Tuesday, August 12, 2014

“The Clarissa Effect” in Youth Development

“The Clarissa Effect” in Youth Development

Don Siegel

After so many years of debating the virtues of such things as charter schools, vouchers, Race to the Top, teacher assessments, no child left behind, and now, the common core, little attention has focused on how kids see things, and what gets their fires lit to learn. No initiative, no matter how logical it may seem or how much political and financial support it gets, is going to promote real growth in our youth unless youth are on-board, ready, and willing to engage with curricular content and the people responsible for delivering it.     

As a case in point, the story of a child struggling in an afterschool program provides a window into this critical aspect of a child’s life. Clarissa came from a difficult home situation, and lived in a neighborhood in which gangs, violence, and drugs were rife, and in which unemployment and poverty were the norm. She struggled with school, had not thought much about her future, and was on track to become another teen mother who would likely continue in this cycle of hopelessness. By chance, she connected with an afterschool program that engaged kids in a sport, while promoting a better life through academic enrichment, travel, and building social capital. When Clarissa first started the program she conveys that she had a “bad attitude”. She talked back to staff, fought with peers, gave only a half hearted effort during sport sessions, and blew-off the academic component of the program. Essentially, she was a kid “on the bubble” who was not really engaged or taking advantage of what the program had to offer. She was also the kid who staff dreaded, and who was on the verge of being constantly suspended because of her bad attitude and the negative effect she was having on others in the program.

Yet, after several years, Clarissa had an awakening in which she realized that her negative attitude was not really getting her what she wanted from life.  She conveys that she started to realize that listening to staff, participating more positively, and following directions got her more satisfaction than talking back and being nasty to everyone. What changed for Clarissa?

Clearly, it took Clarissa a great deal of time to understand that the people who she saw everyday really wanted to help her, and lookout for her wellbeing; something that she had not experienced with other peer and adult relationships she had experienced over the years. Clarissa conveyed that her bad attitude came from “never feeling like anyone was there for me and not caring about what I wanted and needed, so, after a while I didn’t care about others.” She further observes that once she really felt valued, having a positive outlook came easily. Overall, she felt happier, which in turn, became a source for her to move forward despite other challenges that she faced.

Over the years, Project Coach staff have observed many variations of Clarissa’s awakening. It is not unusual for us to work with youth who for a very long time, sometimes several years, have poor attitudes and are fairly non-responsive and unwilling to participate fully in our activities. But, then all of a sudden something clicks, and like Clarissa, they start on another, more positive, trajectory. This is one of the ironies and frustrations of doing youth development work. It is very non-linear in that there may be little overt change from day to day with a kid, but then one day, like “Leo the Late Bloomer”, a switch seems to flip, and they begin to blossom. For want of a better label, we might call this the “Clarissa Effect”.

While no one really knows how or why such transformations take place, I  believe that they have to do what is going on in a youth’s emotional life. A recent book by Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow, has something to say about the “Clarissa Effect”. Kahneman proposes that we really have two selves driving our behavior. The first he calls Self 1, which is instinctive, automatic, emotional, stereotypic, and frequent. The second is Self 2, which is what we typically think of when we describe who we are. It is slow, effortful, logical, and conscious.

Of particular interest in his framework is the notion that these two selves work independently as we experience the moment (Self 1), and as we recall the aggregate of moments experienced (Self 2). In essence, Kahneman believes that our conscious self remembers overall experiences more by their peaks and valleys, and by the way an experience ends, than by the quality of ongoing experiences from start to finish. According to Kahneman, Self 2 is the remembering and conscious self, while Self 1, the experiencing self, that which lives in each moment of an experience, is a “stranger” to us.

While these dichotomies of self, as they relate to one’s identity and behavior, can get quite confusing, the take away from Kahneman’s work is that the “stranger self” (Self 1) needs to become less strange and more familiar to the  “conscious self” (Self 2). In essence, Self 2 needs to become more aware of the positive experiences associated with ongoing involvement in an activity; it’s positive affect, and the part that one’s behavior makes in shaping such experiences and feeling.

My take away from Kahneman is that for Self 2 to get to this point, the Clarissa’s of the world need to be immersed in activities that feel good and leave a dense trail of salient peaks with few valleys.  Ultimately, it is Self 2 that is transformed by day in and day out exposure to positive experiences; the snippets of which are compiled and assembled into pictures that the more conscious, deliberate, and conscious mind can understand. This takes time, especially for youth who’s Self 2 has already been defined by negative experiences that have shaped their negative identities. Consequently, the “Clarissa Effect” entails bringing Self 2 into better alignment with Self 1, a process of cohering one’s conscious and less conscious worlds.

The bottom line here is that over time we will encounter many Clarissa’s, and if we wish to get them on-board with our programs, and in so doing, a brighter future for themselves, we need to help them feel good about themselves, and understand how their own behavior promote such feelings. There is no formula for doing this. But what seems to work is sticking with these kids and exposing them to a continuous stream of interesting activities and supportive people. Some may respond quickly, while others may be multiyear projects. But, if they keep coming back, they are finding some satisfaction in being with us. As the aggregate of peaks build so will the likelihood that they change course, and move in a more productive direction.  

Reference


Kahneman, D. (2011). Thinking, fast and slow. Macmillan.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Readiness to Learn Problem

Don Siegel

As a teacher, coach, and co-director of a youth development program, I have become increasingly aware of the gap that exists between educational initiatives, the curricula they produce, and the youth that such policies and curricula are designed to serve. That is to say that those who craft policy are rightfully concerned about such things as educational inequality, educational under achievement, and developing a workforce that can compete globally, but they do not seem well versed in understanding how to connect with and engage the youth to which policy initiatives are targeted. My guess is that developing policy is a lot easier than figuring out how to attract and retain the attention of youth over the long haul. This is something that youth development workers know about, since participation in such programs is normally voluntary, and youth can simply walk away if a program fails to inspire them. 

As a case in point, No Child Left Behind had the noble intention of requiring all children to be proficient in literacy and numeracy by a specified date; but it failed to produce these outcomes because it provided no guidance for how to include children in getting there. Simply, setting up a variety of rewards and punishments for schools and states that did or did not make progress towards its goals made little difference to the kids who were the recipients of the policy. In fact, No Child Left Behind led to inordinate amounts of “drilling and grilling”, with associated testing that probably took a lot of fun out of going to school, and wanting to do well. Of course, children had to go along with what adults were requiring them to do because they could not simply walk away. School is required, but, their hearts were not into the concomitants of this ill-conceived policy initiative.

 Similarly, I think that there are both arguments to be made for and against charter schools, vouchers, Race to the Top, and Common Core. All of these policy initiatives and constructs have a logic to them that makes sense, and if operationalized with children’s’ needs considered as a priority, they would produce the sorts of outcomes that their creators envision. Yet, despite the intellectual firepower that has gone into all of these ideas, we still seem to be making only marginal progress in helping kids develop the academic and developmental capabilities that will make them happier, healthier, and better able to thrive in a highly competitive globalized world. Why is this the case?

While I can’t provide a definitive answer to this question, my experience working with and observing kids over the years leads me to one possibility.  Simply put, the programs that adults have crafted, while logical, fail to get a youth’s “fires lit.” By this I mean, there is a disconnect between program design and its operationalization into something that invokes a kid’s willingness and interest in engaging in it. Educational psychologist, Edward Thorndike recognized the importance of receptivity to learn in his famous Law of Readiness, which proposed that for learning to take place a child needed to be ready to learn. For youth not so prepared, learning would be less than optimal, if it occurred at all. Given that readiness is a critical prerequisite to learning, it seems remarkable that so little attention has focused on how best to get a child ready and eager to learn. Virtually, all initiatives in education and youth development have been about ways to organize and run schools and programs, develop curricula, and/or by what means to assess students and staff. How to get the recipients of all of this, children, ready and engaged has been a largely missing piece, or at least a piece that I believe has not received enough attention.

With the readiness/engagement question in mind, ethnographer Herb Childress tackled this problem, and reported on what he found in an essay entitled Seventeen Reasons Why Football is Better than High School. Having spent a year visiting high schools and observing students not listening to teachers, conversing with one another rather than doing their work, putting their heads down on their desks in response to boredom, and generally tuning out, he wondered why the same students appeared to be fully engaged in a variety of extracurricular activities.  In contrast to school, he saw the same kids coming alive and giving their best efforts.  Ironically, Childress stated that he selected football as a case in point, not because he personally loves the sport, but because he hates it. His contention being that “even football is better than school”. Why was this so?

Some of the elements that Childress identifies include that in football:
·      … teenagers are considered important contributors rather than passive recipients. Here youth understand that they have unique contributions to make to a team’s success, and that they have a valued role to play. In contrast, much of what goes on in school does not recognize their unique talents. Instead, they are viewed more as passive vessels to be filled by others, than as valued contributors to a noble enterprise.
·      … youth receive honors, status, and recognition from the wider community. Typically, this does not happen in a class, in which grades are more of a personal thing that has meaning in a very limited sense between a student and her teacher, and, perhaps, a parent.
·      … the unexpected often happens, which makes things more exciting. In contrast, classes typically are choreographed with carefully crafted lesson plans which make them very predicable, routine, and monotonous.
·       … emotions and human contact are expected as part of being successful in the activity. In contrast, the norm in classrooms is for students to work independently, with minimal communication and interaction with peers.
·      … there is a lot of individual instruction and encouragement from adults who work with smaller groups of players. In classrooms, teachers typically provide large group instruction, and because of class sizes of 25 or more, are unable to provide much attention to each student. As well, the interest and enthusiasm of coaches for being at practices and working with players clearly exceeds that of teachers in classrooms, who often appear more subdued and less excited to be there.
·      … there is a great deal of peer learning in which more experienced players teach and inspire less experienced ones. This is reinforcing to players on both sides of the experience equation. In classrooms, adult teachers normally provide all of the instruction, as more able and less able students may be assigned to different groups.
·      … a public performance is expected, and provides an incentive to practice hard in order to acquire the necessary skills to compete effectively, while being observed by family and friends. In contrast, a youth’s schoolwork is typically performed and evaluated in private, and a student’s success or failure has little impact on others.
While, Childress does not mention any of the educational policy initiatives previously identified, I believe that his observations are closely aligned with Thorndike’s Law of Readiness. His main contention is that the same adolescents who may be cynical, alienated, and disaffected in one context can be inspired, engaged, and exhilarated in another. As a result, they become active, eager, and effective learners. The take away from his observations is that, as educational philosopher John Dewey asserted, children are not simply empty vessels to be filled with intellectual content, but are naturally curious, social, and creative. In essence, Childress’ observations corroborate Dewey’s assertion, and challenges educators to recast their classrooms to better connect with what adolescents need and want.

Clearly, this is not a trivial undertaking. Yet, with all the energy and attention, over the years, going to curriculum development and associated standards to be met, we have sometimes forgotten that whatever we come up with will have little impact if we are unable to get kids engaged, and willing to expend energy acquiring the knowledge and skills that we wish them to have. As the saying goes, you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink. Kids know little or care much about such policies as No Child Left Behind or Common Core. As we see in Childress’ observations, they want to be part of something that is exciting, that everyone cares about, that is subject to public acclaim or condemnation, that is social, that requires them to play a valued role, and that makes them accountable for executing that role effectively. When so engaged, they become eager to learn.


 In Project Coach, I believe that we recognize this, and strive each day to craft ways to appeal to the natural proclivities of youth. Teaching and coaching entails lighting fires in learners/players.  As we have found over the years, this is probably our greatest challenge, but to paraphrase, Dr. Seuss, once kids become fully engaged there is no limit to the places that they can go! Our responsibility is to light their fires, and to make certain that our activities are filled with lessons that not only make them successful coaches, but have transfer value to other important contexts in their lives.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Sport Based Youth Development and Health Promotion

Sport Based Youth Development and Health Promotion

Don Siegel

One of the goals of sport based youth development programs is health promotion. Given all that we have been hearing about the increasing prevalence of obesity in kids, and its associated co-morbidities such as type II diabetes, various cancers, cardiorespiratory diseases, and psychological stress, many have seen the involvement of youth in sports’ programs as a means to reverse, or at least, slow down such nefarious trends. Clearly, ramping-up physical activity levels in youth is a good thing, as it promotes caloric expenditures. Yet, sport is not a monolithic concept when it comes to caloric expenditures, in that substantial differences exist among activities, and in the intensities with which youth participate.

To help practitioners understand how activities differ, and the energy expenditure (EE) differences among activities, Table 1 lists a sample of youth sport/physical activities and their EE expenditures, corrected for age and pubertal status, for an 8-12 year old boy or a 8-11 year old girl weighing 99 lbs (Harrell et al., 2005). Within this table, 1 - MET may be interpreted as the metabolic equivalent of a child sitting quietly and processing oxygen at the rate of 3.5 milliliters per kilogram of body weight per minute. Calories are computed by multiplying a child’s weight in kilograms by an activity’s MET level and then using an adjustment factor for age and pubertal status (for the example given this factor = 1.71). As well, calories represent a unit of thermal energy, and as an approximation, it takes 3500 kcalories to burn 1 pound of fat.


Activity
Effort
METs
Baseball
Light
3.8
292
Baseball
Moderate
5.0
385
Baseball
Hard
6.3
485
Basketball
Light
7.2
554
Basketball
Moderate
8.2
631
Basketball
Hard
10.1
777
Bicycling
Light
4.7
362
Bicycling
Moderate
6.2
477
Bicycling
Hard
7.8
600
Cross Country Skiing
Light
7.0
539
Cross Country Skiing
Moderate
8.0
616
Cross Country Skiing
Hard
9.0
693
Dancing
Light
4.1
315
Dancing
Moderate
5.5
423
Dancing
Hard
6.9
531



Dodge Ball
Light
3.8
292
Dodge Ball
Moderate
5.0
385
Dodge Ball
Hard
6.3
485
Downhill Skiing
Light
5.0
385
Downhill Skiing
Moderate
6.0
462
Downhill Skiing
Hard
8.0
616
Golf
Light
3.0
231
Golf
Moderate
4.3
331
Golf
Hard
4.5
346
Gymnastics
Light
3.0
231
Gymnastics
Moderate
4.0
308
Gymnastics
Hard
5.0
385
Field Hockey
Light
6.0
462
Field Hockey
Moderate
8.0
616
Field Hockey
Hard
10.0
770
Horseback Riding
Light
2.5
192
Horseback Riding
Moderate
4.0
308
Horseback Riding
Hard
6.5
500
Ice Hockey
Light
6.0
462
Ice Hockey
Moderate
8.0
616
Ice Hockey
Hard
10.0
770
Jogging
Light
7.7
593
Jogging
Moderate
8.5
654
Jogging
Hard
9.3
716
Jump Rope
Light
6.2
477
Jump Rope
Moderate
8.8
677
Jump Rope
Hard
11.0
846
Kickball
Light
5.3
408
Kickball
Moderate
7.0
539
Kickball
Hard
8.8
677
Lacrosse
Light
4.8
369
Lacrosse
Moderate
6.4
492
Lacrosse
Hard
8.0
616
Martial Arts
Light
7.5
577
Martial Arts
Moderate
10.0
770
Martial Arts
Hard
12.5
962
Netball
Light
7.2
554
Netball
Moderate
8.2
631
Netball
Hard
10.1
777
Rock Climbing
Light
6.0
462
Rock Climbing
Moderate
8.0
616
Rock Climbing
Hard
11.0
846
Rollerblading
Light
4.9
377
Rollerblading
Moderate
6.5
500
Rollerblading
Hard
8.1
623
Rowing
Light
3.0
231
Rowing
Moderate
7.0
539
Rowing
Hard
12.0
923
Rugby
Light
6.6
508
Rugby
Moderate
8.8
677
Rugby
Hard
11.0
846
Soccer
Light
6.6
508
Soccer
Moderate
8.8
677
Soccer
Hard
11.0
846
Softball
Light
3.8
292
Softball
Moderate
5.0
385
Softball
Hard
6.3
485
Squash
Light
5.3
408
Squash
Moderate
7.0
539
Squash
Hard
8.8
677
Swimming
Light
8.4
646
Swimming
Moderate
9.9
762
Swimming
Hard
11.6
893
Table Tennis
Light
3.0
231
Table Tennis
Moderate
4.0
308
Table Tennis
Hard
5.0
385
Tag
Light
3.8
292
Tag
Moderate
5.0
385
Tag
Hard
6.3
485
Tennis
Light
5.3
408
Tennis
Moderate
7.0
539
Tennis
Hard
8.8
677
Touch Football
Light
6.6
508
Touch Football
Moderate
8.8
677
Touch Football
Hard
11.0
846
Ultimate Frisbee
Light
6.0
462
Ultimate Frisbee
Moderate
8.0
616
Ultimate Frisbee
Hard
10.0
770
Volleyball
Light
3.0
231
Volleyball
Moderate
4.0
308
Volleyball
Hard
5.0
385
Weight Lifting
Light
2.1
162
Weight Lifting
Moderate
2.8
215
Weight Lifting
Hard
3.5
269

What Can we Learn from Table 1 and Table 2?

Perhaps, the first things that these data show is that a child who engages in any of the sports and physical activities contained in the table expends significantly more energy than if they were sedentary. METS range from 2.1 – 12.5, with associated caloric expenditures ranging from 162 – 962 kcal/hr. From another perspective, engaging in any of the listed sports and physical activities, everything else being equal, leads to burning a pound of fat between 3.6 and 22 hours. In contrast, Table 2 shows the EE for this age group for an aggregate of sedentary activities. As one can see, these activities have MET values that range from 1 – 1.5, and caloric expenditures that range from 77 – 115 kcal/hr. Everything else being equal, it would take between 30 and 45.5 hours to burn a pound of fat in such activities.   

Table 2. EE for Selected Sedentary Activities

Activity
METs
kcalories/hr
Board Games
1.5
115
Math Test
1.5
115
Homework/Reading
1.3
100
TV Watching
1.0
77
Video Game (Sitting)
1.5
115

Consequently, as most people already know, when caloric expenditure is a goal, participating in a youth sport’s program or other physical activity makes sense. Such participation becomes especially effective when a child adheres to the recommendation of engaging in 60 minutes, or more, of physical activity each day, with most of that activity falling into the moderate – to vigorous level (i.e., > 3 METs). Extrapolating from Table 1, this would result in expending between 231 and 962 kcal/hour, and if a child participated 7 days a week in such activity, they would burn between 1617 – 6734 kcals in a week. Everything else being equal, this would result in burning a pound of fat from .5 to 3.1 weeks. Table 3 shows the time in weeks to burn 3500 kcals for selected activities, assuming that a youth participated in that activity for 1 hour a day, at a particular level, for each day of the week.

Table 3. Time to Burn 3500 kcal in Weeks

Activity
Level
Weeks to Burn 3500 kcals
Martial Arts
Hard
.5
Rowing
Hard
.5
Swimming Hard
Hard
.6
Rugby Hard
Hard
.6
Soccer
Hard
.6
Basketball
Hard
.6
Field Hockey
Hard
.6
Ice Hockey
Hard
.6
Touch Football
Hard
.6
Cross-Country Skiing
Hard
.7
Squash
Hard
.7
Tennis
Hard
.7
Ultimate Frisbee
Hard
.7
Lacrosse
Hard
.8
Downhill Skiing
Hard
.8
Baseball
Light
1.7
Softball
Light
1.7
Golf
Light
2.2
Rowing
Light
2.2
Volleyball
Light
2.2
Horseback Riding
Light
2.6
Weight Lifting
Light
3.1


Some Activities Burn more Calories than Others

As previously noted, most people think about youth sports as one entity, but Table 1 shows us that there are quite marked differences among activities with regard to EE. As well, we can also see that within activities, EE differs with regard to the effort a child expends in it while engaged. To illustrate this point, a child who plays golf with “light effort” (3 METs) would burn 231 kcal/hr while the same child engaged in martial arts at “high effort” would burn 962 kcal/hr, an approximately 4 fold difference! This is not to value one activity over another, as each has distinctive qualities, can teach unique developmental lessons, and may attract youth having diverse interests in different ways. However, if EE is an important goal, as it seems to be when promoting the notion that youth sports can be a meaningful intervention in our obesity epidemic, then recognizing that different sports and physical activities have markedly different caloric expenditures is important. This point is magnified in Table 3, which shows large differences in the time to burn 3500 kcals for different activities engaged in at high and low intensities.

Given the unique qualities associated with different activities, and their differing EE, practitioners should also focus on the manner in which youth engage in an activity. Over the years, Project Coach has had participants wear accelerometers to ascertain EEs in the various activities that we offer including soccer, volleyball, and basketball. From our observations, we have learned that how coaches structure and run activities can impact the percentage of time youth are playing “light”, “moderate” or “hard” within each sport. Some of the things that we have learned include: (a) reduce talk time to a minimum so that participants can maximize play time, (b) reduce transition time between activities within a session, (c) “tweak” activities to conform to the skill level of participants, and (d) maximize movement so that substitutes who may be waiting on the sidelines are more active on the sidelines.

First, we have learned that coaches often like to explain all aspects of a game or drill prior to having their players engage in it. Given that youth have a limited attentional span, and, often, minimal time to play, we recommend that coaches quickly convey the basics of an activity and instruct players on refinements as they play. Such a strategy not only forces coaches to understand their activity and players better, but also maximizes player’s level of activity within a session.

Second, over the years we have observed how transitioning from one activity to another one can eat up precious activity time. Often, equipment such as cones must to be placed, and/or participants need to be rearranged into different alignments for a subsequent game. Water breaks, which are important, can also devolve into disarray, making reconfiguring a team more difficult, resulting in lost movement time. By having coaches work in pairs many of these problems can be avoided. For example, as one coach leads the ongoing activity and brings it to an end, a second coach could have been setting up the playing space for the next activity and preparing for instructing and demonstrating how to get the team up and going as quickly as possible. As well, for water breaks, coaches can expedite things by providing guidance on how long players have to break, and use prompts to inform them when they should be ready for the next activity.

Third, we have learned that different developmental and skill levels can have a significant impact on how much activity a child gets if a program is too rigid in following the rules of a game. For example, we learned that younger children (e.g., grades 3-4) have difficulty-keeping balls in the air when playing volleyball, even when nets are lowered and beach balls are used to provide a larger and slower target. Consequently, we allow the ball to touch the ground while in play in order to keep a rally going, and kids engaged.  We also have added random exercise breaks into games in which a coach will blow her whistle, and everyone stops to do jumping jacks, or to change sides of the court quickly, and do sit-ups. Kids enjoy the rhythms and constant activity, in contrast to endlessly stopping play because of some mishap. We also have learned to “tweak” the way that we play basketball so that games have more continuous activity. For example, officials are lax in calling “traveling” or “incidental fouls” so that a greater amount of continuous play results. Officials also serve a coaching role to instruct players on these potential rules violations. Over time, kids move more and learn as they play, rather than being subject to more traditional sedentary lectures from their coaches, about rules and technical aspects of a game.

Finally, many games are structured where a smaller set of players get more activity than other players, or in which players are eliminated, for some period of time, because of a penalty that they may have incurred. In basketball, typically five players are on the floor at any one time, while five or more players are reserves. To enhance activity levels, we have asked our pairs of coaches to make certain that those who are “on the bench” are actually up on the sidelines practicing their passing, dribbling, and defense.  Or in games such as “Knockout” in soccer in which a player is sidelined when another player knocks their ball out of a specified area, that the “knocked-out” player can come back in the game after doing an activity such as ten jumping jacks. The idea in such situations is to creatively find ways for all kids to be active regardless of what their roles at the moment might be.

Summary

As we learn more about sports and physical activity programs for children, it is becoming increasingly evident that besides the fun and educational opportunities they provide, they can also be important in the crusade to reverse our obesity epidemic. However, we need to understand the diversity of activities encompassed by sports; one of which is the relative energy expenditures unique to different activities. Finally, as practitioners, we should be creative in maximizing the amount of movement contained in our activities by decreasing “lecture time” and “transition time”, “tweaking rules” to provide more continuity in play, and by finding ways to engage all of our players to be active during the time that we have with them.

References

Harrell, J. S., McMurray, R. G., Baggett, C. D., Pennell, M. L., Pearce, P. F., & Bangdiwala, S. I. (2005). Energy Costs of Physical Activities in Children and Adolescents. Medicine & Science In Sports & Exercise, 37(2), 329-336.


2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, Department of Health and Human Services,  available at: http://www.health.gov/paguidelines/guidelines/