What-if Wednesday: What if schools learned from extra-curricular activities?


A group of nine students gather in my classroom after school to glue various hues of purple on the remaining sunset of our Paper Border project.  We discuss the current controversy surrounding a child’s decision not to opt for chemotherapy and the ethical quandries surrounding it.  We discuss whether a Latina Supreme Court Justice might change immigration decisions in the future.  Eventually, it shifts into a discussion about high school and the fear each of them have.

My favorite times of the day are before school, during lunch and after school – all times when I do projects with students.  It’s not that I don’t enjoy teaching.  Instead, the issue is the structure itself.  Students seem more motivated when they are in an extracurricular activity, whether it is a sport, a club or a fine art.  Students work harder, think better and pour more of their emotional energy into extracurriculars than into their traditional classes.  The following are some of my ideas about why this is the case:
  • Students choose extracurriculars while they are forced into classes. In many respects, that is the beginning of all the bulleted points below. 
  • Students often believe that an activity is relevant, engaging and meaningful if it is on “their own time” rather than in school
  • Without the pressure of grades, stickers or other extrinsic motivators, students can find intrinsic motivation in what they are doing
  • The skills seem to come naturally with a higher sense of differntiation in extrarricular activities.  Instead of saying, “everyone will do this whether they have mastered it or not,” coach typically have different athletes attempt different roles with a different regiment based upon their needs
  • Students have deeper relationships with one another. Groupwork feels coercive in a class but enjoyable in a service project or on the ball field.
  • Students have a deeper relationship with a coach or a coordinator than with a teacher.  Part of this is due to the size of class.  Another aspect is that the role resembles one of mentoring rather than judging.  
  • Students almost always know the deeper goal in what they are doing.  My students this afternoon knew the Paper Border Project was about raising awareness, yet I wonder how often students fail to know the objective in my classroom. 
  • Students are active in using what they know rather than simply learning for the sake or learning.  A life-long learner is useless if there is no action. Paulo Freire once explained that all action with no reflection would mean mindless activism while all knowledge with no action would lead to meaningless intellectualism. 
Photo Credit
Flickr Creative Commons

John Spencer

My goal is simple. I want to make something each day. Sometimes I make things. Sometimes I make a difference. On a good day, I get to do both.

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