Turning Theory into Practice #7 – Extra-Curricular Activities that Can Boost Talent Development

Todd Stanley

In Gifted Children Quarterly (October 2019), there is an article by Jonathan Wai and Jeff Allen on what boosts the talent development of gifted students in secondary education. They look at 21 years of data to determine what are effective ways to help gifted students develop their talents. There are your usual suspects such as STEM, AP courses, and post-secondary classes that are proven to increase a student’s educational growth.

Wai and Allen also look at extra-curricular activities and the affect they have on academic growth. The results here were a little mixed. Activities such as community service, debate, performing arts, or cultural clubs were found to have positive effects on a student’s academic growth. Non-academic clubs such as social clubs, radio/tv, or sports were shown to have a negative impact on student achievement growth.

The conclusion they draw about extra-curricular activities is “how academically talented students allocate their time is of potential importance.” In other words, some extra-curricular activities will develop talent better than others, students just need to choose the right ones. This begs the question of what are worthwhile extra-curricular activities in which students wishing to develop their academic talents should participate?

Here are five suggestions of possible programs and the benefits these activities may provide:

Model United Nations/YMCA Youth and Government
The basic premise of these programs is that students explore a problem and try to create a viable political solution. It usually breaks down into two parts: 1. The writing of a resolution or law framing the issue, and 2. The solution. Next, there is an oral defense of this solution usually given in front of peers. The difference between the programs is Model United Nations looks at global/international problems, while Youth and Government typically looks at local/state problems. Both are great at developing 21st century skills such as research, written communication, oral communication, problem solving, and adaptability.

Destination Imagination
This a creative problem-solving competition for students K-12. There are six different challenges from which to choose: Technical, scientific, engineering, fine arts, improvisational, and service learning. Typically, students must create a skit that creatively solves a problem. They must also develop a physical device that is integral to the skit and display talents and skills they possess. Students will compete first at the regional tournament, with the best moving on to the state. Finally, the best from each state participate in global finals.

Key Club/Eco Club
The idea of these clubs is that the students decide on a project they would like to work on that improves their school, town, or even the world community. For example, if there has been a hurricane in the Dominican Republic, the club decides to raise money that could be sent to organizations already helping in the relief efforts such as the Red Cross or they might run a drive at the school, asking students and staff to bring in items needed that can be shipped to the Dominican Republic. The eco club might decide the green area around the school needs some work so they get a local nursery to donate trees which will be planted around the grounds. These clubs are excellent because they do three things for students: 1. Allow them to show empathy toward a cause, 2. Provide hands-on, experiential learning, and 3. Teach them many valuable 21st century skills.

Performing Arts
Many schools have performing arts worked into the school day such as band, orchestra, choir, art, or theatre. There are some schools that have placed less emphasis on such programs and do not offer them as part of the school day and thus they become extra-curricular activities, or there are additional performing arts that are extra-curricular such as marching band, show choir, specialized arts classes, and school plays. There has been a long history of the benefits of performing arts. Some of the skills students develop from doing them are self-confidence, imagination, empathy, cooperation, concentration, communication, and emotional outlet.

Cultural Clubs
The general purpose of a culture club is to spread awareness. This can be through a festival or event that has a sampling of food, a display of cultural practices and talents, or programs designed to grow tolerance of diversity. These clubs instill empowerment by giving students a voice and allowing them to control the stereotypes associated with their culture.

For all of these extra-curricular clubs it takes a very dedicated person, either a student who feels passionate about the club's purpose and convinces a teacher to act as the advisor, or a teacher who wants to provide it as an opportunity to students.

Schools need to be encouraging of these programs, offering resources, space, materials, and possibly compensation to teachers in order to show the value of the time they commit to these extra-curricular activites. Unfortunately, many good programs go by the wayside because of the inability to find teachers willing to give their time to support these programs. One thing to remember is that the education of our students does not occur just within the confines of the school day. There are many opportunities to teach valuable skills and life-long lessons once classes are over.

Todd Stanley is the author of many teacher-education books. He served as a classroom teacher for 18 years and is currently the gifted services coordinator for Pickerington Local Schools (OH). You can follow Todd on Twitter (@the_gifted_guy) or visit his website to can access blogs, resources, and view presentations he has given concerning gifted education.

The views expressed herein represents the opinion of the author and not necessarily the National Association for Gifted Children.