Critical Evaluation of Young People's Learning in Context of Learning Theory

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A critical evaluation of young people’s learning and development, with specific reference to the student’s own role in working with young people

Shaun Higgins


The aim of the assignment is to discuss & define my critical-standpoint on theories of learning & adolescent-development, in relation to how these inform as well as challenge my youth-work practice.

In summary, it will discuss: an understanding of adolescence; the relevance of an understanding of adolescence to meeting young-people's developmental-needs in youth-work practice; the relevance of identity to empowerment; wider issues of empowerment in practice; facilitating informal-learning; and the challenge of theory in practice.

What is Adolescence?

Kehily (2007), in exploring the history of ideas of adolescence, emphasises the existing difference between an idea of adolescence and an idea of youth, each having emerged from different research-traditions.

At the turn of the twentieth-century, G. Stanley Hall described adolescence as “a transitional period in the journey from childhood to adulthood, characterised as a period of 'storm & stress'” (Kehily on Hall, p.13): a time of extreme moods, thoughts & actions, engendered by physiological change and bodily development. Expanding on Darwin's concept of evolution, he created a biogenetic psychological theory of recapitulation: one where, from birth to adult, each individual passes through the same stages that humankind has itself passed, in its evolution. Assuming that adolescent-development is determined by biological processes, and in making no account of environmental influence, his theory outlined an inevitable, predetermined, universally-applicable process; uninfluenced by society or culture (Muuss, 1996, p.16).

The more-recent sociological idea of 'youth' centres its concern on the influence of culture on the development of a young-person: not only in terms of how youth are defined or positioned by society, but also how youth choose to respond to this positioning & define themselves. It is from this ideological-interaction that a 'youth-culture' evolves: a space where young-people can participate in cultural-practices as a way of making meaning of themselves, their world & find a sense of belonging; and through this process of self-discovery, develop & grow. It is also from this standpoint that youth are able to question, influence & possibly redefine the ideological & social forces that attempt to define them – stimulating healthy social-change (Kehily). In contrast to the idea of transition, this period can be acknowedged as a time of life in its own right – in turn, acknowedging young-people as a social-demographic (not just simply 'adults-in-the-making') and offering youth a sense of place, identity and therefore a voice.

Coleman and Hendry (1999) draw-upon both of these positions, accepting youth as a period of transition into independence, but also identifying how the nature of this transition, at any given time in history, will be affected by current social & political context. Importantly, Coleman and Hendry also argue that this transition need not necessarily be seen as a period of “storm & stress”: that, although difficulties may arise, it is the timing & number of difficulties that can lead to stress; that young-people find ways of coping and that youth is equally a period of joyful discovery, creativity & self-expression.

The Relevance of Transitions & Youth-Culture to Youth-Work Practice

Coleman and Hendry's overall standpoint corroborates the key-purpose of youth-work:

To work with young-people to facilitate their personal, social & educational development, and enable them to gain a voice, influence & place in society, in a period of their transition from dependence to independence (NYA, 2008)

With regard to youth-culture, an awareness of this context in practice not only highlights a spectrum of adolescent developmental-needs, but also insists...
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