Why Do Research In Academics In Afterschool?Afterschool programs make positive differences in kids' lives. They provide fun, safe places outside school time while offering activities that help students grow and tap into their own interests.
An overlooked or misunderstood aspect of afterschool is its role in supporting students' growth in academic content areas. Some people believe that afterschool is the opposite of academics, when, in fact, afterschool is a great time to provide academic enrichment--through programming that embeds content learning into fun afterschool activities. This does not mean simply extending day-school class time or providing unsupervised homework time, but rather working with the inherent character of afterschool--for instance, the fun factor and student engagement--to build a program that provides solid academic gains for the participants.
Over the last 10 years, this kind of academic enrichment has become an increasingly important goal for afterschool programs across the country. However, until recently, there has been relatively little research on which afterschool practices most effectively promote students' academic growth. To be sure, many programs were having positive results, but they were struggling on their own.
A Nationwide StudyAddressing this gap in knowledge was a logical place for the National Partnership for Quality Afterschool Learning (NPQAL) to begin our work. Our ultimate goal was to build tools and trainings to help all programs improve academic enrichment and outcomes for their kids--not just help those who had happened upon the right approaches on their own. To do this, we first needed to know just what worked!
The research needed to answer this question got underway in 2004, when CRESST, the National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing at UCLA, began a comprehensive examination of afterschool programs nation-wide. The key tasks of the research were to identify afterschool sites that were showing good results on a preliminary basis and to confirm the successes that were occurring. We focused on six key areas: literacy, math, science, arts, technology, and homework.
The work itself consisted of analyzing data from the sites as well as visiting the sites to observe and interview a wide range of the students, teachers, and other people who were involved. Equally important was the professional expertise from the entire partnership--individuals with a lifetime of service to afterschool and deep knowledge of the field and its realities.
This combination of data + site visits + professional expertise yielded the content that answers the question, "What works in academic enrichment in afterschool?"
Evidence-Based Practices That Make A DifferenceYou will find these answers on this Web site in the form of practices synthesized from the research. Each practice is described and explained, with abundant support materials, including sample lessons that show the practices in implementation, and resources and references. The most important support material for the practices are the video vignettes that illuminate many (although not all) of the 34 practices identified in the study. These vignettes are from the actual sites where researchers saw promising practices in action, and answer the question, "What does it look like?" Like all of the material in the toolkit, the videos draw explicitly on the research base established for the entire project. They give you a window into high-quality programs, and we hope they will inspire you and help you build your own skill and that of your staff.
Common ThreadsIn addition to these subject-specific practices, some important general findings emerged from the research. These elements, independent of any one subject area, came up again and again in programs that were having positive impacts.
The common characteristics are:
- All successful programs had clear goals.
- All successful programs aligned program structures and contents to meet those goals.
- All successful programs set a schedule that allowed time for students to learn and practice.
- All successful programs established relationships with the day school.
- All successful programs had curriculum that in general reflected a linkage to standards.
- Most of the successful programs used research-based strategies.
- All successful programs maintained some form of evaluative structures.
- In successful programs, staff members related well to the students.
- In successful programs, the staff were able to build rapport, maintain high expectations, and keep students motivated and engaged.
These characteristics are helpful to keep in mind as you work with the practices. They form the foundation on which academic enrichment can be built.
What It All MeansSo what does this research mean for you? And what can you do with it? First and foremost, it means you can use the practices in this toolkit with confidence, knowing that they grow out of sound research on afterschool programs that are already succeeding and helping students grow academically. The evidence is in, and it shows that these approaches will help build academic achievement in your students.
Secondly, this toolkit is a wonderful resource to understand the world of academics in afterschool. By working with the practices themselves, viewing the videos and related resources, reading the literature reviews prepared for each subject area, and visiting the sample lessons for each practice, you will find a wealth of practical information on how to embed fun and rewarding activities in afterschool. This toolkit is your gateway to thinking about academics in an afterschool more deeply, or, possibly, in a whole new way.
And finally, for the research-minded among you, trust us--we have plenty more that we would be happy to share. If you would like to contact the lead researcher on this project, Dr. Denise Huang of CRESST, email her (email@example.com) and receive a copy of the research papers prepared in 2006 and 2007 on this work.
Most of all, we wish you every success on building a successful program.