Sunday, May 15, 2011

After School Sports or After School Learning? Is Anything Non-Negotiable?

Further to my last post, re: Hattie's book Visible Learning, I've been trying to reflect on the value of different aspects of our educational system on student learning and assess whether or not we are maximizing the value of our investments.

There are lots of places in our system where emotions can come into play and a decision focused solely on the impact on achievement should be weighed against the impact on some of the other goals of the system.  Extra-curricular athletics is an example of a part of our system that I think might generate some interesting conversations if a change to those programs was suggested.  Thinking about the idea of radical changes to our system makes me wonder about what might be considered a non-negotiable part of our current system.

Reflecting on the impact on achievement is tough one considering the resources we put into extracurricular athletics, for example.  School sports are the one place where some students experience success, and can be of considerable worth in regards to school culture, relationships, etc.  The problem is though, Hattie says that extra-curriculars, and in particular sports, do not have much impact on student achievement:

Outdoor education programs however, do have a significant positive impact on student learning:

In my community we have EXCELLENT minor athletic programs including hockey, baseball, volleyball, basketball, gymnastics, soccer, swimming, dance, tae kwon do, and skiing, among many others.  We also offer many of those opportunities in our schools, with volleyball, basketball, soccer, etc. offered throughout the school year.  What is the impact of that duplication on our access to resources?  Are we missing other opportunities by sticking with our standard school sports? 

I've been thinking about this idea in general terms for the past several days, since I first saw the images above in Visible Learning, and we had a discussion at work about how we might use the book.  What if we left the sport development and instruction to the communities, and instead focused our extra curricular efforts on providing our students with outdoor adventure programs?   If we changed how sports were accessed and delivered in our communities, what would the impact be on our schools if we then changed how they are delivered in our schools?

Community groups could take over all sports, and schools could focus their resources on other learning opportunities.  Instead of running after-school athletics, perhaps we could provide students with other outdoor education opportunities?  We could combine Science, Social Studies, and Outdoor Education into practical and relevant community projects and provide our students with additional sporting opportunities in the community outside of school hours.

Considering one of the reasons behind my decision to enter education many years ago was related to a desire to coach, this thought does cause me some not unsubstantial internal conflict.  :)  Participation in organized sports is something I consider essential for kids, but perhaps a change in focus in how that opportunity is provided could be a way for our schools to meaningfully involve our communities?  We might also avoid duplication of efforts, provide kids with outdoor learning opportunities so many of them do not get AND positively influence student learning as well!

I don't believe I'm advocating this....I'm just thinking out loud....and maybe this will generate some conversation about what constitutes reform....penny for your thoughts?

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