Outstanding after-school cocurricular programs begin with outstanding instruction in the classroom, along with the training and development of individual student skills. Many of the curricular skills and strategies used in the classroom directly transfer to cocurricular activities. Successful cocurricular sponsors create an environment of high expectations and student outcomes by establishing standards, implementing routines that lead toward mastery, providing continuous and consistent feedback, and constructing opportunities for student self- and peer-assessment.
Much like classroom curriculum, cocurricular activities have standards to assess student work. Standards for cocurricular activities can be found on the rubrics and evaluation forms used at competitions. Successful sponsors incorporate these standards (as well as their own content knowledge and experience) consistently into their rehearsal and preparation for competitions. This helps ensure that student and sponsor effort is aligned with the expectations of judges at competition.
Ideal performance. The first step in creating and implementing rehearsal routines that lead to mastery is for the cocurricular sponsor to develop a clear understanding and image of the perfect or ideal performance they want from their students. Whether it be an exemplar online, researched videos, previous debates or recorded performances, an exemplar and standards are essential for goal-setting and evaluating student work. The higher the standard, the higher the potential student outcomes.
Perform and create. Once sponsors and students have established, reviewed or examined an ideal performance, it is time for students to perform and the sponsor to observe. The sponsor must learn to see and hear the actual performance or product, not what they imagine they see or hear. This requires highly developed visual, auditory and observation skills and a deep understanding of the content and expectations.
Identify strengths and weaknesses. The sponsor must compare the student performance to the exemplar, and from the observation, identify the gaps between the two. It is not enough to identify the gap; the sponsor must provide feedback and find ways to close it. Much like a master classroom teacher, a successful sponsor will provide intensive support and additional enrichment to move the student toward mastery.
Diagnose. The sponsor must be able to identify the cause of the gap in performance. This step requires high content expertise, observation skills and effective communication. Sponsors must continue to seek ongoing professional learning opportunities to expand their content knowledge. Whether by attending professional development sessions, adjudicating or observing competitions, reviewing competition rubrics or shadowing a mentor, sponsors have access to grow as experts in their observation skills, and, ultimately, produce quality feedback that impacts student growth.
Prescribe the right solution. The sponsor must provide accurate, specific and effective feedback to eliminate the gap. No improvement will occur when sponsors prescribe the wrong solutions or provide minimal descriptive feedback. A healthy balance between positive reinforcement and highlighting areas for improvement is needed.
This rehearsal cycle may occur dozens, if not hundreds, of times in a single class or rehearsal. Whether it is stopping in the middle of a song for music or a scene for theatre, successful sponsors engage in giving timely feedback, highlighting the successes and areas of growth multiple times.
During this feedback time, sponsors must set goals and solicit feedback from students to determine if they felt, heard or saw the differences in their performances or against the exemplar. This technique assists in developing a deeper understanding of the expectations and produces higher student outcomes. Feedback can be provided to students through their own self-reflection, peer feedback or teacher feedback.
If the goal is for students to take ownership in their learning through goal-setting and working toward mastery, then sponsors must create experiences for them to engage in this process. Sponsors, like master teachers, must have clearly articulated standards, expectations or look-fors in their rubrics. This makes the learning visible for students and creates clarity for them as they engage in the rehearsal experience.
Successful programs do not limit feedback to sponsor-to-student, but leverage the skills of students by creating opportunities for student-to-student feedback. To have alignment in cocurricular programs, it is essential to teach students a process on giving selfand peer-feedback in a healthy, constructive manner that aligns with program and competition standards. This provides support to the students who need it the most, while enriching the experience for all student participants. Sponsors must also give feedback to students that give feedback (coaching feedback). This process equips students with college, career and life skills to use beyond high school activities.
The ability of students to assess themselves and their peers allows for a deeper understanding of concepts as they move toward mastery. This classroom strategy directly transfers to the cocurricular activities associated with music, theatre and speech competitions. As students often practice independently on speech events, monologues and music competitions, they must be equipped with skills to self-evaluate. Student ownership of learning increases engagement and assists with buy-in to after-school cocurricular programs, ultimately leading to higher student outcomes.
Phillip Taylor has a Master of Arts in Theatre Education from the University of Houston and a BS from the University of Texas at Austin. He is currently a doctoral candidate at the University of Houston. As a director, he advanced to the UIL One- Act Play State Meet four times, winning the state championships twice. He taught high school and middle school, and coached students to the UIL Academic State Meet in numerous events. Currently, as the administrative supervisor of fine arts for the Austin (Texas) Independent School District, he oversees various fine arts programs and initiatives that directly support 130 campuses. He can be contacted at Phillip.Taylor@austinisd.org