’s Creativity Museum and former Director of the Coalition for Science After School. She is experienced in non-profit management, strategic planning, envisioning, meeting facilitation, team building, fundraising and public speaking. She also has extensive experience in teaching, organizing, and leading science education efforts including out-of-school programming, exhibitions, teacher professional development, public programs, volunteer management and higher education.

Carol is active in professional service through grant review panels, Board membership, advisory committees, technical working groups and conference sessions.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

SEL and the Challenge of Context, Culture, and Focus

By Sam Piha

Sam Piha
Dr. Shawn Ginwright is Associate Professor of Education & Africana Studies, College of Ethnic Studies at San Francisco State University. He has been an important voice for understanding how we address the needs of youth of color within our youth programs. Dr. Ginwright was a speaker at a recent How Kids Learn conference on the topic of how we view social emotional learning in our work with young people of color. His brief presentation is worth a second look.

We also asked Dr. Ginwright a couple of questions. We offer his responses below.

Q: People sometimes remark that youth development principles are color blind. However, in your presentation, you spoke to the importance of context and of young people’s understanding their own racial identity and experience. Can you say why you think this is important? 

A: Conventional youth development models rarely consider racial, ethnic, gender, sexual identity as an important marker, and pathway for development largely because the models aim at overgeneralizing young people. However, for young people of color who experience racism, homophobia, and other forms of oppression identity is a critical element in the developmental process because it builds healthy self reflection, growth and collective esteem.

Q: We hear a lot about the term “agency”. Can you briefly describe what this is and why it is important that we promote a sense of agency? Is there an issue of equity when we talk about and look for opportunities for developing a sense of agency? 

A: Agency is critical for young people of color because it opens a pathway toward action to address issues they find important. Research also has demonstrated that agency, the ability to act and have a sense of control over one’s life is a critical (but often understudied) developmental component. Researchers have also concluded that agency fosters hope among young people. In communities, schools and neighborhoods bereft of hope, agency opens possibilities to act to create the communities young people want to see.

Q: We hear about the achievement gap and the opportunity gap. Can you share your views on this? 

A: The achievement gap is a misused term that tends to place academic performance entirely on students.  However, a more apt term is “opportunity gap” because it more accurately calls into question the structure of policies that make it incredibly difficult for young people of color to perform in schools. The responsibility is on schools, and school systems to foster an environment for learning. To say “achievement gap” presumes that the responsibility for learning is only on students.

Shawn Ginwright is a leading national expert on African American youth, youth activism, and youth development. He is an Associate Professor of Education in the Africana Studies Department and Senior Research Associate for the Cesar Chavez Institute for Public Policy at San Francisco State University. In 1989, Dr. Ginwright co-founded Leadership Excellence Inc. with his friend Daniel Walker. Leadership Excellence is an innovative youth development agency located in Oakland, California that trains African American youth to address pressing social and community problems. In 2002 he also created the Research Collaborative on Youth Activism, a network of scholar activists who study, advocate and support youth organizing efforts around the country. Dr. Ginwright currently serves on the Board of Directors for the California Endowment and other boards.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Character Day is September 22, 2016

By Sam Piha

Sam Piha
The idea that we should help young people build strong character traits is not new. It dates back to the origins of youth programs in America in the late 1800s. The importance of character building has seen a resurgence due to the research and literature on non-cognitive/social emotional skills, grit, growth mindsets, and the success of charter schools such as those managed by Kipp and the Harlem Children’s Zone. 

We believe that afterschool and summer programs are uniquely positioned to focus on the character building of their youth. All youth programs can celebrate character building by participation in Character Day on September 22, 2016. 

Let It Ripple has developed short films for young people and lesson plans for program leaders to support the offering of character building activities on Character Day. They have made participation very easy. You can click here to review their materials, which are suitable for children of all ages. 

They have created a “periodic chart” of character traits which includes: 

  • Creativity
  • Curiosity
  • Love of Learning
  • Perspective

  • Bravery
  • Perseverance
  • Honesty
  • Enthusiasm

  • Love
  • Kindness
  • Social Intelligence

  • Social Responsibility
  • Teamwork
  • Fairness
  • Leadership

  • Forgiveness
  • Humility
  • Prudence
  • Self-Control

  • Appreciation of Beauty
  • Gratitude
  • Optimism
  • Humor
  • Spirituality 
The Learning in Afterschool & Summer (LIAS) project is working to enlist the commitment of youth programs to participate in this important day. LIAS staff will review available materials and assist programs in selecting those that are most appropriate. You can contact LIAS by going to www.learninginafterschool.org

Monday, May 9, 2016

SEL Practice and Research: An Interview with Charles Smith

By Sam Piha

Sam Piha
“Social and emotional learning (SEL) must be accounted for if we want our youth to succeed. Empathy is just as important as English. The David P. Weikart Center for Youth Program Quality, a division of the Forum, is working hard to shed new light on ways to equip youth with the valuable social and emotional skills they need.” - Forum for Youth Investment

The How Kids Learn Foundation sponsored a Speaker's Forum with Charles Smith, Founder and Executive Director of the David P. Weikart Center for Youth Program Quality on May 6th in Oakland, CA and on May 10th in Los Angeles, CA. The Speaker's Forum topic focused on Social Emotional Learning in Afterschool – Research, Measurement, and Best Practices. The Weikart Center identifies six important domains of SEL: emotion management, empathy, teamwork, responsibility, initiative, and problem solving. 

Below is an interview with Charles Smith. 

Charles Smith at the HKL Speaker's Forum, Oakland, CA

Q: Can you briefly describe the origins of the Youth Program Quality Assessment (YPQA)? Why were you interested in the development of this?

A: The Youth PQA was developed to address a number of problems that were occurring for teachers and youth workers, and their organizations, in out-of-school time field. First and foremost, in the era of “education accountability” and No Child Left Behind (circa 2000) people who were focused on Positive Youth Development practice had few tools to demonstrate that they were doing work at a high standard. The PQA was designed to help people demonstrate their good work and that they were being accountable to a standard. A second reason for development of the PQA was to get the discussion of practice to the right level of granularity so that when the measure was used, practice could actually be discussed. 

Finally, we were frustrated that training in curriculum for teachers and youth workers wasn’t resulting in lasting changes in the organizations, i.e., participation in training didn’t result in changed practice. The PQA was built for a continuous improvement model that required system leaders and funders to send clear signals that (1) the quality of adult-youth interaction at the point of service was the most important part of the work and (2) that front line teachers and youth workers were going to be empowered to make decisions about how to create high quality.

Q: You have been involved in helping programs conduct data driven program improvement. What do you believe are the greatest challenges to this work?  

A: This is hard work so there are many challenges – and rewards. One of the greatest challenges is getting people to trust the process, which is why we advocate for “lower stakes” approaches. A majority of individuals in a continuous improvement system have to feel that the standard for quality is fair, that it’s possible to improve to meet that standard, and that supports are available to help them get there. When we achieve these criteria, many OST professionals and their organizations have been willing to do the work year after year and have reported very high levels of satisfaction with the process.

Q: We have found that one of the inhibiting factors for program improvement within afterschool programs is the fact that this work takes time and due to budget restrictions, organizations are less inclined to grant the needed time for reflection and planning to complete this work. What are your thoughts regarding this issue?

A: Time is always a challenge and some circumstances make it difficult to do the continuous improvement (CI) work. The challenge with time is almost always a system issue – if leaders are committed to doing the CI work then they focus on all of the things that can be done to integrate continuous improvement into everyday operations: Recognizing that CI time is also professional development time; moving org cultures and resources from “monitoring inputs” to “coaching on performance data” so that leaders become part of the CI resource; and there are many other ways that we’ve learned over the years. A PQA driven CI process is currently happening in over 4,000 OST sites each year so we know it can be done in lots of circumstances but it takes time to experiment and “fit” the CI process to how an organization does its everyday business.

Q: Can you briefly describe the Weikart Center? What was the link between the YPQA and the development of the Weikart Center, if any? 

A: The Weikart Center was started to take the PQA and CI work to scale. In many ways, the most important role of the Weikart Center is to help clients adapt the CI methods and measures to the circumstances that are unique to their OST systems. In our view, one size does not fit all when it comes to working with young people and communities – one size typically fits one. Every use of the PQA has to adapt to produce value for each specific community of users and that has been the primary role of the Weikart Center.

Q: Can you briefly describe why you are now focusing on SEL? 

A: In a very general sense, quality (i.e., PQA) is framework for understanding the OST settings where children and youth spend time. The other side of that framework needs to describe the skills that individual young people build as they engage with high quality OST settings. Social and emotional learning can have many different specific definitions but, in general, SEL skills are how we understand those individual youth skills. SEL skills are the skills that grow in high quality OST settings.

Q: You put a lot of work in the Preparing Youth to Thrive field guide. Why did you develop this, what is the focus? Who does the guide target (what age group, etc.)? 

Photos by Max Piha, Temescal Associates
A: Preparing Youth to Thrive was a unique opportunity to work with expert practitioners to define best practices that have emerged from their many years of experience and their many types of clinical and professional expertise. Our primary goal in the guide was to get the descriptions of practice to a “granular” level of actual behaviors and conditions in OST settings. 

Most SEL research is focused on what changes inside of individual youth while the conditions and practices that support that change are either too abstract or too sketchy for use. Our goal in the guide was to both name the key practices (none of which are new to most OST professionals) and then produce descriptions of the practices that users could recognize their own work in. 

Charles Smith is the founder and Executive Director of the David P. Weikart Center for Youth Program Quality, a division of the Forum for Youth Investment, and Senior Vice President at the Forum. The Weikart Center currently provides technical supports to a portfolio of over 115 quality improvement systems service a total of 4,250 sites, including several thousand direct service organizations that provide out-of-school time learning opportunities for children and youth. Dr. Smith leads the measures and analytics team at the Weikart Center and guides the Center’s efforts to design and implement lower stakes accountability policies.

Friday, April 15, 2016

A Crosswalk Between the LIAS Learning Principles and the CA Quality Standards

By Sam Piha

Sam Piha
In 2010, the Learning in Afterschool & Summer (LIAS) project was launched to offer five research based principles that serves as a guide for programs wishing to increase the engagement, motivation, and learning of their young participants. 

Four years later, the California Department of Education (CDE)/After School Division released the California Quality Standards for Expanded Learning Programs (CA Quality Standards). LIAS staff served on all three phases of the development of these standards to ensure that the LIAS principles were embedded. These standards focused on points of direct service with youth (#1-6) and standards that are intended to guide program managers (#7-12). 

Many afterschool and summer leaders asked how the LIAS learning principles correspond to the CA Quality Standards. To address this question, we issued a “crosswalk” paper, which correlated the LIAS learning principles with the CA Quality Standards for points of service with young people. This “crosswalk” paper can be found on the LIAS website here.

Below we offer a summary of this crosswalk. 

Learning that is Active: 
Learning and memory recall of new knowledge is strengthened through different exposures – seeing, hearing, touching, and doing. Afterschool and summer learning should be the result of activities that involve young people in “doing” – activities that allow them to be physically active, stimulate their innate curiosity, and that are hands-on and project-based. 

Learning that is Collaborative: 
Afterschool and summer programs should help young people build team skills that include listening to others, supporting group-learning goals, and resolving differences and conflicts. Collaborative learning happens when learners engage in a common task where each individual depends on and is accountable to each other.

Learning that is Meaningful: 
Learning is meaningful when youth have some ownership over the learning topic, the means to assess their own progress, and when the learning is relevant to their own interests, experiences, and the real world in which they live. Community and cultural relevance is important to all youth. 

Learning that Supports Mastery: 
If young people are to learn the importance and joy of mastery, they need the opportunity to learn and practice a full sequence of skills that will allow them to become “really good at something.” Afterschool and summer activities should be explicitly sequenced and designed to promote the layering of new skills. 

Learning that Expands Horizons: 
Afterschool and summer programs should provide learning opportunities that take youth beyond their current experience and expand their horizons. They should go beyond the walls of their facilities to increase young people’s knowledge of their surrounding neighborhood and the larger global community. 


You can read other blogs by the LIAS project by going to: 
  • Expanded Learning 360°/365 Project website 
  • Learning in Afterschool & Summer blog

Friday, March 18, 2016

Understanding Gender Identity: An Interview with a Child Development Specialist, Part 1

By Sam Piha

Sam Piha
There is a growing awareness in our society that gender is more than the sex that is assigned at birth. Gender identity is no longer an esoteric concept for child development experts. The importance of understanding gender identity is increasingly important for educators and leaders of youth programs. 

We have produced a briefing/background paper on gender identity. We invite you to download this paper by clicking here.

In a previous post, Understanding Gender Identity in Young Peoplewe reviewed the terminology surrounding this topic. 

Dr. Diane Ehrensaft
In this post, we interview Dr. Diane Ehrensaft to shed more light on this topic. She specializes in research, clinical work, and consultation related to gender-nonconforming children. Diane is an associate professor of Pediatrics at the University of California San Francisco and a developmental and clinical psychologist in the San Francisco Bay Area.  
Q: Is gender inborn or learned? 

A: As implied in the title of my book, Gender Born, Gender Made, the answer is neither—it’s both. Each one of our genders includes a combination of nature, nurture, and culture. To really answer this question, of inborn or learned, we have to differentiate gender identity from gender expressions: gender identity is our inner sense of self as male, female, or other; gender expressions are the ways we show our gender to the world—our appearance, our activities, our words, our ways of relating to the world.  

Present research indicates that our gender identities have a strong constitutional loading, while our gender expressions have a stronger social, cultural loading, but that both gender identity and gender expressions can have elements of all three influences—nature, nurture, and culture.  

Regarding nature, the most important concept to mark is that gender does not lie between our legs; it lays in our brains and our minds, and the messages those brains and minds send to you inside about what your gender is are paramount.

Q: Developmentally, when does this happen? 

A: Our old developmental theories said one thing, newer developmental theories say another. I’m going to answer according to the new. By the second year of life a toddler can exhibit both understanding of the gender label given to the child by the outside world (i.e., They call me boy; they call me girl) and their own internal sense of their core gender which will either match that label (the cisgender child) or show the incipient signs of being opposed to that label, as when a toddler, upon developing language, says, Me not boy, me girl. From age two to six, we all learn what it means to be a boy or girl or other, in other words, how to “do” our gender. We learn this through observation, direct teaching or coaching, even gender policing, and through our close relationships with those around us.  

By age six, most children will have a fairly stable sense of their gender identity, but not all children do, and some children may go through several iterations throughout their childhood until they land on “the gender that is me.”  The most important element in this developmental process is that the adults around the child allow children the freedom to establish their own gender selves, rather than have it dictated by others. 

Notable is that in traditional gender theories it was expected that for a child to have successfully reached their developmental markers regarding gender identity, they must have a clear and stable sense of themselves as boy or girl by age 6, and that sense should match the sex assigned to them at birth. But if a child says, “Hey, you all have it wrong, I’m not the gender you think I am” that child is not acknowledged as capable of having a stable gender identity by age six. That child is told, “You are too young to know.” That child is a member of our youngest cohort of transgender people, and we have to ask the defenders of the traditional developmental theories—How come a cisgender child can know who they are by age six, but a transgender child cannot?

Q: What is gender fluidity? 

A: Gender fluidity is living outside binary gender boxes—male/female; boy/girl. It also indicates a flexibility and creativity in composing for oneself a gender mosaic, if you will, based on a potpourri of the social expressions of gender within one’s culture and also on an internal sense of self as neither male, female, but somewhere in between or all and any rather than either/or. A child can be gender fluid at any moment in time (think pink boys) or over time (ballerina for awhile, then Darth Vader, then a “gender hybrid”).

Diane Ehrensaft, Ph.D. is an associate professor of Pediatrics at the University of California San Francisco and a developmental and clinical psychologist in the San Francisco Bay Area, with a private practice in Oakland, California.  She is Director of Mental Health of the Child and Adolescent Gender Center and chief psychologist at the Child and Adolescent Gender Center Clinic at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital. She specializes in research, clinical work, and consultation related to gender-nonconforming children, lecturing, publishing, and serving as an expert witness on both topics nationally and internationally.

Dr. Ehrensaft is author of Gender Born, Gender MadeMommies, Daddies, Donors, SurrogatesBuilding a Home Within (co-edited with Toni Heineman); Spoiling Childhood; Parenting Together; and the new release, The Gender Creative Child.  Dr. Ehrensaft serves on the Board of Directors of Gender Spectrum, a national organization addressing the needs of gender-expansive children and their families. 
You can read other blogs by the LIAS project by going to: 
  • Expanded Learning 360°/365 Project website 
  • Learning in Afterschool & Summer (LIAS) Blog