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YFE Week: Rob Shumer on Involving Youth in School-Based Participatory Evaluation

My name is Rob Shumer and I work at the University of Minnesota.  I’ve taught a few courses on participatory evaluation, some which focus on youth led evaluation.  I am currently involved with a few projects that engage youth in evaluation of their school programs.

Most youth participatory evaluation happens through programs that occur after school or through community-based youth programs.  Tackling the problem of embedding participatory evaluation within the school day, conducted through classes or other in-school efforts, has proven to be a challenge.   Here are a few tips if you are trying to do such work in schools.

Hot Tip: Challenge #1: Time.  One of the major problems for engaging youth in evaluation activities during the school day is finding sufficient time to devote to the effort.  One of the best ways to make time is to include the evaluation work as a part of a regular course.  In one project a teacher is using her English class to teach evaluation as students evaluate some of their school/community programs.  As regular class activities students learn to conduct interviews, write notes, write reports from notes, and learn how to analyze narrative data.  They are also learning how to develop surveys, focusing on the importance of language clarity and precision to ensure the questions they ask are understandable and effective.

In another program we worked outside the class framework, trying to meet with students during their homeroom and extended lunch period.  The project started off fairly well, but as the semester wore on, teachers were reluctant to have students miss class time….and the preparation of students to conduct focus groups (one of the goals of the program) was cut short. So, work with the school staff to identify appropriate meeting times that don’t interfere with the class activities.

Hot Tip: Challenge #2: Academic fit. The pressures of No Child Left Behind evaluation standards creates a challenge for students and teachers.  If the evaluation activities don’t align with skills in English and Math, the work is considered a distraction.  Find ways to integrate evaluation with regularly occurring learning activities to make the participatory work successful.

The good news with school-based youth participatory evaluation is students really get excited about the learning.  In one of the more successful ventures, 9th graders developed a great survey for their program and now want to continue their work into the next year.  They are more involved in the program, becoming partners with their teachers in developing the program for all the students.  Youth participatory evaluation has great potential to motivate students to learn to become critical thinkers….and to become actively involved in their schools.

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Youth Focused Evaluation (YFE) TIG Week with our colleagues in the YFE AEA Topical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our YFE  TIG members. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.



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