#AdoptMent youth take personal stock

I’ve been reticent to blog about my work with the AdoptMent group because they’re a younger set and I’m more protective of their privacy. This is a transitional year, not just within the program, but also in the lives of each of these young people. In my first session with them this school year, we returned to the tasks of adolescent development, but instead of focusing broadly on the topic of identity, this time we talked about personal values and relationships, especially how to strike a healthy balance between independence and connectedness.

Last spring I used Zits comics to get the conversation started. We returned to two strips that dealt specifically with identity exploration, and was really pleased that they all retained the biggest lesson from last spring’s identity self-portrait activity, namely that at this early stage in life staying true to yourself is overrated, and identity crises are actually a healthy part of psychological development.

From that group review, everyone paired off with their mentors to discuss comic strips treating the developmental tasks related to autonomy, relationships, and values. The mentors had handouts that indicated the tasks displayed in each strip, but the mentees first had to work on inferring the topic from the material. The second step in the exercise was to reflect on how they were progressing in each of those tasks. I got to eavesdrop on a lot of wonderful stories about how these young people set up challenges for themselves (e.g., earning the money and planning transportation for a solo trip to New Jersey), and noted how their relationships to their parents were in transition

The final part of the workshop had everyone select one particular developmental task that posed a significant challenge to him or her. Continue reading

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Vera’s guide to becoming an evidence-based practice

Just a quick resource share for those of you doing program work in the social services: Here is the Vera Institute of Justice‘s guide to building an evidence-based practice. As part of the MacArthur Foundation’s Models for Change Initiative, “Measuring Success” was written in response to grantees in the juvenile justice space who were concerned about the evaluation process. Nevertheless, the guidelines are broad enough to benefit other practitioners in related social services fields.

(Love) letters of evaluation

One of the most pleasurable parts of my job is being able to write letters of evaluation for each of the youth in the mentoring group I work with. The idea didn’t come to me because I had an immediate desire for “assessment.” To be honest, I got into this line of work partly because grading and putting numbers on people are activities that don’t appeal to me. The letters of evaluation grew organically out of the spectacular results from the first workshop I ran with the group. Technically, I can’t say that the youth “exceeded my expectations,” because I had gone into the mentoring group without any points of reference at that stage of my program development, and I barely knew anything about anyone in the group. But they certainly bowled me over with their level of engagement and with their ability to grapple with concepts that I had learned as a college undergrad.

If you’re an educator you’ll understand me when I say I was flying high from the experience even the day after. I couldn’t stop thinking about their projects, so I opened up a Word document and just started writing to each of them. I tentatively emailed them to the program coordinator just to make sure that it was appropriate to send them the letters, and she responded with absolute glee. She said that most of her young clients have never received letters in the mail, so getting an envelope with their name on it and a typed letter inside would be thrilling. And what’s more, it will mean a lot to have an adult engage seriously with them on an individual basis. And indeed, the letters thrilled the youth, thrilled the mentors, and thrilled my clients at Fostering Change for Children (who run the AdoptMent mentoring program). It was a no-brainer to make them a regular part of my workshops with them.

I thought I’d share the process behind each of these letters by identifying the elements that go into them: Continue reading

Lessons in social entrepreneurship from Year Up’s founder

Yesterday Gerald Chertavian flew into New York City to give a very inspirational talk about how he started Year Up. He had really solid advice about filling the gaps in your knowledge by hiring a diverse team of people and being very selective when it comes to assembling a board, but all those things are a bit farther down the line for me. What occupies me now are networking and creating a sustainable business model, neither of which come naturally or easily to me, so I’m still wrestling with what Gerald had to say about all that. I see how his approach has worked out tremendously for him, but am very ambivalent about applying all of it to my life. Continue reading

In theory, in practice

Let’s talk about pilot programs! As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’m piloting bits of my Coming of Age program at New Alternatives for Children (NAC). I’m especially excited about the upcoming workshop, which will allow participants to take what we discussed in our last meeting—coming of age rituals—and synthesize it for themselves by designing rites of passage that resonate with their personal definitions of adulthood. As opposed to the last session, where I needed to hit several conceptual points in a presentation and discussion, this is the part of the program where I have no agenda and no expectations. I’m not familiar with this group, but even the facilitator who knows them well is curious to see what the youths come up with. After the presentations, we will have everyone fill out another survey that will hopefully give us a measure the impact of the workshop and allow them to evaluate my role as an educator.

The group facilitator and I debated whether or not we should have participants fill out post-workshop evaluations so soon. Continue reading

Sarah Webster Goodwin’s inspired class project

I am still making my way through the Teagle anthology on assessment, which I can’t recommend nearly enough to educators who are invested in bettering their teaching practice. Today I read “Fearful Symmetries: Rubrics and Assessment” by Sarah Webster Goodwin. You might be able to tell from her title that Goodwin is a scholar of British Romanticism, and her approach to education owes a lot to Blake’s notion of poetic or prophetic learning, which goes beyond what is known and taps into something (you guessed it) sublime or ineffable. The most engrossing part of her article detailed a particularly novel project assignment she handed a freshman class in Skidmore’s interdisciplinary Human Dilemmas seminar. Continue reading

Sensible assessment advice from Barbara Walvoord

The value of Barbara Walvoord‘s contribution to Heiland and Rosenthal’s anthology on academic assessment is spelled out in its title: “How to Construct a Simple, Sensible, Useful Departmental Assessment Process.” Before she gets on to that task, however, she clears up a few misconceptions about assessment. One is that assessment can in fact be consonant with both the values of academic departments and the requirements of external evaluators. Another is that assessment is not a tool to evaluate faculty, but rather a “systematic collection of information about student learning for the purpose of improving that learning” (336). The formula she gives is stunningly simple: set your learning goals; decide on at least one direct measure (eg, faculty evaluation of student work using detailed rubrics) and one indirect measure (eg, student surveys); and use the information to improve curricula and teaching.

What makes her article especially compelling is that she departs from that rather benign definition and pushes us to think broadly about what counts as student learning. Echoing Donna Heiland’s language, Walvoord asks, “How we might assess our most ineffable goals—qualities of mind and heart that we most want the study of literature to nurture in our students?” (336) Continue reading

Big ideas I learned in college

Before I finally declared a major in Latin American studies I remember considering both English and history and thinking to myself that I surely wouldn’t do well enough as a history student because I was so bad at remembering dates. I was reminded of the folly of my reasoning by Michael Winerip’s statement of the most valuable lesson he’s learned from his AP American history teacher:

I have long ago forgotten the content of those lessons, but Mr. Noyes instilled in us something far more important: the understanding that history does not come from one book. While that idea has served me for a lifetime, I do not believe it is quantifiable.

Perhaps it isn’t quantifiable in the sense that it isn’t the sort of outcome that can be gauged in a multiple choice exam, but Donna Heiland gives me hope that we might be able to capture evidence of this insight by sharpening our assessment techniques.

At any rate, I am motivated to begin a list of some of the big ideas I gleaned from my college experience: Continue reading