Brief Articles

University-Community Group-Centered Prevention Project with At-Risk Students: Four Year Study

Anna Thompson, M.A.
Anna Thompson, M.A.

Anna Thompson, M.A.

University of South Carolina Aiken


The Reading Orienteering Club (ROC) is a university-community collaborative group-centered prevention after-school project that focuses on the reading ability and comprehension of what children are reading. This program’s concentration is on 1st, 2nd, and 3rd graders primarily from a southern small town, population 29,884 with an ever increasing low socio-economic community base. Reading is a vital skill necessary in order to survive and thrive in all aspects of life including school and future jobs. The students who participated in this case study experienced academic problems in reading, spelling, or comprehension. The ROC program, recorded the level of reading, spelling and sight words using a pretest and post-test. Children were evaluated as to their improvement by age: 5 to 7-years-old, 8-years-old, and 9 to 11-years-old. Participation was open, free, and self-selected by the parents, teachers, and other community after-school groups who are affiliated with the students. The 1st hypothesis was: children who begin the program at younger ages will improve more than children who begin when they are older. The 2nd hypothesis was: children who attend the program for more than one year will show greater increases from pre to post test. Overall, the three groups of children showed similar improvements in all literacy areas. Outcomes of the program were positive and provided evidence of significant improvements from pretest to post-test. Results showed that there were no significant main effects or interactions with age group. The 2nd hypothesis was not supported.

Keywords: group-centered prevention, prevention groups, after-school programs, reading failure

This study describes the outcomes of the ROC, “a year-long group-centered after-school community-based prevention program that emphasizes phonological awareness, reading and writing, spelling, and intensive hands-on instruction” (Clanton Harpine, 2013, p. ix). The ROC uses vowel clustering, the 4-step method, and group-centered prevention interventions to improve the literacy scores and behavior of the children, primarily 1st, 2nd, and 3rd graders, of Aiken County in South Carolina. The 4-step method involves having the children: (a) capture tricky words, words they do not know, (b) write the word correctly, (c) look up the words in the dictionary to find the definition, (d) and write sentences using these words (Clanton Harpine, 2013). This lets the children correct themselves, learn a new word, and get a better comprehension of the word. The main goals of this program are for the children to practice “reading, writing, spelling, focusing their attention, comprehension, following step-by-step instruction, learning new words, and practicing a specific vowel cluster for the day” (Clanton Harpine, 2013, xi).

Torgesen believes “the ultimate goal of reading instruction is to help children acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to comprehend printed material at a level that is consistent with their general verbal ability or language comprehension skills” (2002, p. 10). At the ROC, a goal is to bring a child from reading below the appropriate reading level to reading at or above their reading level (grade). One study conducted used children from 14 elementary schools (Hatcher et al., 2006). The children were split into two groups. One group received the small group intervention for 20 weeks and the other received the intervention for only the second 10 weeks. During the first 10 weeks of the full 20 week program, students who participated in the intervention improved more than the other children who did not receive the first half of the program (Hatcher et al., 2006). On the other hand the second group who only received the small group intervention during the second set of 10 weeks, caught up to the first group. This may mean it does not matter how long the small group intervention is, but just that the children participate in the intervention. The current study looks at the amount of time spent in the program in order to see if more time spent in the program translates into more improvement. It also looks at whether or not early intervention helps improve test scores. Targeted skills include taking turns and sharing, building self-efficacy, working together, and motivation (Clanton Harpine, 2013). A child’s self-efficacy is their belief that they can succeed.

Motivation Component

Motivation is defined as the inner power that makes people do what they do” (Clanton Harpine, 2013). The key to motivation is that it is something that cannot be forced onto a person, particularly a child. Motivation comes from different experiences and the affect that each experience has on the internal mindset of the child. There are both intrinsic and extrinsic motivations. Extrinsic motivation comes from quick automatic rewards such as ice cream after completing homework or a particular amount of money for every A on a report card. The ROC does not reward students by using extrinsic motivation, but focuses instead on intrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation is motivation that does not come from receiving a prize after completion but the motivation to complete the task because of the enjoyment and interest in the task at hand. “Intrinsic motivation can help children rebuild their self-efficacy, change their approach to learning, and consequently, change their behavior” (Clanton Harpine, 2008, p. 20).

The creator of the ROC has discovered several items that help a group-centered program like the ROC, build children’s motivation, particularly intrinsic motivation. These according to Ryan and Deci, include: “positive self-efficacy, efficacy expectations, outcome expectations, choice, competence-affirming feedback, and self-determination” (Clanton Harpine, 2013, p. 56). Children are encouraged to continue learning when not only the parents see improvement and give praise, but also when the children themselves see an improvement in the struggling area. The ROC is a program that allows children of different ages to work together as a team and not be judged based on their lower reading skills. Each child has areas that may need improvement. They are able to receive the extra encouragement, helping to increase their intrinsic motivation.

A study conducted by Gottfried, Fleming, & Gottfried (1994) discovered, using a longitudinal study of 9 and 10 year-olds, that the intrinsic motivation practices of the group of 9 year-olds influenced an increase in academic level when they turned 10. The study looked at verbal and math skills. The predications of the experimenters were “children’s academic intrinsic motivation … [would be] positively related to encouragement of task endogeny and negatively related to provision of task-extrinsic consequences” (Gottfried, Fleming, & Gottfried, 1994, p. 104). The results of this study supported these predications in showing the importance of internal motivation in academic success.

The current study looked at the impact of the amount of time spent in the ROC program and the compared literacy scores of 46 children. These 46 children were grouped by age: 5 to 7-year-olds, 8-year-olds, and 9 to 11-year-olds. The hypothesis was that the longer children continued in the ROC program, the more their literacy scores would increase. Another hypothesis of this study was, the early starting ages of children completing the ROC program would result in an increase of later scores. In this study, Literacy includes reading, spelling, and comprehension. Literacy is important especially as a child due to the influence it has on later life experiences including jobs, secondary education, and day to day activities. All of these experiences involve literacy. Spelling is the skill of putting letter sounds together correctly to form a word and reading is the skill of decoding these letter sounds to read written or printed material aloud (Clanton Harpine, 2013). Comprehension is the ability to understand what is being read and use what is read to: elaborate on material, continue with stories, apply it to today’s world, and complete activities based on reading material (Clanton Harpine, 2013).

This study tested the hypothesis that the early starting ages of children completing the ROC program would result in an increase of later scores. This hypothesis was created due to Lyon’s idea that “if children are not provided early and consistent experiences that are explicitly designed to foster vocabulary development, background knowledge, the ability to detect and comprehend relationships among verbal concepts, and the ability to actively employ strategies to ensure understanding and retention of material, reading failure will occur no matter how robust word recognition skills are” (1998, p. 10). Keller & Just showed that the white matter of the brain can change over time, even though it takes more time and is harder with age (Keller & Just, 2009). They tested 62 children with ages ranging from 8-years-old to 12-years-old. Attitude, motivation, and stigmatization of failure play a major role in change with these older children which can cause for change to be more difficult. The second alternative hypothesis of this study was, the longer children continue in the ROC program, the more their literacy scores would increase.



The participants of this study included 46 children who received no compensation or coercion in participating. There were 25 male participants and 21 female participants. Eighteen participants were ages 5 to 7-years-old. Eleven of the participants were 8-years-old. Seventeen of the participants’ ages ranged from 9-years-old to 11-years-old. All the participants were enrolled in the Aiken County school system. Starting ages ranged from 5 years old to 11 years old. Sixteen participants were Caucasian, 28 participants were African American and three were of mixed descent.

Materials and Procedure

In order to correctly test the reading level of each child, the children all completed the same test. The skills were assessed using the Howard Street Tutoring Manual, 2nd ed. (2005) by Darrell Morris. The test data on reliability and validity of test was also completed by Morris (Morris, Shaw, & Perney, 1990; Morris, Tyner, & Perney, 2000). The 46 children were first tested before the program begins in the fall to get a starting level. Then the children were tested using the same test in the winter as a mid-point test to see any improvement made and any areas that may need more help. Lastly, the 46 children were tested in the spring at the completion of the program for that year to see how far they improved. Fourteen of the children who completed the ROC program continued for an additional year and were tested before the start of the school new year and again for mid-point testing. Two of the children continued for an additional third year and received the same testing. Testing effects have been evaluated previously in order that the children are not scoring better on the later tests just because they have already completed the test. There was no testing effect discovered.

Each child was given the same test during the beginning, middle, and end of the ROC program. The test consisted of reading, spelling, comprehension, and sight word sections. Each section was then split into three more sections, which corresponded to 1st grade, 2nd grade, and 3rd grade levels. Scores were organized by reading level and the amount missed, spelling level and the amount missed, sight word level and the amount missed, and the comprehension scores which consisted of the amount missed by the participants. Levels 1, 2, 3 represents before 1st grade. Level 4 represents 1st grade, 5 represents 2nd grade, 6 represents 3rd grade, and 7 represents 4th grade.


This study is a quasi-experimental study. The dependent variable is the scores for each of the literacy areas. The two independent variables for hypothesis 1 are ages of the children and the time of measurement. The independent variable for hypothesis 2 is the amount of time in the program. This study has a mixed design with the independent variable of, time of measurement, and the age and gender of the between-subject variable. Three different age groups include: 5 to 7-year-olds, 8-year-olds, and 9 to 11-year-olds. The 46 children who completed the Reading Orienteering Club (ROC) fall under one of these categories of ages. Eighteen of these children started at the age of 5 to 7-years-old, 11 of these children were 8-years-old, and 17 of these children started at the ages of 9 to 11-years-old.


The first hypothesis was tested using a repeated measures ANOVA. It was 3 (Ages) x 3 (pre, mid, post) using mixed design. Overall, the three groups of children; aged 5 to 7-year-olds, 8-year-olds, and 9 to 11-year-olds showed similar improvements in all literacy areas. The results showed boys and girls improved from pretest to midtests, but not much improvement from mid-test to posttest, no matter their ages, for the level of spelling. Thirty-five percent of the variations in spelling scores were explained by the ages of the participants. There was a significant main effect for age based on spelling, F(2, 4) = 6.93, p = .002. There was also a significant main effect for age based on reading, F(2, 4) = 19.87, p = .000. Overall from midpoint testing to post testing all participants improved; from pretest to posttest, the younger age groups improved. This supports the hypothesis for younger children improving more than the older children, due to a main effect for time based on the age groups, F(4,4), p = .033. Looking at the data generally, everyone still improved. A significant main effect was sight words, F(2, 4) = 9.06, p = .000. From the mid-tests to post-test, the younger children showed improvement. This also supports the hypothesis: the early starting ages of children completing the ROC program would result in an increase of later scores. The last significant main effect was found for comprehension, F(2, 4) = .64, p = .000. From pretest to post-test, all groups improved. The stigmatization of failure, mentioned earlier, may also be part of the reason for not receiving stronger change with the older students.

A second aspect of this study also involved the 46 children. These 46 children represent three years of participation. Thirty children finished the ROC program in one year. Fourteen children took 2 years to complete the program and two of the participants took 3 years to complete. Participants who took 2 years and 3 years to complete the program were put into one group, which was compared to the children who were able to complete the program in 1 year. There was a significant main effect for the amount of time spent in the program based on spelling, F(2, 2) = 5.96, p = .004. Participants improved as much the second years, as they did the first year. Unfortunately, there was not a significant main effect for reading, F(2, 2) = 2.07, p = .133. Everyone did show signs of improvement. A significant main effect was found for comprehension comparing time and years, F(2, 2) = 0.17, p = .007. The children who completed the ROC program in 1 year improved more from midpoint test to post-test. Overall, children who completed the program in 1 year did better than children who took a longer period of time. Lastly there was not a significant main effect was sight words, F(2, 2) = 1.73, p = .184. Participants did still improve overall.


There was not much support for the hypothesis that staying in the program for a longer length of time, increased test scores. The only set of scores that showed significance for this hypothesis was the reading comprehension scores that showed one group improving more from mid-test to post-test. In this instance the group of children who showed significant improvement above the rest was the participants who completed the program in one year.

There are many reasons for the hypothesis to not be supported. One reason for the hypothesis to not be supported involves the nature of the second and third year children. The case may be that the children who have to continue on for another year or 2 have more serious learning problems, which would take more work and time, than the children who finished the program in one year. The analysis itself may also cause for no significance to be reported. Age was reported as a covariate which is a statistical way to look at a comparison group that is not reported. This compares the current data to an above and beyond natural group. The data was briefly analyzed without using age as a covariate, but was not used due to the lack of a real comparison group. Overall, the ROC program has shown improving scores of participants. The concept behind the ROC program is to help all children learn how to read in order to better their lives now and in the future.


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