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Do Extracurricular Activities Matter? Examining the Impact of High School Mock Trial Participation on Student Learning and Development Jason J. Wong

Do Extracurricular Activities Matter? Chapter 1: Introduction

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AbstractThis thesis looks into the efficacy and significance of high school mock trial teams on student learning and development. I use survey data and interviews with current and former participants of mock trial to understand how students make meaning out of their mock trial experiences. Respondents seem to benefit the most from four specific components of mock trial: teamwork and collaboration, the unique nature of mock trial competition, competitive success, and individual responsibility and professional development. In addition, this thesis analyzes and incorporates the ideas of education theorists who espouse or criticize experiential education. At the heart of this thesis is the idea that even though students are rarely held accountable for what they have learned or accomplished in their extracurricular activities such as mock trial in a formal sense, such as in grades or test scores, many students walk away from these activities with a meaningful sense of accomplishment and personal development.

Text of Do Extracurricular Activities Matter? Chapter 1: Introduction

Page 1: Do Extracurricular Activities Matter? Chapter 1: Introduction

Do Extracurricular Activities Matter? Examining the Impact of High School Mock Trial

Participation on Student Learning and Development

Jason J. Wong

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Compared to other areas of education, extracurricular activities receive less attention

from policymakers and education theorists than topics such as academic standards, class size,

school size, school leadership and teacher quality, even though current research has shown

that extracurricular activities in general can be quantitatively associated with positive learning

outcomes (McFarland & Thomas, 2006; Fredricks & Eccles, 2006; Cooper, Valentine, Nye, &

Lindsay, 1999). Because of this lack of attention, what we know about extracurricular activities

is far from complete. There is still much to learn about the benefits and risks of extracurricular

activities and the different types of extracurricular activities that students participate in

(Holland & Andre, 1987).

For example, causal relationships between specific components of extracurricular

activities and their influence on learning and developmental outcomes are unclear (Holland &

Andre, 1987; Fredricks & Eccles, 2006), and we don’t know to what extent variables such as

self-selection may moderate the relationship between extracurricular participation and

developmental outcomes (Larson, 2000). Furthermore, many studies aggregate extracurricular

activities into either exiguous or overly expansive indicators and measurements, which makes it

more difficult to determine what specific components of mock trial are more useful than

others, and it makes it difficult to compare extracurricular activities with one another (Fredricks

& Eccles, 2006).

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Rather than focusing on extracurricular activities in general, this thesis is primarily

concerned with the question of how students make meaning out of their extracurricular

experiences by focusing on one extracurricular activity in particular: mock trial. I use purposive

sampling to survey and interview current and former participants of high school mock trial to

learn about their mock trial experiences. The goal of this thesis is not to make generalizations

about student learning outcomes in mock trial, since we do not know to what extent the

observations and analysis of this thesis are true for all participants of mock trial. Rather, the

goal is to learn about how students make meaning of their mock trial experiences. By

understanding the learning and developmental processes that take place during mock trial, we

can better understand what specific components of one extracurricular activity can add to

student learning experiences overall.

In order to shed light on what benefits or risks are associated with student participation

in mock trial, how these benefits or perceived benefits keep students involved with mock trial

throughout multiple years, and whether or not mock trial, and by extension other

extracurricular activities, are worthy of more investment and attention by school officials,

administrators, and policy makers, Chapter 1 begins with a broader analysis of the history,

processes, and learning outcomes of extracurricular activities in general, culminating with a

description of the reasons I chose to study mock trial. In Chapter 2, I discuss how my original

research goals and consideration of research limitations led me to focus my research objective

to studying student learning experiences through mock trial activities. In addition, in this

chapter I explain how my research methodologies were applied to answering my research

question. In Chapter 3, I introduce and try to explain a series of mock trial narratives derived

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from interview and survey data. Finally, in Chapter 4, I analyze the results and observations of

the previous two chapters, as well as indicate areas for future research and provide potential

recommendations for improving education public policy or teacher practice based on my

results and analysis.

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Chapter 1: Extracurricular Activities

I. Improving Education by Expanding the Focus of Schooling

“I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.” - Mark Twain

In addition to boasting Mark Twain’s well-known disdain for schools, these remarks also

reflect the idea that education and schools can be two separate entities; an idea which in

today’s society tends to get overlooked. Most learning is assumed or taken for granted to occur

within the traditional classroom. We forget that students are influenced by their experiences

outside of the classroom just as significantly as they are influenced by their experiences within

the classroom, if not more so. Because almost all of our attention is focused on what we can do

to educate students within the classroom or confines of the school environment, we miss

opportunities to educate and provide meaningful educational opportunities outside the six

hours a day that students spend in school.

In particular, little attention has been paid to increasing the quality and equity of

student participation and access to high quality extracurricular activities. Education reform

since the 1990s has largely been centered on standards-based education (Amrein & Berliner,

2002; Berliner, 2004; Fuhrman, 2001; Marzano & Kendall, 1997). Standards-based education is

the idea that student curriculum should be based on a series of academic standards of what

should be known across all classrooms in an education system (Schmoker & Marzano, 1999). A

key tenet of standards-based reform is that learning outcomes should be universal, and

measurable (Crocker, 2004). No Child Left Behind helped focus education reform on achieving

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standardized, measurable results (Rothstein, 2009). The quality of student learning outcomes

by various measurements and assessments including graduation rates (Dillon, 2008), test

performance (Center on Education Policy, 2009), and college attendance (Snyder, Dillow, &

Hoffman, 2009) show that improvement in the United States is barely above stagnant, and the

effectiveness of recent education reforms can also be moderated by other factors depending on

location, economic resources, and a variety of other factors even including physical activity of

the students being assessed (Burross, 2008; Simplicio, 1995).

For example, after the most recent period of reforms, student reading scores from 1992

to 2007 on a scale of 0 to 500 improved only 4 and 3 points respectively for 4th and 8th graders,

and fell 6 points for 12th graders (Snyder, Dillow, & Hoffman, 2009). Even though the picture is

somewhat brighter in math, these results indicate that there is room for improvement. In

mathematics, 4th graders and 8th graders scored on average 27 points and 19 points higher from

1990 to 2007, a period of seventeen years, on a scale of 0 to 500. Between 1996 and 2006, the

national on-time graduation rate increased from 66.4 percent to 69.2 percent (Khadaroo,

2009). An increasing focus on standardization seems not to have helped students improve their

test scores in a particularly significant way, even though more time has been invested in core

subjects at the cost of scrapping or reducing lesser prioritized programs (CNN, 2003; The New

York Times, 2003).

But test scores and graduation rates are not the only way to measure student learning

outcomes. They do not measure other student learning outcomes that we care about but

cannot or do not measure (The Conference Board, et. al., 2006). For example, test scores and

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other quantitative assessments don’t measure student creativity, leadership, entrepreneurship,

and other traits that are arguably just as important, if not more important, as high reading and

math scores (The Conference Board, et. al., 2006).

Resource allocation in cash-strapped schools and school districts tend to be zero-sum in

practice, whereby focusing on the development and implementation of standards-based

curriculum can take away resources from other instructional activities such as arts and athletic

programs, as well as extracurricular activities (CNN, 2003; The New York Times, 2003).

Proponents of standardization would argue that standardization is still a meaningful tool

for promoting equity and improving accountability1 in the classroom, and that the lack of

improvement in test scores has more to do with defects in implementation and a dearth of

resources rather than inherent weaknesses in standards-based reform (Crocker, 2004).

Furthermore, some argue that in order to develop higher-level thinking, a basic understanding

of essential facts is required, which is why standardization should still be the primary

methodology of education reform (Thernstrom, 2000).

This thesis is not meant to be an argument against standards-based education,

assessments and the education system as it is currently administrated. Rather, I situate

extracurricular activities within the framework of current education reform to contextualize the

lack of priority and attention extracurricular activities are given compared to other facets of

education reform such as standardization. The inability to include extracurricular activities

1 Accountability is the idea that teachers and/or students will be beholden to measurable improvement in learning outcomes set by education policymakers.

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within the context of school reform limits our ability to explore what benefits and risks

extracurricular activities, and other educational activities, may provide students.

Extracurricular activities are an alternative or supplement to a traditional classroom-

focused teaching model. Broadly defined, extracurricular activities are organized activities that

take place outside of the classroom setting (Holland & Andre, 1987). Most official school-

affiliated extracurricular activities have teacher sponsors, but teacher influence on

extracurricular activities vary depending on school policy, the organization, teacher, and

student participants. Students entirely self-select into the activities and/or programs that they

wish to participate in (Holland & Andre, 1987), and for this reason I describe extracurricular

activities as a student-directed learning activity. There are generally no consequences for not

participating in extracurricular activities, or not participating in particular extracurricular

activities, although some school districts include public service in their graduation requirements

and there are perceptions that meaningful extracurricular participation improves student

chances in getting into selective colleges and universities (McDermott, 2009; Fitzsimmons,


Extracurricular activities typically not only assign students particular roles with individual

responsibilities, but also give students management and leadership opportunities within the

organizations. Extracurricular activities usually include organizational supports or structure in

physical and psychological safety, supportive relationships, opportunities to belong, positive

social norms, support for efficacy and mattering, opportunities for skill building, and the

integration of family, school, and community efforts (Eccles & Gootman, 2002). Another facet

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of extracurricular activities is that they tend to offer more opportunities for students to

collaborate with each other, either as part of a team, or as part of an organization with an

overarching group objective. Specific examples of after-school extracurricular activities include:

sports activities, theater and other artistic productions, community service activities,

competitive events (such as debate, mock trial, forensics, etc.), scientific research, music, and a

wide variety of other activities. It is estimated that approximately 75% of 14-year-olds

participate in some form of extracurricular activity (Mahoney & Bergman, 2002).

Given that unconventional learning activities, activities that do not adhere to the

traditional classroom-focused teaching model such as extracurricular activities, have been and

are still in the process of being squeezed out of schools due to limited resources, the threat to

extracurricular, artistic, and athletic programs in public schools is very vivid, especially in areas

in the country that might need them the most and have the fewest resources to allocate to

saving these programs. Even if it is politically and/or economically untenable to restore or

supplement these programs for now and the foreseeable future, it is still important to

understand what students who don’t have access to these programs might be missing.

My thesis follows the stories of students who have had very successful extracurricular

experiences (in mock trial), not only to show that student experiences in mock trial may be

significant, but also to emphasize the value of further study in the educational programs like

mock trial and point to some future directions for potential research. The idea behind this

thesis is that extracurricular activities can supplement student education within the classroom

that can make a meaningful difference in student development in areas that we value but do

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not already focus on in school. I argue that it is possible for extracurricular activities to fill holes

in the education system that cannot be fundamentally solved with a traditional classroom


II. John Dewey and Experiential Education

This thesis finds its theoretical basis in John Dewey, who I believe would support the

idea that extracurricular activities can be a meaningful component of a student’s education.

Dewey argued that a meaningful education is one that is built off of and develops from the

nature of human experience, is continuous, interactive, and builds off of the student’s interests

(Dewey, Experience and Education, 1938). John Dewey spoke out against what he observed as

the “uniformity of material and method” that was forcefully presented to students in school at

his time by teachers with unquestionable authority (Dewey, 1907, p. 50). Instead, Dewey

argued that learning should be led by student inquiry inside and outside of the classroom, in an

environment where students can explore their interests and question the teacher’s ideas.

Dewey believed that even ordinary “household occupations” can become meaningful learning

experiences and opportunities to gain knowledge for students (Dewey, 1907). For example,

Dewey writes about a simple task such as making a box, where “there is plenty of opportunity

to gain discipline and perseverance, to exercise effort in overcoming obstacles, and to attain as

well a great deal of information.” (Dewey, 1907, p. 55) Arguably, certain extracurricular

activities can provide these types of learning exercises.

While critics might argue that it is overly idealistic for students to create meaningful

learning experiences from life activities, Dewey does not argue for an entirely unstructured,

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student-directed education model (Dewey, 1938). At the same time, Dewey obviously does not

want an overly structured, didactic traditional education model either (Dewey, 1938). Instead,

Dewey argues for a balance between the two, where teachers have a place in the classroom as

the “intellectual leader” of the social group, because of his or her “wider and deeper knowledge

and matured experience.” (Dewey, 1910) In this manner, teachers act more as a coach or a

guide, rather than an unquestionable authority in academic affairs.

Extracurricular activities offer students opportunities to participate in personally and

socially significant activities, including those related to public service, organization and event

management, leadership, etc. By virtue of the fact that students select what organizations to

join, lead or create, and select the role(s) that they play within the organization, extracurricular

activities are a place where hands-on learning can occur, where students decide what interests

they wish to pursue and how they want to pursue them. Many extracurricular activities offer

opportunities for students to work closely with coaches, mentors, teachers, or even become

coaches/mentors/teachers themselves. Dewey would appreciate the breadth and depth of

learning experiences that can occur in certain extracurricular experiences.

III. What is Known about Extracurricular Activities

Some research has already been conducted to help explain the effects and benefits of

extracurricular activities, but there is still much more to analyze. There are an increasing

number of studies that show that there are positive associations between student participation

in extracurricular activities and positive student development (Gardner, Roth, & Brooks-Gunn,

2008; Feldman & Matjasko, 2005). Although there is research to show relationships between

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extracurricular participation and desirable learning outcomes, there is still a dearth of

information that examines the exact relationship and processes that take place when

participation in extracurricular activities is associated with desirable learning outcomes, and

there is also a need for researchers to examine the relationships of participation in different

types of activities (Holland & Andre, 1987; Rubin, Bommer, & Baldwin, 2002).

Participation in activities, valued by peers, helps students develop self-esteem and peer

relationships (Coleman, 1961). Participation in extracurricular activities in middle school is

associated with higher than expected grades, school value, self-esteem, resiliency, and lower

than expected risky behavior (Fredricks & Eccles, 2008). Data from the National High School

Longitudinal Study of 1972 indicated that high school activity participation in extracurriculars

was positively correlated with involvement in political activities (Hanks, 1981), an arguably

desirable civic learning outcome (Hanks, 1981). In a study on desegregation and extracurricular

activities, more extracurricular participation is correlated with higher self-esteem (Crain,

Mahard, & Narat, 1982). In another study, even after IQ and parental social-economic status

were controlled, extracurricular participation in high school and the educational achievement of

males after high school are positively correlated, especially for students of low social-economic

status (Snyder, Dillow, & Hoffman, 2009).

Additionally, extracurriculars such as mock trial offer opportunities for students to be

exposed to activities where there are multiple perspectives and a diversity of possible answers.

While academic activities also offer opportunities for students to engage in deep analytical

thinking and perspective-taking, certain types of extracurricular activities give students more

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opportunity to work on teams and learn from other students and adults when confronting

these issues. Toffler et al. (1998) wrote that “the illiterate of the 21st century will not be those

who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” In order to

improve educational learning outcomes for all students, we need to re-evaluate the types of

learning that takes place in schools, the types of learning that we wish could take place in

schools, and consider what skills and experiences (in addition to content) we hope our students

graduate school with.

One option is to place extracurricular activities on par with academic activities, or at the

very least attempt to equalize access to high quality extracurricular activities such as mock trial.

Some countries, such as Singapore and Malaysia, already require students to participate in

extracurricular activities in order to graduate from high school. Ultimately, when looking at the

current weaknesses of classroom learning, improving extracurricular opportunities for all

students, not just motivated students, will help us provide better educational experiences for

our students that they deserve (Eccles J. , 2005; Eccles & Barber, 1999; Larson, Toward a

psychology of positive youth development, 2000).

IV. Limitations of Studies on Extracurricular Activities

A serious limitation for studies analyzing the educational effects of extracurricular

activities involves student self-selection, since participation in extracurricular activities in the

United States is voluntary. Self-selection may influence or interfere with study results,

including the results of this thesis, by not being able to distinguish pre-existing difference

between participant groups and non-participant groups. For example, “preexisting differences

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may lead some students to participate in a given activity and other students to avoid

participating in that activity, hopelessly confounding effects of preexisting differences and

participation.” (Holland & Andre, 1987, p. 449) Other limitations and problems that tend to

exist for studies focusing on extracurricular activities include sample quality, moderator

variables, and hidden variables.

Because of these limitations, I was more interested in my data collection in delving into

the processes of learning and meaning-making that survey and interview respondents self-

reported rather than trying to prove quantitatively that outcomes are more aligned with one

type of activity or process of learning over another.2 The reason for choosing this methodology

is because although respondents’ experiences are not necessarily representative of all students

who participate in mock trial, the value of this study is to show how unique and significant

activities such as mock trial can be for certain students. If there are significant learning and

development components of mock trial for student participants, shouldn’t this justify more

research into the effectiveness of programs such as mock trial and also justify equalizing access

for students of disadvantaged backgrounds to also participate in mock trial?

V. About Mock Trial

The National High School Mock Trial Championship (NHSMTC) began in 1984 with the

participation of five states, and over the years grew to encompass as many as forty-one states,

territories, and countries in 2009 (NHSMTC, 2009). Each state, territory, or country

represented at the NHSMTC typically holds its own, separate competition to determine its

2 i.e. compare learning in mock trial to learning in a traditional classroom, or compare learning in mock trial teams where students self-select into their role(s) versus learning in mock trial teams where students audition into their mock trial roles.

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representative team at the national competition (NHSMTC, 2009). For example, the

Constitutional Rights Foundation in California hosts a state-wide competition that encompasses

representative teams from 36 different counties (Constitutional Rights Foundation, 2009).

Furthermore, depending on each county’s size, county-level organizations usually host their

own competitions to determine county-level representative teams to the state competition.

Overall, there are three levels of competition that teams can participate in, depending on their

performance and how far they progress: county, state, and national. States that don’t

participate in NHSMTC, such as New York, New Jersey, and North Carolina, typically have rules

and procedures similar to NHSMTC, and host three rounds consisting of the: county

competition, regional competition, and final competition (NYSBA, 2009; NJSBF, 2009).

Mock trial is one of many extracurricular opportunities available to high school students

to supplement their academic study. Every year, tens of thousands of students from public and

private schools participate in high school level competitive mock trial events, representing

hundreds of teams from around the country. Like other extracurricular activities, the structure

of mock trial is different from how classrooms are normally organized or structured. Mock

trials are simulations of court trials, allowing students to familiarize themselves with how a real

court proceeding takes place, and how lawyers and witnesses typically prepare for trial

(Constitutional Rights Foundation, 2009). Students are given a list of witnesses and sources

from which to argue from the point of view of the prosecution or the defendant (Constitutional

Rights Foundation, 2009). How they develop their arguments, how they practice, what they

say, and how they collaborate are all factors controlled by individual mock trial participants and

team members. Teams are typically supported by a number of attorney or judicial volunteer-

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coaches, as well as teachers (Mock Trial Experience Survey, 2010). Students are judged based

on their understanding and presentation of legal arguments and case information, teamwork,

professionalism, and adherence to competition rules and regulations (NHSMTC, 2009).

Practicing or retired attorneys and judges preside over the case and score student performance

in these areas (NHSMTC, 2009). Many students participate in their mock trial team for multiple

years (Mock Trial Experience Survey, 2010).

I chose mock trial primarily because of its similarities with a range of other

extracurricular activities. Mock trial is a relatively complicated extracurricular activity that

requires participants to interact with adult coaches and mentors, work with team members, be

responsible for their own analysis and argumentation, compete against other teams, and

perform in front of an audience. Therefore, because many of these traits can be commonly

found in extracurricular activities other than mock trial, it is likely that an analysis of mock trial

can also be applied to other extracurricular activities as well.

VI. High-Stakes Education and The Education Gap

In the fiscal year 2005-06, $521.1 billion was devoted in the United States to educating

the nation’s youth (U.S. Census Bureau, 2006). The idea of what it means for a country to

provide a high level of education for its students commands great attention and passion on all

levels of the public and private spheres. Namely, individuals and families are concerned with

providing the best opportunities for their youth to grow and develop, while educators and

policymakers are concerned with the question of what it means for a country’s education

system to increase the competitive of its workforce. At its core, the idea of education is the

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idea of transferring knowledge from an individual to another individual using various methods

of instruction. Schools are a means by which knowledge is formally transferred from the state

or sponsoring institution to a student body. The typical student’s course-load in order to

graduate from high school includes: reading, writing, mathematics, science, and history, a

group of subjects which tend to anchor a student’s core curriculum (California Department of

Education, 1998).3 Most students, parents, educators, administrators, and policymakers often

concentrate on test scores as an indication of student, teacher and school performance. But as

previously discussed, these factors do not take into account other skills which are arguably

significant to personal development as well as increasing the competitiveness of a country’s

workforce, such as leadership, creativity, and entrepreneurship (The Conference Board, et. al.,


In her essay “Educating a Democracy,” Deborah Meier writes that the education system

of the United States has created “two parallel cultures,” (Meier, 2000, p. 13) one more

identified with success than the other, the less successful subculture primarily composed of the

poor, the young, and the people of color. It is an unfortunate fact that there is an education

gap among students of different socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds (Cooper & Schleser,

2006). With regards to extracurricular activities, generally top performing students have better

access to high quality extracurricular activities than students in schools in disadvantaged areas

(Ponessa, 1992; Marsh & Kleitman, 2002), even though extracurricular activities have been

3 Authority to manage public education in the United States falls under the responsibility of the states. Although states are allowed to differentiate their high school education policies and graduation requirements, most states have similar graduation requirements. For this reason, I have cited the State of California’s education code, as the largest state of the union, as a reference for graduation requirements nationwide.

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shown to benefit socioeconomically disadvantaged students as much or even more than

socioeconomically advantaged students (Marsh & Kleitman, 2002).

Increasing student access to high quality extracurricular activities such as mock trial

allows students to connect with practicing and retired attorneys, team members, and opposing

teams in the same region. If extracurricular activities such as mock trial can improve our

country’s education system and the educational experience of student participants, then

shouldn’t we be more invested in learning how students make meaning of their experiences in

these programs and trying to apply that knowledge to other extracurricular and classroom

activities, in addition to increasing student access to these high quality programs?