Saturday, July 18, 2009

Topic #2 Let’s Step Outside: A New Look at After-School Programs

Many schools now have mandated after–school programs. Students and teachers both tend to hate the programs, viewing them as a waste of time. And yet, there is evidence that a well-run after-school program can be beneficial. How can we make these programs more appealing to everyone involved?

Current psychological studies have discovered an increase of academic achievement, and social and emotional development associated with successful after-school programs. The After School Alliance (2008) has shown data that test scores and reading skills of students who have participated in after-school programs improved significantly. According to Robert Granger (2008), when after-school programs are structured properly, reading skills, which may ultimately improve test scores. After-school programs also show an increase in self-regulated learning ability. The significance is that it is here that goals are established, strategies are selected, self-efficacy is evaluated and considered, and orientation is set upon established goals.
Since so many students and teachers seem to have little interest in the standard after-school programs, what if we took the classes outside to form outdoor programs (focused on preparing students for an excursion, like kayaking or white-water rafting, or rock climbing)? There are many benefits of outdoor education which are supported by current psychological research: increase in academic performance, self-efficacy, and ability to properly set goals for the future. James Neil (2002) concludes that outdoor education programs (such as Outward Bound) appear to produce small to moderate effects on adolescents’ self-perceptions of capabilities and personal qualities.

John Hattie et al. (1997) note that the types of goals usually set in outdoor adventure programs are more likely to be attained if the goal-setter is provided with appropriate feedback and opportunities for adequate reflection. Hatie et al. further shows that participants in outdoor education experience additional growth on returning to their home environments, which is impressive in that longitudinal education and research usually show a loss over time of immediate benefits. Anthony Pellegrini and Catherine Bohn (2004) have shown that recess is more beneficial for early elementary-school-age children. Additionally, Cason and Gillis (1994) have concluded that younger adolescents get more out of outdoor education than do older adolescents, whose self-concept is more resistant to change.

Building student self-efficacy will be essential in this type of program. Self-efficacy is a person’s belief in his ability to perform in a manner that gives him control over the events of affecting his life. Ideally, students participating in outdoor programs would have opportunities to work toward a goal that he or she may never have dreamed of achieving. If students can accomplish such foreign tasks as bear-proofing a campsite, the pride may translate into motivation in other areas of skills.

Students’ abilities to monitor their progress in outdoor activities as well as share in the control of their experiences will allow them to develop skills as self-regulated learners. In his article on self-regulation and motivation, B. Zimmerman (2008) states that self-regulated learning is a proactive process that involves self-monitoring one’s effectiveness, rather than a reactive event that happens to students due to impersonal forces. Students would not only be able to demonstrate an ability (i.e., how to effectively scale and rock climb), but also reflect on this process both during and after the activity.

Outdoor after-school programs would, of course, be more expensive to operate and more difficult to staff. They would, however, provide motivation for both teachers and students, while still being academically and developmentally sound.


Afterschool Alliance (2008) Issue Brief No. 31: Afterschool fosters success in school. Washington, DC.

Bennion, John & Olson, Burton. (2002). Wilderness writing: Using personal narrative to enhance outdoor experience. The Journal of Experiential Education, 25, 239-247.

Cason D., & Gillis, H. L. (1994). A meta-analysis of outdoor adventure programming with adolescents. Journal of Experiential Education, 17, (1), 40-47

Granger, R. , Durlak, J. A., Yohalem, N., & Reisner, E. (2007). Improving after-school program quality. New York, NY: William T. Grant Foundation.

Hattie, J., Marsh, H. W., Neill, J. T. & Richards, G. E. (1997). Adventure Education and Outward Bound: Out-of-class experiences that have a lasting effect. Review of Educational Research, 67, 43-87.

Neill, J. T. (2002). Meta-analytic research on the outcomes of outdoor education. Paper presented to the 6th Biennial Coalition for Education in the Outdoors Research Symposium, Bradford Woods, IN.

Pellegrini, A. & Bohn, C. (2005). The role of recess in childrens’s cognitive performance and school adjustment. Educational Researcher, vol. 34, No. 1, 13-19.

Zimmerman, B. (2008). Investigating self-regulation and motivation: Historical background, methodological developments, and future prospects. American Educational Research Journal, 45, (1), 166-184

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