A New Carrot to Grow Student Participation

Ever watch the movie Groundhog Day? It’s the story of a man who is magically forced to relive a particular day over and over again. I kinda feel like that when I look at the lists of student participants in school clubs and extracurriculars. It’s always the same kids helping out, playing, participating, and getting involved. At my middle school, there is a core of kids who form the heart of every organization – Peer Helpers, GIN, Student Council, NJHS, sports teams, Art Club, etc. If I drew a Venn diagram of those memberships, it would be one giant bubble in the center with tiny edges all around the perimeter.

And that is great for those students. Don’t get me wrong! I love that these same kids step up for anything that is going. Later, their college applications will be bursting with experiences.

What worries me are all those other kids. For every one student rocking out in multiple clubs/sports, there are another 10 who are doing nothing. They don’t join anything. They don’t support anything. They don’t create anything. Today, for instance, is the NJHS induction ceremony at my school. And, it will be disheartening to look into the audience and look at all the students watching this wonderful parade go by.

How do we get these non stepper-uppers more engaged in school life?

Because yes, these non-participants go to class. Yes, they do their work. Yes, they are turning oxygen into carbon dioxide. But, they are not PART of the fabric or the life of school. They are missing out on all the things school can offer.  And sadly, when it comes time for them to apply to college, they will discover that they will be found wanting.

A while back, I toyed around with the idea of making participation in school sports/groups/activities a mandatory part of my class. As a Social Studies teacher, the study of civic responsibility is central to my program. And although as an individual teacher I can’t change the whole school from my lowly position, but I can try to change my particular students. I could require that all my students participate in something and report their experiences through presentations or blogs.

But, forcing students to participate sounded just a tiny bit fascist. Wouldn’t students whine? Wouldn’t some parents complain?

To really get the most out of an activity, it would be better if the students did it for their own reasons. So, how could I get them to want to participate? Ideally, I would prefer if the students did so intrinsically, because it is the right thing to do. But, that is obviously not working right now. So, an external carrot would be necessary. What would that carrot be?

Then it occurred to me that students love to not work. They love avoiding things, especially time-consuming and difficult things like homework. What if we rewarded participation in clubs/sports/etc. with homework passes?

This is awesome for two reasons:

  1. This would totally motivate non-participators to step up their game…even just a little. Homework is the bane of every student and the ability to avoid it is a powerful plus.
  2. This would be helpful even to the students who currently step up and participate. These students tend to be very busy and although homework doesn’t necessarily scare them, it is a nuisance. One student I taught was always stressed as she had to finish homework AND complete projects for her after-school photography course, as well as working on fundraising activities for Peer Helpers and NJHS. Like many high performers, she was getting it done. But, a homework pass would make things that much easier.

I floated the idea to our administration and the reaction was positive. I will let you know how it goes.

School offers students so many opportunities for growth outside of the classroom. Many students are taking advantage of these experiences and are poised and ready for future success. Other students, sadly, are getting by doing the bare minimum. They are not seeing all the benefits of participating in sports, clubs, or activities. With only a fraction of students stepping up, schools and communities are missing out and too many of our kids are missing out. Sometimes you have to “encourage” kids to take a leap. Dangling a carrot like homework passes is an easy way to get the ball rolling.

Hi 5!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s