Extending Learning Time for Disadvantaged Students - Volume 1 Summary of Promising Practices - 1995

A r c h i v e d  I n f o r m a t i o n

A Clear Focus On Using Extended Time Effectively

Researchers have identified several instructional practices that effectively engage students. These range from traditional classroom practices, such as individualized instruction and the use of both direct and indirect teaching, to those not typically associated with in-class instruction, such as organized recreational or cultural activities and interaction with knowledgeable adults during non-school hours.

Academic Enrichment and Hands-On Learning

Although extended-time staff acknowledge the importance of connections to regular instruction, teachers also struggle to sustain student participation by ensuring that the program content differs from regular classroom activities. Many extended-time programs emphasize enrichment activities, usually through hands-on learning. These activities have the added benefit of showing students the real-world applications of their lessons. Many programs that use this strategy hold frequent field trips or conduct hands-on science experiments. In the Socorro School District's intersession program, for example, enrichment activities include special sessions on regional literature or environmental issues; in one project, students learned about the Rio Grande River, its history, and its impact on their community.

Thematic Instruction

Enrichment activities often include interdisciplinary, thematic group projects to integrate and reinforce concepts learned in different subjects and from a variety of sources. In the Title I Summer Program for Private School Children in Beaverton, Oregon, for example, students read, write, and create projects linked to aspects of a theme that is based on local history or on students' personal interests. In the Summer Enhancement Program in South Carolina, students help teachers choose a new theme each summer--a strategy that also gives the students incentive to return the following year. At the Indiana Summer Program for At-Risk Students, teachers select a theme for each grade level. For a "world geography" theme, students researched different countries and then simulated an airport in the school lobby. Each wing of the school represented a different continent, and each classroom represented a country. Visitors "flew" to the "country" of their choice, where students presented the educational and cultural knowledge they had acquired.

Appropriately Challenging Curriculum

Successful programs make the extended-time curriculum challenging but not overwhelming. Research indicates that a challenging curriculum should accommodate individual student needs, coordinate with other instruction, and focus on more than remedial work.6 The TAP Summer Youth Employment Program, which serves a large number of students living in housing projects, teaches basic academic skills that students need for communicating with employers and co-workers, and it also provides students with the challenge of putting these skills to use while working in their communities.

Individual and Small-Group Instruction

Student-teacher interaction increases with instruction provided in one-on-one or small-group situations, where teachers give substantive feedback to students. This individualized attention may be especially beneficial to low achievers. Effective extended-time programs establish individual goals for each student and work closely with the student to reach these goals. For example, in the Educational Program for Homeless Children and Youth in Devil's Lake, North Dakota, teachers evaluate each child before the program begins to identify academic weaknesses; subsequent individual tutoring focuses on the weak areas. At Yuk Yau Child Development Center, children move among hands-on projects and interact with peers during small-group activities.

Direct and Indirect Teaching as Appropriate to the Acquisition of Skills

Successful extended-time programs feature both direct teaching, which relies on lectures and recitation, and indirect instruction, which highlights discovery and hands-on activities such as experiments, computer use, or participation in community activities. Research suggests that combining these approaches is useful in helping students acquire higher-order skills. Program directors say that these combined approaches stimulate student interest while simultaneously reinforcing basic skills. In the Summer Enhancement Program, for example, teachers combine lectures with hands-on experiments; students attend daily classes organized around science themes, work in the school's computer lab, read in the media center, and write in journals.

Focus on Problem-Solving and Decision-Making Skills

Many educational reformers have focused their efforts over the last decade on instructional practices such as cooperative learning that emphasize problem-solving and decision-making over solitary reliance on memorization of facts and theories. Further, programs that emphasize problem solving and decision making directly address the national education goal of helping prepare students "for responsible citizenship, further learning, and productive employment in our modern economy." Several programs described here offer strategies for addressing problem solving and decision making, ranging from in-class discussions and the use of board games to designing and conducting community service activities. For example, tutors at Raising Hispanic Academic Achievement focus on problem-solving skills and are trained to help students "think, explore, solve, and look back" when working on mathematics problems.

Heterogeneous Grouping

Many extended-time programs use heterogeneous grouping of multi-age and/or multi-ability students. Mixed-ability grouping is based on the theory that lower-ability students benefit from working in small groups with their higher-achieving peers, and high-ability students reinforce their knowledge by sharing with their lower-achieving peers. Researchers also have found that multi-age grouping benefits students' mental health as well as academic achievement and contributes to positive attitudes toward school. Because the voluntary nature of participation in an extended-time program results in a range of student ages and skills, heterogeneous groups may result naturally. Often, however, extended-time program planners arrange groups so that high- and low-ability students work together--with the expectation of cooperative rather than competitive learning. In Chicago's ASPIRA program, students are selected for participation with a goal of mixing high achievers and at-risk participants--and these groups work together closely in all activities.

Flexible Scheduling

Extended-time programs often feature innovative scheduling, as program staff work to maintain participation and respond to students' and parents' varied schedules and family or employment commitments. Offering students flexibility and some choice regarding when they participate in extended learning may be as simple as offering homework sessions when children need them most--after school and before dinner--as do Kids Crew and the Omaha After-school Study Centers. Or, it may mean keeping early and late hours to meet the child care needs of parents who work more than one job or support extended families, as does Yuk Yau Child Development Center. Similarly, the Florida Summer Institute for At-Risk Migrant Students is a residential program so that students' participation does not disrupt their migrant families' travels.

Use of Technology

Research shows that the use of technology for learning--primarily instruction that is assisted, managed, or enriched by computers--has at least a modest positive impact on student achievement on standardized tests and improves students' attitudes toward school and teaching. Extended-time programs may use computers to improve literacy and writing skills and to develop word-processing skills, as at the Omaha study centers.

Interaction with Caring Adults during Non-school Hours

Some disadvantaged students have few opportunities outside the classroom to interact closely and for extended periods with caring adults who can impart a sense of concern and contribute to students' self-esteem. Students' parents often work long hours; their financially strapped communities generally offer few affordable, accessible, and safe opportunities to interact with adults. Some extended-time programs address this problem by using adults as tutors or experts during career counseling sessions. The Teen Outreach Program (TOP) in Sonora, California, is a good example. As part of a national effort to target potential dropouts and prevent teen pregnancies, adults participate as facilitators in a Life Options class that teaches students to set goals, make decisions, develop motivation to stay in school, and helps students cultivate close relationships with each other as well as with adult facilitators.

Organized Youth Activities

Organized youth activities can contribute to successful learning experiences by (1) motivating children to excel, (2) providing additional structure to the students' experience, (3) building students' interpersonal skills, (4) increasing their overall exposure to cultural and sporting events, and (5) building citizenship skills. Research shows that to attract and hold the attention of youth, organized youth activities should be enjoyable as well as responsive to the participants' concerns; activities also should provide opportunities to practice new skills, make new friends, have new experiences, and explore new options. Accordingly, some extended-time programs encourage students to build their reading, math, or science skills by sponsoring contests or offering rewards for reaching certain achievement levels. In addition, several summer programs hold sporting events to encourage team-building skills and provide structure to the programs. In the Kids Crew program, for example, children attend the museum's public performances, events, or workshops in music, dance, theater, puppetry, creative writing, and photography; for many of the children who attend, it is their first experience with the performing arts.

Many of the organized youth activities offered by extended-time programs also build citizenship skills through community service, career counseling, or tutoring/mentoring relationships. "We want [students] to see the value of community and their value to the community, what they contribute to the community," the director of one program explained. "The expectation is that they'll want to continue to do this, that we'll make a real solid connection." In before- or after-school clubs run by ASPIRA, students hold conferences at which participants make presentations to their peers.


6 Title I programs that focus on lower-order skills (e.g., decoding or rote memorization) to the exclusion of higher-order thinking skills (e.g., reasoning and problem solving) may be limiting in the long run, even though they may raise standardized test scores in the short run, according to research.
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