The present chapter intends to present some of the most prominent issues concerning employing extracurricular activities and their effect on the learners’ achievement in writing in general and in the ELT in particular. Also, it’s relation with attitude of the learners, writing apprehension, and the emergence of different strategies will be under study.
Extracurricular Activities in ESL/EFL Context
Extracurricular activities play an important role in today’s secondary education programs (Holland & Andre, 1987).The development of extracurricular activities was slow in the beginning, with many seeing it simply as a temporary fashion that would pass and quickly lose its style (Millard, 1930, as cited in Broh, 2002). One of the early philosophies behind extracurricular activities was that they should, wherever at all possible, “grow out of curricular activities and return to curricular activities to enrich them” (Millard, 1930, p. 12, cited in Broh, 2002, p. 71).
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Eventually people, including educators, began to see the benefits of extracurricular activities, but it took a while to assimilate with the new trend. In fact, before 1900, educators were suspicious of participation in extracurricular activities, believing that “school should focus solely on narrowly defined academic outcomes. Non-academic activities were viewed as being primarily recreational and therefore were detrimental to academic achievement, and consequently were discouraged” (Marsh & Kleitman, 2002, p. 5). Early experts on extracurricular activities including Millard (1930, cited in Broh, 2002) believed that “Extracurricular activities supplement and extend those contacts and experiences found in the more formal part of the program of the school day” (p. 16). It was not until recently that educational practitioners and researchers have taken a more positive perspective and asserting that extracurricular activities may have positive effects on life skills and may also benefit academic achievements (Marsh & Kleitman, 2002).
Kuh (1993) asserted that more than70% of what students learn in college comes from extra-curricular activities and that most students believe that the activities they do out of class provide the most significant learning experiences (Moffatt, 1989). In addition to the confirmations made by these researchers, the students themselves asserted that extracurricular activities contributed to their maturation (Kuh, 1993).
Jugovic’s (2011) positive perspective about extracurricular activities was concerned about the power of such activities to overcome some difficulties in the language classroom. He believed that it is advantageous to “think outside the box,” and in various contexts, to consider and apply the physical aspect of language learning such as integrating simple activities like talking and walking, which occur in natural communicative situations (Jugovic, 2011).
There have been some studies devoted to studying the relationship between student involvement in activities and student academic achievement and the optimal proficiency in a foreign language (Jogovic, 2011; Marsh & Kleitman, 2002). Although a positive correlation has been shown in many of these studies, there is still a fierce battle among educators concerning the need for extracurricular activities. Even some researches took a more neutral stand and attribute the ultimate influence of extracurricular activities to the context in which they occur (Shephard, 1996). They assert that extracurricular activities can have a positive or negative impact on students, depending on the context in which they are experienced. One way of viewing the impact of after-school activities is to apply a risk and resilience framework to them. Under certain circumstances after-school programs may present deficiencies (detract from positive growth and development); while under others they may provide protective impacts (prevent students who are at risk for negative outcomes from experiencing those outcomes).
Two positions appear to be prevalent in today’s academic community regarding extracurricular activities (Marsh, 1992). These are referred to as either the academic or developmental perspective. The academic perspective considers extracurricular activities as purely leisure and not part of the purpose of schools. The developmental perspective considers extracurricular activities necessary to the total development of the student in today’s schools (Holland & Andre, 1987).
Educators who believe in the developmental perspective see activities as an extension of the educational program. Furthermore, participation in these activities is positively associated with many student characteristics. Activities allow students to develop skills such as leadership, sportsmanship, self-discipline, self-confidence, and the ability to handle competitive conditions. Participation is associated with higher levels of self-esteem (Marsh, 1992; McNamara, 1985; Simeroth, 1987). Participation is also related to lower delinquency rates (Marsh, 1992; Newman, 1991). Howley and Huang (1991) found that extracurricular activity across different schools exhibited a positive correlation on academic achievement.
McNamara (1985) concluded in his study that students benefit academically if they participated in high, moderate, or low numbers of extracurricular activity. Extracurricular activities offer an opportunity to interact in ways that allow the previously mentioned skills to develop. The developmental professionals believe that many of these skills would be impossible or very difficult to develop in a classroom setting.
Marsh (1992) stated:
According to different theoretical perspectives, extracurricular activity participation may be posited to (a) divert attention from academic pursuits, as evidenced by its negative effects on narrowly defined academic goals; (b) have little or no effect on academic outcomes but contribute to desirable nonacademic outcomes; or (c) have positive effects on nonacademic outcomes and facilitate academic growth, perhaps indirectly, as well. (p. 553)
According to Marsh (1992), extracurricular activities may have both positive and negative effect on students’ academic growth. Based on this statement, Jordan and Nettles (2000) referred to structured after-school activities which have been associated with higher educational outcomes. Jordan and Nettles (2000), in their analysis of data from the National Educational Longitudinal Study of 1988, found that student participation in structured activities, religious activities, and time with adults during 10th grade had a significant positive effect on educational outcomes for those same students in 12th grade. Conversely, students who spent more unstructured time were at greater risk of negative educational outcomes. The authors provided a model reflecting that in addition to student characteristics and factors inherent in the school context, the investments students make during their off hours in themselves and in their community affects their investment in schooling and, consequently, their performance in school. It is important to note that the extracurricular activities examined in the study were broad-based, and did not specifically included homework assistance programs.
Cosden, Morrison, Albanese, & Macias (2001, cited in Jogovic, 2011) summarized the outcomes of 10 studies on structured after-school programs that offered students assistance with homework and other academic needs. Nearly all of the studies focused on children considered at risk for school failure as a result of low income, limited familial resources, and/ or poor grades. Further, these after-school programs offered a broad range of activities in addition to academic support (Beck, 1999; Halpern, 1992; Posner &Vandell, 1999). While the nature of the academic support varied, each program provided children with structure and adult contact. The full impact of these programs on the student’s academic performance appeared to be combined by other child and teacher factors, such as increases in the child’s self-esteem and school bonding and changes in teacher impressions regarding the effort and abilities of the students.
In a comprehensive study, Cooper, Valentine, Nye, & Lindsay (1999) also examined the relation between after-school activities and academic achievement as measured by standardized tests and teacher-assigned grades among students in grades 6 through 12. Using a questionnaire, adolescents reported approximately how much time they spent on homework, working at a job, extracurricular activities, structured groups outside of school, and watching television. Findings revealed that more time in extracurricular activities and less time in jobs and watching television were associated with higher test scores and grades. In addition, more time on homework was associated with better grades.
In another study, both Beck (1999) and Halpern (1992) conducted qualitative evaluations of the dynamics of large, urban after-school programs. Beck (1999) studied a program that was suitable for youth from kindergarten through 12th grade. The author reported that the factors crucial to the program’s success were the provision of a structured time and location for doing homework and instructional support. Beck (1999) suggested that academic outcomes of this program were conflated by changes in the student’s self-confidence as well as changes in teacher impressions of the student’s endeavors.
Halpern (1992) conducted a qualitative evaluation of a program that provided after-school homework assistance to younger children (5-12 years old). Similar to Beck (1999), Halpern (1992) found that participation gave students greater confidence in their abilities and provided an opportunity to develop positive, school-related, adult attachments. Although the findings of these two studies were descriptive and did not identify causal relationships between homework completion and academic performance, they suggested that homework completion can affect students’ perceptions of themselves and teachers’ expectations of students in meaningful ways.
In a comprehensive study of 400 elementary school children in several different after-school programs, Ross et al. (1992) provided support for using these programs to build self-esteem, while also finding that self-esteem can be a predictor of academic performance. The researchers found that participation in an after-school program designed to build self-esteem had positive effects on standardized test scores in math and reading, while receiving extended school time to complete homework did not have the same positive effects on self-esteem or achievement. These findings strengthen the idea that after-school academic support does the greatest achievement when it enhances the students’ perceptions that they can be successful at school.
Several other studies (e.g., Morrison et al., 2000) have found that after-school academic tutoring or homework assistance may not result in an improvement in academic performance, but, rather, prevent a decline in performance that is evidenced by many at-risk youth. The extracurricular activities such as watching were connected to cognitive development of students (Shin, 2004). The amount and quality of television viewing and family involvement were not the only influences of helping at risk students. The effects of music and sports were also influential in their relation to the prevention of this decline.
Morrison et al. (2000) studied 350 at-risk students, half of whom participated in an after-school program that provided homework assistance, tutoring, and cultural enrichment activities. They found after 1 year students in the program maintained their initial levels of school bonding and teacher ratings of student behavior, while some of students who did not participate in the program showed decreases on these measures over the same period of time.
Ross et al. (1992) evaluated an after-school tutoring program serving low-income African American students. After 2 years, participants did not show significant increases in grades, but students who were not in the program showed a significant grade decrease. Together, these studies indicate that after-school academic support may play a protective role by helping to prevent a loss of school engagement even if it doesn’t result in higher levels of functioning and academic success.
Based on the concept of extracurricular activities, The Gevirtz Homework Project (Cosden, Morrison, Albanese, & Macias, 2001) was established as an after school program. It differed from other previously reviewed after-school assistance programs in that it included students who were not at risk for school failure. All fourth-grade students in three participating schools were engaged in the project, with students randomly assigned to treatment (Homework Project) and non-treatment after homogenizing them into high, medium, and low achievement groups at school. Students were also homogenized on the basis of ethnicity and English proficiency, with equal numbers assigned to the homework project and to the non-treatment control group. The program was designed to provide students with homework assistance and to help them learn study skills. Students attended the program 2-3 times a week over a period of 3 years (Grades 4-6); although during the specified time the lack of attendance of some members in the treatment group was observed. All students in the Homework Project and the non-treatment control group were assessed at the beginning and end of each grade. Measures included students’ ratings of their impressions of school belonging, teacher ratings of student behavior, student grades, and standardized test scores from the Stanford Achievement Test (SAT-9).
At the end of sixth grade, teachers rated English language learner participants in the homework project higher in academic effort and study skills than English language learners in the control group. This was not the case for students who were proficient in English. That is, students with English proficiency in the treatment and control groups had similar teacher ratings and academic outcomes at the end of the 3-year project. Further, there was higher overall attrition from the treatment group for English proficient students. It appeared that regular attendance in the Homework Project in fourth grade helped students develop study skills, which they were able to use in later years. This was supported by student interviews conducted as part of the process evaluation (Brown & Herrity, 2001). In particular, the investigators found that students who benefited the most from the Project were those who learned to do homework right after coming home from school, while children who benefited least did not. For example, one child stated, “Most of the time I start my homework right away (after school). I didn’t do this in third grade. I guess I got in the habit from the Homework Project” (Brown & Herrity, 2001, p. 8).
Some other studies, reported on the low dropout rate of students in school by doing the extracurricular activities (Cooper, Valentine, Nye, & Lindsey, 1999; Gerber, 1996; Jordan, 2000; Mahoney & Cairns, 1997). These studies typically assessed involvement in non-academic activities, most of which occurred after school hours. Rather than divert students from meeting their academic goals, studies found that students engaged in extracurricular activities–including sports, service clubs, and art activities–were less likely to drop out (Mahoney & Cairns, 1997) and more likely to have high academic achievement (Gerber, 1996).
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Of particular importance, students at risk for school failure appeared to benefit even more from participation in extracurricular activities than do children who were normal achievers. Most researchers believed that involvement in extracurricular activities had an indirect impact on achievement by increasing connectedness to the school and by helping to build student strengths, thereby increasing self-esteem and positive social networks. Mahoney and Cairns (1997) noted that while supportive academic programs “focus on the deficits of students,” involvement in high interest, non-academic activities “provides a gateway into conventional social networks … through the maintenance and enhancement of positive characteristics of the individual that strengthen the student-school connection” (p. 248).
2.2.1. Social Effect of Extracurricular Activities
With regard to the importance of the extracurricular activities, a great body of research has been done to evaluate the social aspects of these activities on the development of students’ personal and interpersonal characteristics and the ultimate result in language proficiency (Astin, 1985; Tinto, 1993; Pascarella &Terenzini, 2005).
Some researchers focused on the affective side of extracurricular activities. One study found that adolescents who participated in extracurricular activities reported higher grades, more positive attitudes toward school, and higher academic aspirations (Darling, Caldwell, & Smith, 2005). Darling, et al (2005) conducted a longitudinal study concerning extracurricular activities and their effect on various aspects of development, including academic performance. A survey containing a list of twenty different extracurricular activities was distributed to students; they were asked to check which extracurricular activities they participated in that year. Demographic questions, such as their favorite activity, gender, and ethnicity were asked in order to take the social factors and influences into account when calculating the results. The students were also asked what their academic goals were and their grade point average (GPA). The results indicated that the students who participated in school-based extracurricular activities had higher grades, higher academic aspirations, and better academic attitudes than those who were not involved in extracurricular activities at all.
McNeal (1995) also attributed the low rate of school drop outs to the affective aspect of extracurricular activities. The outcome of his research was observed primarily among students who were at highest risk for dropout. The association between reduced rates of early school dropout and extracurricular involvement differed according to the competence of the individual. For students in the risk clusters, the associated reduction in dropout was stronger compared with more competent students. For students whose prior commitment to the school and its values had been marginal, such participation provided an opportunity to create a positive and voluntary connection to the educational institution. Unlike optional procedures (e.g., school dropout prevention programs, remedial education), which focused on the deficits of students, extracurricular activities can provide a path into the conventional social networks while, concurrently, promoting individual interests, achievements, and goals (Eder, 1985; Kinney, 1993; McNeal, 1995). Thus, school dropout could be effectively decreased through the maintenance and enhancement of positive characteristics of the individual which intensified the student-school connection.
Kinney (1993) commented that the associated reduction in school dropout was greater during early high school. One explanation is that the increased diversity of activities offered in high school provided adolescents more opportunity for activity participation suited to their interest-ability (Kinney, 1993). The range of activities included in the domains that risk students most often participated (athletics, fine arts, and vocational) increased during high school, as did their participation in these areas. Also many activities highlighted in yearbooks required expertise in particular domains (e.g., music, sports, languages, mathematics, science), some school activities required minimal academic performance in order to be eligible for participation in them. Furthermore, socioeconomic status, although not a general barrier to participation, could influence the types of activities students would choose to participate and the attainment of status within those activities was crucial for students (Coleman, 1961, cited in Jordan, 2000). Thus, the effect could be stronger in high school because participation increases as a result of greater opportunity.
In an exhaustive survey, Kinney (1993) referred to North American public secondary schools as unique educational places which offer a range of pursuits in classroom and beyond. In addition to offering a broad academic curriculum, middle schools and high schools encourage students to participate in various extracurricular activities; these include organized sports, special-interest academic pursuits, vocational clubs, supervised student government, newspapers, yearbooks, and various other activities. Extracurricular activities differ from standard courses in American school because they are optional, ungraded, and are usually carried out outside the school day in school. The researcher mentioned that although these activities are extra to the curriculum, they are closely linked to academic achievement and performance (e.g., math club, French club, national honor society). He concluded that the participation in this kind of context would enhance learning instruction. For example, participation could raise an individual’s status within the school, extend her or his social affiliations in the school community (Csikszentmihalyi, Rathunde, & Whalen, 1993; Eder, 1985; Eder & Parker, 1987; Kinney, 1993), or enable both to occur. The impact would be to make school a more meaningful and attractive experience for students who have experienced few successes in academic subjects.
An overview of the educational and psychological literature on the effects of extracurricular activities indicates, curiously, that only subtle attention has been given to the effects of extracurricular activities for marginal students (e.g., Brown, 1988; Holland & Andre, 1987). In contrast, a large amount of work has concentrated on the role of extracurricular activities for the smartest and the most privileged students. Specifically, (a) activities and positions of leadership may indicate only a small number of individuals (Brabd, 1987; Hollingshead, 1949, cited in Broh, 2002; Cooper, et al, 1999), (b) students of high socioeconomic class tend to report more engagement than lower class students and show greater leadership and talent within these activities (Csikszentmihalyi, Rathunde, & Whalen, 1993; Hollingshead, 1949, in Broh, 2002), (c) girls tend to participate in more activities than boys (Coleman, 1961; Hollingshead, 1949; Jacobs & Chase, 1989 all cited in Broh, 2002), (d) those individuals who participate in interesting activities tend to be popular with peers, are school leaders, and may be influential in conducting the status norms of the school social system (Coleman, 1961, cited in Broh, 2002; Eder, 1985; Eder & Parker, 1987; Kinney, 1993), and (e) participation in academically linked activities is connected with somewhat higher levels of academic performance and educational attainment (Brown, Day & Jones,1983; Marsh, 1992; McNeal, 1995; Shephard, 1996).
Extracurricular activities also may facilitate the development of qualities such as determination and perseverance. Individuals with these characteristics may be less likely to surrender when they face challenging tasks at school, which also may explain the researchers found an association between extracurricular activities and school self-esteem (Marsh, 1992).
2.2.2. Formal and Informal Extracurricular Activities
Some researchers have divided extracurricular activities into informal and formal activities. The formal activities include activities which are relatively structured, such as participating in athletics or learning to play a musical instrument. Informal activities, on the other hand, also known as leisure activities, include less structured activities, such as watching television. Some literature on leisure studies has suggested that formal and informal activity settings have different influences on motivation and feelings of competence (Guest & Schneider, 2003). One study found “that more time in leisure activities was related to poorer academic grades, poorer work habits, and poorer emotional adjustments,” while more time in “structured groups and less time watching TV were associated with higher test scores and school grades” (Marsh & Kleitman, 2002, p.5).
Structured activities outside of school may also facilitate the development of social ties (Eccles & Barber, 1999; Larson, 1994). Time in organized activities, for example, may bring youth into contact with peers and adults who share their interests. Interactions with well-adjusted peers who share similar goals and aspirations, in turn, can motivate youth to do well in school and cause interest in future educational and occupational pursuits (Jordan & Nettles, 2000).
Jordan and Nettles (2000) also used broader conceptualizations of youth’s time outside of school among high school students and found that students who spent more time in structured activities (e.g., youth groups, sports) as well as students who spent more time alone in skill-building activities (e.g., computers, hobbies, reading) had higher math and science achievement.
Schreiber and Chambers (2002) categorized adolescents’ after-school activities as in- or out-of school, academic or nonacademic, and organized or unorganized. Focusing on results for eighth grade African American adolescents, these researchers found that participation in out-of-school, nonacademic, organized activities (e.g., neighborhood clubs, nonschool team sports) was negatively related to math achievement, and participation in out-of-school, academic, unorganized activities (e.g., homework) was positively related to math achievement. These findings are consistent with theories about the benefits of participation in structured activities, which claim that such activities provide adolescents with opportunities to learn and develop skills (Bronfenbrenner, 1979; Larson &Verma, 1999). In addition to specific skills, participating in sports and clubs may facilitate learning organizational, planning, and time management skills that are important for school success. Furthermore, participation may have implications for the “self-system” (Holland & Andre, 1987). For example, participating on a sports team may promote self-confidence. Also students learn the attitude of respect toward their counterparts. They try to tie up their good school relationships and continue their friendships outside of the context of school. The feeling of self efficacy can also be developed within individuals as they see themselves supporters of other fellow students and the leaders of the groups. Leadership qualities are the special personal traits that their root can be strengthened within school days.
2.2.3. Academic Extracurricular Activities
Extracurricular activities that focus on academic areas include the school newspaper, quiz team, science club, school government, and debate team or journalism club. Each of these activities promotes academic excellence and provides students with an opportunity to expand their content knowledge outside the classroom (Linder, 1999). While building leadership skills, students will also learn the advantages of technical writing, keeping and meeting deadlines and public speaking. Students will also have opportunities to broaden their content knowledge about unfamiliar subjects by conducting research in preparation for debates or academic competitions (Mahoney & Cairns, 1997).
Regarding the role of extracurricular activities for ESL/EFL students, Al-Ansari (2000) confirmed the previous research that sheltered curricular exposure to the target language through English-medium instruction would seem intuitively to be a qualitatively different and potentially much richer source of intake than other, less sheltered kinds of exposure, especially as far as the development of academic proficiency in the target language is concerned (Krashen 1982; Wigzell 1983; Wesche & Ready 1985). ). In order to verify this impression, Al-Ansari (2000) carried out a study in a sample of Bahraini university students.
He gave the students two types of questionnaire. The first part of the questionnaire was designed to measure the amount of extra-curricular contact and the second part the amount of curricular contact through English-medium instruction in subjects other than English language. For the first part of the questionnaire, a set of questions, each with three alternative responses, was formulated to measure the frequency/duration of each of the modes of contact: Extra-curricular listening activities included watching English videos, films and TV shows, listening to English programs on the radio. Listening activities consisted of both academic and nonacademic extracurricular activities. The next category was out-of-class speaking activities with various categories of competent English speakers such as parents, teachers, fellow-students and others, both on and off campus. Like the previous category, this one also included both academic and nonacademic extracurricular activities. The third classification was reading activities involving different kinds of reading materials in English such as newspapers and magazines, stories, non-fictional material other than course-related material. The focus of this category was mainly nonacademic materials. Next item was social interaction with the target language community within Bahrain in places such as home, in clubs, recreation centers and other locations. Here the emphasis was mostly on nonacademic activities. The next part of the questionnaire belonged to questions regarding contact hours of English-medium instruction per week.
The findings with regard to extra-curricular contact had different implications for different categories of learners. As far as the average achievers were concerned, the implications were clear: in order to improve their proficiency level, they need to be more engaged in various extra-curricular activities in the target language, especially listening and speaking activities.
The results obtained for high achievers and underachievers, however, suggested that contact with the language outside the classroom was not a solution that would guarantee further linguistic development at all levels of attainment. With regard to the underachievers or false beginners, the findings were consistent with two possible inferences: either their level of proficiency was too low for them to derive any benefit from the kind of extra-curricular exposure they got to the language, which would suggest that much of the input they received was largely incomprehensible, or they did not have the necessary cognitive and verbal characteristics to derive the kind of benefit from their exposure that would be reflected in higher scores in an academically biased proficiency test
Much of what has emerged from the Al-Ansari’s (2000) study supported Krashen’s (1982) views. Central to his main thesis is the claim that certain linguistic environments and certain kinds of linguistic activity are a richer source of intake than others. This claim was proved by Al-Ansari’s (2000) findings, which presented that sheltered curricular exposure correlates more consistently with attained levels of proficiency than unsheltered extra-curricular exposure.
In another study, Dheram and Rani (2007) carried out a study on how the newspaper as an academic extracurricular activity could be used for promoting learner autonomy in an international classroom with varying levels of English proficiency. It highlighted how the authentic use of the language helped the ESL/EFL teacher turn the newspaper into a powerful tool for encouraging reflections on its relevance to language learning. Similarly, the activities demonstrated how the students’ imaginative and creative potential could be used for
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