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Re-engaging Disconnected Youth

Transformative Learning through Restorative and Social Justice Education – Revised Edition


Amy Vatne Bintliff

As many young adults continue to disengage with learning each day, teachers and administrators struggle to find ways to re-engage secondary students with their schooling and communities. Re-engaging Disconnected Youth profiles a program that succeeds in doing so, one that can serve as a model for others. In a Midwestern alternative school, three teachers built a curriculum around hands-on learning, restorative justice Talking Circles, and multicultural education, in the hopes that it would re-engage and inspire youth. Drawing on Adult Transformative Learning Theory, the book is an in-depth, qualitative study of the ways the program transformed adult and youth perceptions of trust, connections, schooling and human rights. It breaks down stereotypes about youth labeled «at-risk» and provides evidence that it is never too late to become passionate about learning. This new revised edition includes updated research and a chapter exploring the impact of the program on middle school youth.
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Chapter 2. Heading West: Hands-on Learning and Outdoor Education Increases Student Motivation


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Hands-on Learning and Outdoor Education Increases Student Motivation

Over the course of the five separate Westward Bound summer school courses, hands-on learning and living within a natural setting were key elements of our program. In this chapter, I will provide a brief history and rationale for the inclusion of these elements. Using qualitative research methods, such as in-depth interviews during and after the course, as well as journal evidence, this study explores the following questions:

We begin by looking at the rationale, research, and experiences that guided our decision to include hands-on learning and experiences in nature as essential components of our program.

When Angel Salathe and I began planning our first trip, we wanted to focus on providing unique learning experiences for our students outside the traditional four walls of our classrooms. We agreed with current researchers who state that integrating authentic learning that is hands-on and minds-on makes learning more interesting (Smolleck, 2008). In regards to the “hands-on ← 17 | 18 →learning ” aspects of our program, Angel, Randy, and I were influenced by theories of progressive education, outdoor education, and environmental education.

Learning by experience is often tied to the work of John Dewey and his theory of progressive education (Smith, Roland, Havens, & Hoyt, 1992). Kneller (1971) developed a list of lessons from Dewey ’s progressivism. The following lessons were present in the building of our program:

When considering...

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