School Life outside the Curriculum, is it important?

Ms Jenny Cox, Director of Co-curricular and Partnerships considers ‘School life outside the curriculum, is it important?’

“I need 3 A*’s to get to where I want to be. That means more focus on work less time on other things.”

I’m sure we have all heard this or possibly said this at some time in our lives, particularly when we feel under pressure. I’m pleased to say that Wimbledon High bucks the trend with the approach that promotes work, work, and more work, as being the key to success. We see the drive to achievement as a more rounded and fulfilling experience. However, is everyone convinced of this?

Anxiety, self-confidence, motivation and concentration can play a huge role in our mind during day-to-day life. How we choose to deal with these can affect our well-being and our ability to function effectively. Cognitive anxiety can exhibit itself as Fuzzy Head Anxiety, sometimes also known as Brain fog anxiety, which can occur when a person feels so anxious, they have difficulty concentrating or thinking clearly. At times, high somatic anxiety can lead to sickness, upset and a lack of appetite. Whilst it is normal to experience occasional cognitive and somatic anxiety, especially during times of high stress, it important to have strategies to help us lift ourselves out of this, as the worries about grades, about covid and about not being good enough, are all very real concerns as we ease ourselves back into ‘normal’ life.

Look beyond yourself

It has long been acknowledged that acts of generosity raise levels of happiness and emotional well-being, giving charitable people a pleasant feeling known, as a “warm glow.”

In the Medical News Today, Maria Cohut (2017) wrote an article on how ‘Generosity makes you happier’. She reported on a study of forty-eight people, all of whom were allocated a sum of money on a weekly basis for four weeks. In short, one group were asked to spend the money and the other group asked to make public pledges and all participants were asked to report their level of happiness both at the beginning and at the end of the experiment. The results found that all participants who had performed, or had been willing to perform, an act of generosity – no matter how small – viewed themselves as happier at the end of the experiment. It is studies like this, alongside others, that convince us that our partnership and charities work, so heavily and generously invested in by our students, is vital to maintaining a sense of perspective and our sense of well-being.

Work hard and play hard

In 2020, 98% of the top ten highest achievers in Years 7, 8 and 9 at Wimbledon High took part in at least five sessions of co-curricular activities per week; is this a coincidence? Previous research has also revealed positive and significant relationships between higher physical activity and greater academic achievement (Chih and Chen 2011; Bailey 2006; Chomitz, Slining, McGowan, Mitchell, Dawson, and Hacker, 2009). There are a multitude of benefits to taking part in a balanced programme of co-curricular activities. Whether they are in school or externally organised, both appear to be hugely beneficial.  

All the feelings of immersing yourself in the activities you love will again enhance feelings of well-being and start to reduce levels of stress, should they be high. The well documented moments of Flow (Csikszentmihalyi, Harper and Row, 1990) refer to those times when people report feelings of concentration and deep enjoyment. These moments maybe found on the hockey pitch, in orchestra, chess club, debating, GeogOn, Femigineers, whatever is your passion. Investigations have revealed that what makes the experience genuinely satisfying is a state of consciousness; a state of concentration so focused that it amounts to absolute absorption in an activity. People typically feel strong, alert, in effortless control, unselfconscious, and at the peak of their abilities. Both a sense of time and emotional problems seem to disappear, and there is an exhilarating feeling of wholeness. This can be controlled, and not just left to chance, by setting ourselves challenges – tasks that are neither too difficult nor too simple for our abilities. With such goals, we learn to order the information that enters our consciousness and thereby improve the quality of our lives.

Life outside the curriculum, is it important?

Evidence seems to point in the direction that a well-planned and attainable life outside the curriculum will enhance academic studies, promote feelings of well-being, and give a sense of perspective on day-to-day anxieties.  Having said this, we have decided to research this ourselves. Look out for the opportunity to be part of a piece of research later this year, conducted by Ms Coutts-Wood and I, where we shall dig deeper into life at Wimbledon High. Specifically, we will be investigating the impact of our co-curricular and partnership programmes on academic progress and well-being.


References:

  • Csikzentmihaly, M. 1990. Flow: The psychology of optimal experience, Harper & Row
  • Bailey, R. 2006. Physical education and sport in schools: A review of benefits and outcomes. Journal of School Health, Vol. 76, No. 8.
  • Chih, C.H. and Chen, J. 2011. The Relationship between Physical Education Performance, Fitness Tests and Academic Achievement in Elementary School. The International Journal of Sport and Society, Vol. 2, No.1.
  • Chomitz, V.R., Slining, M.M., McGowan, R.J., Mitchell, S.E., Dawson, G.F., Hacker, K.A. 2009. Is there a relationship between physical fitness and academic achievement? Positive results from public school children in the Northeastern United States. Journal of School Health, Vol. 79 Issue 1, P30.
  • Cohut, Maria. 2017. Medical News Today ‘Generosity makes you happier’

Coutts, Director of Sport, gives a short review of Make it Stick, The Science of Successful Learning by Brown, Roediger and McDaniel

She considers the ‘illusion of mastery’ and how metacognition can help students avoid falling into this trap with our games players

 

In Make it Stick, P. Brown, H. Roediger III and M. McDaniel discuss the Science of Successful Learning. In general, it’s an incredibly interesting book peppered with examples of how we learn most effectively. Being aware of how we learn and think, can result in an improved ability to problem solve, decision make and over-come hurdles (apologies for the sport pun!). The content is enjoyable, supported by various examples and easy to consume – it’s almost as if they know how to convey information and make it memorable!

This book begins by addressing how learners can fall into the trap of the ‘illusion of mastery’. This is where pupils think they have grasped what they have been taught but once tested fall short. Frequently the revision strategy for this approach would involve making notes and then reading and re-reading them time and time again, simply creating the feeling and appearance of mastery.

With the return of competitive sport on the horizon, I turned my thoughts to how I was going to avoid this illusion with our Wimbledonian games players and make the most of this insight.

Practically in Sport, we must then be careful of striking the balance between enhancing the efficiency and fluency of skills, at the detriment of pupils being able respond flexibly and adapt to an unknown scenario during competition.

When teaching open skills, for example during invasion games eg Netball, adopting a games-sense approach is a desirable method. This allows pupils to become more self-aware, encouraging meta-cognition and evaluation of their own success criteria. It helps them to really judge when they have grasped a skill and perform it under pressure, rather than think that they have without success to prove it. This means that the pupils are improving their skills in a more realistic environment so that they are transferable to high-level competition against other schools. Furthermore, the ability to reflect on your performance and then have a flexible skill set when responding is useful when a taught ‘set play’ is challenged by the opposition. This means that pupils can’t fall into the illusion trap as they are constantly being challenged and having to apply their knowledge and skills appropriately.

Another important aspect of learning in sport is the ability to recognise when similar situations occur during this open environment. In a match context, quick recognition of when a ‘set play’ could be implemented is beneficial as it allows pupils to respond effectively whilst under pressure. It also encourages reflection on your own learning and performance.

Although this games-sense approach needs a good skill base to be effective, I think that it prepares pupils for competitions more effectively by helping them to become better critiques of their own learning than solely focusing on closed drills.

Jamie-Lee explores the Journal of Health, Sport and Physical Education

Jaime-Lee, Head of Netball at WHS, explores the journal article ‘Questioning for Learning in game-based approaches to teaching and coaching’ from the Asia-Pacific Journal of Health, Sport and Physical Education

 

Harvey, S. and Light, R. (2015). Questioning for Learning in game-based approaches to teaching and coaching. Asia-Pacific Journal of Health, Sport and Physical Education, 6 (1): 1-16.

‘Questions that encourage players to reflect on what they have just done will increase learning’.

A Games-based approach is just one pedagogy used in the teaching of PE. It is focused around practice through play, where players learn and refine skills while participating in matches. As skills are not broken down and taught individually, questioning becomes an important part of the learning. In order to achieve a Games-based approach, the PE teacher needs to move away from the traditional direct instruction teaching to open-ended questioning within the game of play.

The Games-based approach draws on 2 theories of learning – ‘The Zone of Proximal Development’ and ‘Complex Learning Theory’. The Zone of Proximal Development looks at focusing questions in the gap between what a player can learn on their own and what they can learn with direct teacher guidance. Complex Learning Theory focuses on the idea that learning is a combination of the mind and body.

Examples of good questioning in a Games-based approach:

  • How are you deciding when it is best to lead for the ball?
  • How could you improve your off-the-ball defence?
  • What is the most important thing to think about when deciding who to pass to?
  • What might happen if you do not receive the ball on your first drive?

Questioning needs to be open and give the player the opportunity to reflect on what they have just done. For players to show skill progression, they need to understand why they were successful/unsuccessful and how they can improve. For example, if a player is struggling to get free on a centre pass, rather than saying, ‘if you dodge it will help you get free’. Try, ‘how can you get free from your opponent?’, followed by ‘what if that does not work?’.

When done well, a Games-based approach allows players to not only make decisions independently but also to adapt to new or changing situations as they arrive. The use of well-constructed targeted questions will increase a player’s knowledge beyond where they could have reached on their own. The key is to ask open-ended questions at a point in play where reflection can occur.