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How Groups Can Make a Difference for Hispanic Immigrant Children

Elaine Clanton Harpine, Ph.D.
Elaine Clanton Harpine, Ph.D.

How Groups Can Make a Difference for Hispanic Immigrant Children

Elaine Clanton Harpine, Ph.D., Thomas Reid, Ph.D., William D. Harpine, Ph.D., Adam Pazda, Ph.D., Shana Ingram, B.A. & B.S., and Collytte Cederstrom

The Latina/Latino ethnic group has the lowest educational scores of any large ethnic/racial group in the United States (Mroczkowski & Sánchez, 2015).  According to the Nation’s Report Card, only 26% of Hispanic 4th graders scored as proficient in reading (National Center for Education Statistics (NCES, 2014).  Hispanic kindergarteners also score lower than other racial groups on reading readiness; 42% were listed in the lowest group (Gándara & Contreras, 2010).  The need to improve reading programs for Hispanic children, especially Hispanic immigrant children, becomes obvious.  Groups have been identified as being more effective than one-on-one tutoring (National Reading Panel, 2000).  Prevention groups have also been shown to be effective in academic settings (Kulic, Horne, & Dagley, 2004).  The question is:  Would a group-centered prevention approach for teaching reading be a better approach for meeting the needs of Hispanic immigrant children struggling to learn to read in English?  

Introduction

The cause of reading failure for Hispanic immigrant children is the same as it is for all children:  lack of phonemic awareness (Keller & Just, 2009; Lyon, 2002).  Phonemic awareness is defined as being able to hear, understand, and make use of letter sounds or phonemes (Shaywitz & Shaywitz, 2007).  As Shaywitz (2003) stated, anyone learning to read must be able to decode (break down) words into letter sounds and then encode (reassemble) the sounds back into words.  Lack of training in phonemic awareness becomes a major concern for schools, since according to the Nation’s Report Card, 74% of Hispanic children are not able to read at grade level by 4th grade (NCES, 2014).  Yet, U. S. census findings show that 22% of all children under the age of 18 are Hispanic and 11% of those children are foreign-born (Fry & Passel, 2009).  

Purpose of the Study

Do Hispanic immigrant students need a different teaching approach than other students in the classroom?  Not really, but research has supported claims that the classroom teaching method is a major cause of reading failure (Foorman et al., 2003; Torgesen et al., 2001).   Neuroimaging research has also provided evidence that children who have failed in learning to read using typical whole language, “look-say,” Reading Recovery, or word list memorization methods can be taught to read when the teaching methods are structured to meet the actual needs of the children (Keller & Just, 2009; Meyler et al., 2008).  Learning to read is one of the most critical developmental steps for any child (Fleming et al., 2004) because it is not only related to development across the life span, but also to mental well-being (Maugban, Rowe, Loeber, & Stouthamer-Loeber, 2003).  

Hispanic immigrant children need to learn how to speak, read, write, and work with the English language (Coll & Marks, 2012; Gándara & Contreras, 2010).  This becomes important in school because Hispanic immigrant children need to be accepted by their peers, to display academic accomplishment, and to develop a positive self-identity in their new culture while maintaining a sense of pride in their family culture (Suarez-Orozco & Suarez-Orozco, 2001).  

About the Intervention Being Tested:  Camp Sharigan

We tested the group-centered approach with Hispanic immigrant children to determine whether the group-centered approach would work with students who were failing in reading at school.  We used the ready-to-use group-centered program packet, Camp Sharigan, designed for first through third grade students (Clanton Harpine, 2016).  

Camp Sharigan is a one-week, group-centered prevention program that emphasizes both learning (reading) and counseling (social skills).  This group-centered week-long intervention’s primary goal is to teach children skills (both cognitive and non-cognitive) that will improve reading ability and thereby improve mental wellness and quality of life.  Camp Sharigan emphasizes phonemic awareness, word decoding skills, oral reading, listening and attention skills, writing, encoding skills (spelling), reading fluency, and reading comprehension.  

Learning.  To teach phonemic awareness, the intervention uses vowel clustering (Clanton Harpine, 2011), a method that teaches children to break words down into letter sounds or phonemes.  Vowel clustering teaches children to break words down into sounds and then put those sounds back together as a word.

Previous Research.  We chose this program as our teaching method because it had been tested previously with Hispanic immigrant children.  In a previous study, first through third grade children from a Mexican-descent, inner-city immigrant neighborhood were randomly selected to participate in a test of two different teaching methods.  The group-centered set participated in the week-long, 10-hr Camp Sharigan program, while the other students participated in a 10-hr structured one-on-one tutoring intervention.  

The group-centered students outscored the children who participated in the one-on-one tutoring program.  One year later, during follow-up testing, the Camp Sharigan group was still showing significant improvement over the one-on-one tutoring group just from the one-week intervention (Clanton Harpine & Reid, 2009).   

Multiple Case Study:  Single-Subject Design

The Group Intervention

Although previous group research supported the effectiveness of the group-centered approach, we wanted to examine the impact that a group program like this could have on an individual student, especially students who were failing in school.  The goal was to discover a new effective group-centered teaching method for helping Hispanic, immigrant children improve their reading skills so that they could succeed in the classroom.  

Participants

We chose first graders from a one-on-one tutoring group because we wanted to examine teaching methods without the added burden and stress of multiple years of failure. We know that repeated academic failure compounds the social-emotional and learning problems of students, especially Hispanic immigrant students striving to learn English as a second language (Castro-Olivo et al., 2011).  

We chose 3 children. All of the participants (3 males) were starting first grade when randomly selected for the one-on-one tutoring group and just prior to starting second grade when they participated in the group-centered Camp Sharigan program.  The three students chosen were from the same neighborhood, and attended the same school, participated in the same English as a Second Language instructional program at school, and attended the same after-school program.  

Study Design:  Single-Case Experimental Design

We used single-case graphic analysis to chart each student’s progress.  Macgowan and Wong (2014) suggest that repeated measures should be taken on a single subject or small group of subjects under treatment and no-treatement (baseline) conditions.  Macgowan and Wong (2014) also state that the subject serves as its own control and that single-case design is a valuable research design for applied study with groups.  Kazdin (1) supports the value of studying group participants individually and states that interventions must be tested in real-world settings to prove practical application.

The Howard Street (Morris 2005) assessment procedures were administered to all three participants because the test reported high reliability and validity (predictive validity of .70 and an internal reliability of .85) (Morris, Tyner, & Perney, 2000).  All tests were age-appropriate.  Assessment scores reflected the number missed (Morris, 2005).  

All three children selected for this study were pre- and post-tested at grade level in spelling, oral reading, and sight words.  All three children received the same Howard Street pre-, mid-, and post-test instruments. All three children received pre- and post-tests the summer before first grade.  The three students were then give the same test at mid-point testing.  The summer before second grade, the three students were pre-tested directly before Camp Sharigan and post-tested again immediately after the Camp Sharigan program.  Words on the assessments were not targeted during the one-on-one tutoring or Camp Sharigan program.  

Assessment was scored on the number missed in an untimed test (Morris, 1999).  Self-corrections were not counted as words missed.  Substitutions, omissions, and insertions all counted as words missed.  

Results of the Test

The results show moderate but consistent improvement in reading and sight word recognition after participating in the 10-hr group-centered Camp Sharigan program (see Figures 1 and 2).  The baseline data incorporated each student’s first grade year in school and one full year of one-on-one tutoring before they entered the Camp Sharigan program.  Longitudinal follow-up testing was not possible with this group because of the transient nature of the population.  Improvement is indicated by reduction in number missed at post-testing. The decrease in missed reading words from the first pre-test (M = 12.67, SD = 2.52) to the last post-test (M = 6, SD = 4.58) demonstrates the program’s effectiveness, as does the decrease in missed sight words from the first pre-test (M = 10.33, SD = 0.58) to the last posttest (M = 5.67, SD = 0.58). 

For example, Student #1.  This student, when first tested before first grade, could only read two words in English from the sight word list for pre-kindergarten: “cat” and “go” and could not read words from the oral passage or pre-primer story.  After a year in first grade and with a full year of one-on-one tutoring during first grade, Student #1 was still barely reading at the pre-primer level (below kindergarten).  The student did show some improvement with sight words, but not oral passages.  He memorized a list of words but could not recognize those words when he encountered them again in a story.  After one week with the group-centered Camp Sharigan vowel clustering teaching method, the student was showing improvement with both sight words and in reading oral passages.  Although he was still below grade level and struggling, a mere 10-hour group program showed more benefit for this student than an entire year in first grade with one-on-one tutoring.  

Student #2 made very slow but gradual improvement throughout the first-grade year in school, even with one-on-one tutoring.  By the middle of first grade (6-month post-test), the student was only able to read two new words.  At the end of first grade, the student could only read four new words.  After Camp Sharigan, the student could read 8 new words.  The student demonstrated as much improvement after a 10-hr program as throughout the entire first year of classroom instruction.  Again, vowel clustering and a group-centered teaching method helped this student improve.  

Student #3 demonstrated a similar outcome.  He could not read at all during the first pre-test when he was tested before first grade.  He missed every word on the sight word list and every word on the oral passage at the pre-primer level (below kindergarten).  At the 6-month point in first grade, using Morris assessment, Student #3 was actually doing worse than when he was first tested before school.  He had given up hope.  At the end of first grade, he could only read four new words from the sight word list.  His oral passage score at the end of first grade remained the same as his original pre-test before first grade; he could not read the pre-primer story—not one word.  After the Camp Sharigan intervention, he not only read the pre-primer level story, but moved up in reading oral passages and even made progress in sight words.  The change in teaching method made success possible.  As Kazdin (1982) states, if individual analysis research can show that change occurred immediately after an intervention, then a strong case can be made that the intervention is working (see Figures 1 and 2). 

Discussion

The group-centered approach helps to meet the needs of struggling Hispanic immigrant students in reading:  (1) vowel clustering offers a new, effective approach for teaching phonemic awareness, (2) group-centered interventions offer a new approach for teaching reading and social skills in a positive cohesive group atmosphere, and (3) hands-on workstations with step-by-step directions offer a new approach to teach reading comprehension and strengthen intrinsic motivation.  

What Made the Group-Centered Approach Effective?

Camp Sharigan, a one-week, 10 hr, group-centered reading program, emphasized improving phonemic awareness, interpersonal skills and rebuilding self-efficacy (belief that the child could read), using group cohesion, vowel clustering, and intrinsic motivation (Ryan & Deci, 2000) in an environment of hands-on reading-based activities in accordance with Bandura’s (1997) self-efficacy theory.  The children did not receive prizes or award; the program worked entirely with intrinsic hands-on motivators and group-centered interventions.  

What Are the Advantages of a Group-Centered Approach?

The Group-Centered Teaching Approach Individualizes Instruction. Sometimes student problems are misidentified in school.  By using six different teaching methods, the needs of the student can often be clarified.  This was true with Student #2.  What at first seemed like stubborn refusal to cooperate was a lack of phonemic awareness.  The student had never been taught to focus on letter sounds.  Instead, the child relied on memorization.  When the student encountered a word that the student did not know, the student stalled and seemed uncooperative.  After the student was taught vowel clustering, the student was willing to attempt new words.  The Snake Pit workstation provided a perfect work place for sounding out words.  This new skill was reinforced at the Rainbow Bridge workstation where the student practiced reading a vowel clustered story.  By the end of the week-long 10-hour group-centered Camp Sharigan program, Student #2 was showing improvement.  Groups really can make a difference.

The Group-Centered Approach Combines Learning and Counseling. The importance of combining learning and counseling into the same program along with the therapeutic power of cohesive group interaction became especially evident on the last day of the program.  Thursday evening, a horrendous thunderstorm struck the city and flooding.  When we opened the doors, all but three children were standing on the sidewalk waiting to enter.  The three not attending had a fever and upper respiratory infection from being out in the rain all night.  The children wanted to finish their pop-up books and to present their puppet play.  The pop-up book was a challenging project that required the children to read and follow directions to assemble their book and to write a story in English before the book could be taken home.  Children who started the week with no desire to read worked hard all week and were excited and motivated to read their finished pop-up book stories.

How Does This Report Help Group Psychologists?

This intervention report provides a new method for working with Hispanic immigrant children.  If Hispanic children in the United States do not learn to read in English, the stigmatization of failure can mark them throughout their lives (Ruiz et al., 2011; Toppelberg, Medrano, Peña Morgens, & Nieto-Castañon , 2002).  If reading scores improve, especially in the early elementary years (Lyon, 2002), then we can increase school completion rates and reduce stress as well as aggressive and dysfunctional behavior (Pressley et al., 2007; Zea et al., 2003).  

The group-centered approach is one innovative technique showing promise.  This study is but a first step.  Replication is needed.  Yet, Moerbeek and Wong (2008) emphasize that selecting a small test group for analysis can be just as effective as a large sample with individual analysis.  

As this study also demonstrates, some children will need more than a mere 10 hr group program.  Group prevention can also be used for year-long classroom and after-school programs (Clanton Harpine, 2013).  Group prevention can make the difference between success and failure for a child (Brigman & Webb, 2007).

References

Bandura, A.  (1997).  Self-efficacy:  The exercise of control.  NY:  W. H. Freeman.

Brigman, G., & Webb, L.  (2007).  Student success skills:  Impacting achievement through large and small group work.  Group Dynamics:  Theory, Research, and Practice, 11, 283-292.

Castro-Olivo, S., Preciado, J., Sanford, A., & Perry, V. (2011). The academic and

socio-emotional needs of secondary Latino English Learners: Implications for screening, identification, and instructional planning. Exceptionality 19, 160-174.

Clanton Harpine, E.  (2011).  Group-Centered Prevention Programs for At-Risk Students.  New York:  Springer.  

Clanton Harpine, E.  (2013).  After-school prevention programs for at-risk students:  Promoting engagement and academic success.  New York:  Springer.  

Clanton Harpine, E.  (2016).  Erasing failure in the classroom, vol. 1:  Camp Sharigan, a ready-to-use group-centered intervention for grades 1-3 (3rd ed.).  North Augusta, SC:  Group-Centered Learning.  

Clanton Harpine, E., & Reid, T.  (2009).  Enhancing academic achievement in a Hispanic immigrant community:  The role of reading in academic failure and mental health.  School Mental Health, 1, 159-170.  doi:  10.1007/s12310-009-9011-z

Coll, C. G., & Marks, A. K.  (2012).  The immigrant paradox in children and adolescents:  Is becoming American a developmental risk?  Washington DC:  American Psychological Association.

Fleming, C. B., Harachi, T. W., Cortes, R. C., Abbott, R. D., & Catalano, R. F.  (2004).  Level and change in reading scores and attention problems during elementary school as predictors of problem behavior in middle school.  Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders, 12, 130-144.

Foorman, B. R., Breier, J. I., & Fletcher, J. M.  (2003).  Interventions aimed at improving reading success:  An evidence-based approach.  Developmental Neuropsychology, 24, 613-639.

Fry, R., & Passel, J. S.  (2009).  Latino children:  A majority are U. S. – born offspring of immigrants.  Washington, D. C.:  Pew Hispanic Center.

Gándara P., & Contreras, F.  (2010).  The Latino education crisis:  The consequences of failed social policies.  Cambridge, MA:  Harvard University Press.

Kazdin, A. E.  (1982).  Single-case research designs:  Methods for clinical and applied settings.  New York:  Oxford University Press.

Keller, T., A., & Just, M. A.  (2009).  Altering cortical connectivity:  Remediation-induced changes in the white matter of poor readers.  Neuron 64, 624-631.  

Kulic, K. R., Horne, A. M., & Dagley, J. C.  (2004).  A comprehensive review of prevention groups for children and adolescents.  Group Dynamics:  Theory, Research, and Practice, 8, 139-151.

Lyon, G. R.  (2002).  Reading development, reading difficulties, and reading instruction educational and public health issues.  Journal of School Psychology, 40, 3-6.

Macgowan, M. J., & Wong, S. E.  (2014).  Single-case designs in group work:  Past applications, future directions.  Group Dynamics:  Theory, Research, and Practice,18, 138-158.   doi:  10.1037/gdn0000003

Maugban, R. R., Rowe, R., Loeber, R., & Stouthamer-Loeber, M.  (2003).  Reading problems and depressed mood.  Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 31, 219-229.

Meyler, A., Keller, T. A., Cherkassky, V. L., Gabrieli, J. D., & Just, M. A.  (2008).  Modifying the brain activation of poor readers during sentence comprehension with extended remedial instruction:  A longitudinal study of neuroplasticity.  Neuropsychologia, 46, 2580-2592.

Moerbeek, M., & Wong, W. K.  (2008).  Sample size formulae for trials comparing group and individual treatments in a multilevel model.  Statistics in Medicine, 27, 2850-2864.   doi:  10.1002/sim.3115

Morris, D.  (2005). The Howard Street tutoring manual:  Teaching at-risk readers in the primary grades.  NY:  Guilford Press.

Morris, D., Tyner, B., & Perney, J.  (2000).  Early steps: Replicating the effects of a first-grade reading intervention program.  Journal of Educational Psychology, 92, 681-693.

Mroczkowski, A. L., & Sánchez, B., (2015).  The role of racial discrimination in the economic value of education among urban, low-income Latina/o youth:  Ethnic identity and gender as moderators, American Journal of Community Psychology, 56, 1-11.   doi:  10.1007/s10464-015-9728-9

National Center for Education Statistics.  (2014).  The nation’s report card:  Reading 2014 (NCES 2014-457).  Washington DC:  Institute of Education Sciences, US Department of Education.

National Center for Education Statistics.  (2015).  The nation’s report card.  (NCES 2015-Reading Assessment).  Washington DC:  Institute of Education Sciences, US Department of Education.

National Reading Panel, (2000).  Teaching children to read:  An evidence-based assessment of the scientific research literature on reading and its implications for reading instruction (NIH Publication No. 00-4754).  Washington, DC:  National Institute for Literacy.

Pressley, M., Mohan, L., Raphael, L. M., & Fingeret, L.  (2007).  How does Bennett Woods Elementary School produce such high reading and writing achievement?  Journal of Educational Psychology, 99, 221-240.

Ruiz, M., Kabler, B., & Sugarman, M.  (2011).  Understanding the plight of immigrant and refugee students.  Communique, 39, 23-25.  

Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L.  (2000).  Intrinsic and extrinsic motivations: Classic definitions and new directions. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 25, 54-67.  

Shaywitz, S., & Shaywitz, B.  (2007).  Special topic:  What neuroscience really tells us about reading instruction: A response to Judy Willis.  Educational Leadership:  Improving instruction for students with learning needs, 64 (5) 74-76.

Suarez-Orozco, C., & Suarez-Orozco, M. M.  (2001).  Children of immigration.  Cambridge, MA:  Harvard University Press.

Toppelberg, C. O., Medrano, L., Peña Morgens, L., & Nieto-Castañon, A.  (2002).  Bilingual children referred for psychiatric services:  Associations of language disorders, language skills, and psychopathology.  Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 41, 712-722.

Torgesen, J. K., Alexander, A. W., Wagner, R. K., Rashotte, C. A., Voeller, K. S., & Conway, T.  (2001). Intensive remedial instruction for children with severe reading disabilities:  Immediate and long-term outcomes from two instructional approaches.  Journal of Learning disabilities, 34, 133-158.  doi: 10.1177/002221940103400104

Zea, M. C., Asner-Self, K. K., Birman, D., & Buki, L. P.  (2003).  The abbreviated multidimensional acculturation scale: Empirical validation with two Latino/Latina samples.  Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology, 9, 107-126.

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Prevention Corner

Elaine Clanton Harpine, Ph.D.
Elaine Clanton Harpine, Ph.D.

Prevention Corner

This will be my last prevention corner.  My husband and I are retiring in May.  I want to thank the Division 49 leadership and especially Tom and everyone who has worked on the newsletter for inviting me to write the Prevention Corner.  I hope that another group preventionist will take up the challenge and continued the column.  I look forward to reading the next person’s ideas.

Prevention groups play a very important role in group psychology.  In Division 49, we have the opportunity to draw group prevention into the division and expand the scope of Group Psychology.  As I stated in the February/March 2017 issue of the American Psychologist, “Why wasn’t prevention included?” All too often psychologist turn away and close the door on group prevention.  Prevention groups could offer and expand the outreach of group psychology.  There are many community organizations, schools, and health professionals seeking trained prevention group leaders (for a suggested list see Clanton Harpine, 2015).  As I have stated previously in this column (see July 26, vol 26, #2), there are many undergraduates who struggle to find adequate employment with a bachelor’s degree in psychology. Group prevention could provide these employment opportunities.  Group prevention should be incorporated into our undergraduate psychology degree programs because group prevention could offer career opportunities for students and new outreach possibilities in psychology (Clanton Harpine, 2017).  Group prevention is not a threat to group psychotherapy; therapy and prevention work with two totally different populations and needs.  As a division, we need both. Yet, all too often group prevention is shoved aside.  I hope as Division 49 continues to grow that the leadership will open the door and welcome group prevention as a full partner.

Thank you for my years and many friends in the division.  Even in retirement, I will continue at a slower pace to work with children who are struggling to learn to read.  The concern of psychologists over reading failure is growing.  Reading failure continues to be a major developmental psychological problem with at-risk students.  I will be continuing my reading blog for those who are interested, please feel free to contact me:  www.groupcentered.com   or at clantonharpine@hotmail.com

References

Clanton Harpine, E.  (2015).  Group-centered prevention in mental health:  Theory, training, and practice.  New York:  Springer.

Clanton Harpine, E.  (2017).  Why wasn’t prevention included?  Comment on the special issue on undergraduate education in psychology (2016).  American Psychologist, 72, 171-172.   doi:  10. 1037/amp 0000061

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Brief Articles

Prevention Corner: Everyone Learns Differently

Elaine Clanton Harpine, Ph.D.
Elaine Clanton Harpine, Ph.D.

With the onset of a new school year, many parents are worried about their children’s progress in school.  The problem of reading failure is of particular concern.  Research has shown that prevention groups can be very effective in helping children overcome reading problems (Berking et al., 2008).  What kind of help can we as group psychologist offer to parents and teachers?

EDITORIAL QUESTION POSED:

Dear Prevention Corner:  I saw the article in the newspaper this week that talked about your reading program. You did not talk about dyslexia. The school says that my son has dyslexia.  They sent me to a private tutor.  Which is better– group or tutor?  The tutor says that I am wrong because I have not told my son that he has dyslexia.  Should I tell him? 

Confused

RESPONSE

 Dear Confused:

There are many different philosophies on whether a child should be told or not told that they have a learning disability.  There have been instances where children were diagnosed with dyslexia and have used such a diagnosis as an excuse for not being able to read.  As one student said to me one day: “You know I can’t read; I’m dyslexic.”  On the other hand, another student said, “Wow, that’s how I feel.  Now that I know that we’re all having the same problem, I’m going to learn to read.”  In my group-centered prevention program, I neither identify or label children. I believe that labels stigmatize.  Instead of saying the child has a learning disability, I say that everyone learns differently; therefore, we have learning differences.  In my opinion, whether you tell or do not tell your child is up to you.

As to your second question, which is better:  group or tutor.  I believe that prevention groups offer a major advantage over tutoring and research supports this opinion.  In my own research, children who participated in my group-centered prevention program outscored children who received one-on-one tutoring (Clanton Harpine & Reid, 2009).  Prevention groups offer many benefits that cannot be obtained through one-on-one tutoring.  Groups create a healing atmosphere, allow children to interact and work with others, and make it easier for the child to transfer what they learned back to the classroom.  In my group-centered program, Camp Sharigan, that was described in the newspaper article that you mentioned, I use six different methods for teaching reading and incorporate 11 different therapeutic factors into the group.  By combining learning and counseling together, I am able to provide a much stronger program.  Other researchers have also found this to be true (Baskin et al. 2010; Jones et al. 2015).

In my after-school Reading Orienteering Club, I use the same learning and counseling group concept.  Every child starts by learning the lower case alphabet and then begins to expand their phonemic awareness through vowel clustering.  Neuroimaging studies of the brain have shown that dyslexia results from differences in how the brain functions, particularly the posterior left hemisphere.  This is not a deformity or structural problem.  It simply means that through functional brain imaging (fMRI), researchers have been able to detect that children diagnosed with dyslexia use a different part of the brain.  This in no way means that children diagnosed with dyslexia are less intelligent.  One particular student that I worked with was extremely intelligent in science, history, and math.  Yet, the student could not read at the beginning (pre-primer) kindergarten level.  The student was in third grade, and I’m grateful to say that when he left my program at the end of the year, the student was reading beginning chapter books.

If your child has dyslexia, you want to find a program that will help your child visually identify letter shapes– the lines and curves of both capitals and lowercase letters.  We read primarily with a lowercase alphabet.  Yet, when we teach the alphabet in school, we teach capitals and lower case letters side-by-side.  One of the first big problems that I find with children who come into my program is that they may know their capitals but they do not know their lower case alphabet letters.

The second thing that a child who has been diagnosed with dyslexia needs is phonemic awareness– being able to translate letter symbols into phonemes or sounds.  This is a major step for all children.  There are many children who are labeled as being dyslexic, but in actuality, their problem is that they have never been taught phonemes or letter sounds.  Children must be able to translate written letters into sounds before they can learn to read.  Simply memorizing a word list does not teach phonemes or letter sounds.  Not all children learn the same way which is why I use six different teaching methods in my group program, but each teaching method that I use starts with phonemic awareness—translating letter symbols into sounds.

The third critical aspect in the program for a student diagnosed with dyslexia is that the student must understand the meaning of words.  Without understanding the meaning of words, there cannot be comprehension.

Reading fluency is also another major concern of children who have been diagnosed with dyslexia.  I use puppet plays and reading for a puppet to help children improve their fluency.  Reading out loud is the most effective way to help children improve reading fluency; stop watches and timing students while they read is harmful, especially for dyslexic readers.

Finally, to return to your question:  Which is better—group or tutor?  A prevention group can offer your child advantages and motivation that a one-on-one tutoring situation cannot provide.  It is the combination of being an accepted member of the group and working with others in a positive, supportive environment.  I believe that groups achieve their most success when they combine learning and counseling together in one single program.  I also believe that hands-on programs offer lots of opportunities for all students but especially students diagnosed with dyslexia.

Good luck to you and your child, and I hope that I’ve answered your questions.

For others who might wish to join this discussion, please send your comments and group prevention concerns to Elaine Clanton Harpine at clantonharpine@hotmail.com

References

baskin, t. w., Slaten, C. D., Sorenson, C., Glover-Russell, J., & Merson, D. N.  (2010).  Does youth psychotherapy improve academically related outcomes?:  A meta-analysis. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 57, 290-296.  doi:  10.1037/a0019652

Berking, M., Orth, U., Wupperman, P., Meier, L. L., & Caspar, F.  (2008).  Prospective effects of emotion-regulation skills on emotional adjustment.  Journal of Counseling Psychology, 55, 485-494.  doi:  10.1037/a0013589

Jones, D. E., Greenberg, M., & Crowley, M.  (2015).  Early social-emotional functioning and public health:  The relationship between kindergarten social competence in future wellness.  American Journal of Public Health,105, 2283-2290.  doi:  10.2105/AJPH.2015.302630

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Brief Articles

Prevention Corner: Why Can’t I get a Job with a Four Year Degree in Psychology

Elaine Harpine, PhD
Elaine Clanton Harpine, Ph.D.

Prevention Corner

Why Can’t I Get a Job with a Four-Year Degree in Psychology?

As you have probably noticed in the Monitor on Psychology, in both the February and June 2016 issues, discussions over employment opportunities with a four-year psychology degree have intensified. In the February 2016 issue of the Monitor on Psychology, the APA Center for Workforce Studies stated that 38.2% of college students who graduate with a four-year degree in psychology take jobs that are “not related” to psychology. Career counselors often suggest that four-year psychology majors look for jobs as a business manager, in labor relations, as a library assistant, probation officer, in sales, real estate, insurance, marketing, case management, and in social services. In June, the Monitor reported that “sales” was the most common job for four-year bachelor degree graduates. As one student stated, “not exactly what I expected when I majored in psychology.”

The sad fact is that it doesn’t have to be this way. We are losing many outstanding students in psychology because financially they need to be able to qualify for a good paying career oriented job upon graduation with a four-year degree.

Just the other day, I was confronted on campus by a student who had worked at my community-based clinic for at-risk children. “I’m changing my major,” she said, “I won’t be able to work for you this year. My parents insist that I get a degree that will get me a job. I can’t go to grad school. I have to pay off student loans.” I naturally tried to persuade the student to stay in psychology, but in the end, I couldn’t argue that a four-year degree in psychology really only prepared you to go on to graduate school. Even the Bureau of Labor Statistics states that most four-year psychology majors do not end up working in psychology related fields. This dilemma is the background for our editorial question today.

Editorial Question Posed:

Dear Prevention Corner: 

I’m a graduate student, and I attended your symposium at the 2015 APA convention in Toronto on effective training methods. I really liked what everyone said about prevention programs. Why are schools not offering training in prevention groups? This would have been perfect for me. Is it possible to get a four-year degree in prevention? Does your university offer a program?

Excited

RESPONSE

Dear Excited:

I’m always happy to hear from students who are excited about prevention. I’m glad you enjoyed the symposium. Unfortunately, I must report that NO, the university where I presently work does not offer a four-year degree program in prevention. I also must admit that at present I do not know of a university offering a complete 4-year degree, specialization, or 4-year training emphasis in prevention groups. This is a problem that has been discussed extensively for years. Some universities offer prevention mixed in with other subjects, but few if any offer complete training programs in group prevention. Yet the need is astronomical: medical prevention groups (cancer, diabetes, heart attack), school-based prevention, violence and anger prevention groups, bully prevention, and health prevention groups (obesity, stress). The list could go on and on. In 2013, the Report of Healthy Development reported that there is a definite need for prevention groups and a definite need for effective training programs in prevention. In 2014, an APA task force stated that prevention group training programs at present are not effective and that most of the people presently conducting prevention group programs are poorly trained or not trained at all. So, what do we do?

Many of these prevention groups, such as diabetes or heart attack prevention, do not necessarily need a licensed therapist. What they need is a trained psychologist who specializes in organizing and conducting effective prevention group programs.

Such a job would be perfect for bachelor degree graduates. Such a program would also fill the needs of many communities.

We could expand our psychology student population if we offered a four-year degree in prevention groups. We could fill a desperate need and increase psychology’s outreach into the community, schools, and medical- health related world by expanding our curriculum choices and adding a four-year specialization in prevention groups. A four-year bachelor’s degree in group prevention would allow students like yourself the option of working in psychology rather than settling for a sales job after completing your degree.

The need is widespread. At present approximately 26% of all adults experience some form of mental health disorder, but very few actually seek help because of the stigma attached to therapy (Vogel et al. 2011).   Prevention would not take away from or replace therapy. There will always be a need for therapy, but by expanding psychology’s prevention outreach, we could increase mental health services to those who refuse to seek therapy. Most prevention is conducted in groups; therefore, training in group prevention techniques is essential. Research also shows that approximately 50% of such mental disorders in adults originated or began before the age of 14 (Pirog & Good, 2013). There is a desperate need to reach people at an early age, especially since early prevention has been documented to eliminate or significantly reduce many mental health concerns (Kazak et al., 2010). Prevention groups could fill this need, especially through community and school-based settings.

We have the need. We have the ability to fill the need. We have psychology students, like yourself, interested in a four-year group prevention degree. So, why do we not have such a program?

Change is slow, but let’s dream for just a minute and outline what such a specialization could entail. We’ll highlight 13 possible classes that might be offered in a four-year specialization in prevention groups.

All students in psychology need a general overview course. Some have suggested that students looking at a four-year prevention degree might benefit the most from an introductory course on how psychology is applied to everyday life. There are already many excellent textbooks on the market and many schools even offer an introductory course in applied psychology. Developmental psychology would also be essential, especially a course that covered development across the lifespan. Social psychology, already offered by many schools, would need to emphasize interaction between individuals and within groups.

  1. Introductory course in psychology applied to everyday life
  2. Developmental psychology or life span development
  3. Social psychology and the development of perceptions

At the point where traditional psychology majors turn to research methods and statistics, four-year psychology students in prevention groups need training in applied techniques and interventions. One of the major weaknesses in group psychology, regardless whether you are working in group prevention or group therapy, is the lack of training that we offer in understanding the intricacies of group process. Many people falsely believe that working with individuals in a group setting is the same as individual single-client therapy. This is not true. To work effectively with a group, all psychologists must be trained in group process. One semester when I was teaching group psychotherapy, I took my graduate students to observe an outpatient group therapy session where the licensed group therapist proceeded to go around the circle of clients talking and working with each client individually while others merely sat and waited their turn. That is not group therapy. In prevention, we have self-proclaimed experts going out and conducting “prevention groups” where children sit on the floor in gymnasiums and merely listen to a lecture. That is not a prevention group. We desperately need effective training programs in group prevention.   The American Psychological Association (2014) avowed that existing prevention group training programs are not effective. Groups can offer a strong healing or corrective influence, but the healing power of a group is only unleashed when group process is used correctly.

Well designed and properly implemented prevention groups have been shown through evidence-based research to be effective. The key is a well-designed and effectively implemented prevention program. This is why effective training programs are essential. Research shows that how a program is used, even an evidence-based program, is the determining factor between success or failure (Pettigrew et al. 2013). Therefore, psychology majors must be taught how to conduct prevention groups effectively. Let’s look at a definition of what group prevention is and perhaps that will help to clarify the complexity of a prevention group.

Prevention groups utilize group process to the fullest extent: interaction, cohesion, group process and change. The purpose of prevention groups is to enhance members’ strengths and competencies, while providing members with knowledge and skills to avoid harmful situations or mental health problems. Prevention groups occur as a stand-alone intervention or as a key part of a comprehensive prevention program. Prevention encompasses both wellness and risk reduction. Preventive groups may focus on the reduction in the occurrence of new cases of a problem, the duration and severity of incipient problems, or they may promote strengths and optimal human functioning. Prevention groups encompass many formats. They may function within a small group format or work with a classroom of thirty or forty. Prevention may also be community-wide with multiple group settings. Prevention groups use various group approaches. Psychoeducational groups are popular and, while some prevention psychologists work within a traditional counseling group, others use a group-centered intervention approach. Two key ingredients for all prevention groups are that they be directed toward averting problems and promoting positive mental health and well-being and that they highlight and harness group processes (Conyne and Clanton Harpine 2010, p. 194).

So, as you can see organizing a prevention group involves more than just gathering a group of people together. You cannot learn to be an effective prevention group leader in a one-hour workshop. If prevention is to be effective, the group organizer must understand the intricacies of group process, interaction, and group cohesion. These intricacies must be taught. Community psychology offers courses to students working in the community and organizing community-based programs. This is why a four-year bachelor degree program would be perfect. Most community psychology programs stress prevention, but few if any, community psychology programs teach group process, how to initiate interaction in a group, or how to achieve group cohesion. You may be able to find psychology courses that talk about groups or discuss using groups, but we have very few courses which actually teach group process. Yet, understanding group process is essential for anyone working with groups.

Therefore, our next selection of courses for a four-year specialization in prevention groups would include courses in group process and prevention. Prevention group workers also need to touch on neuropsychology or the knowledge of how the brain works. A four-year student would not need the depth or research knowledge that a student going on to graduate school would, but prevention group specialists do need background knowledge in neuropsychology.

  1. Group process
  2. Group problems and how to handle difficult group situations
  3. Group prevention techniques
  4. Neuropsychology or knowledge of the brain and how it works

At this point, some readers may be saying: We have workshops, training programs, and evidence-based programs. What else do we need? A single workshop or training program is not enough. We need more in-depth training.

There are three approaches being used presently in group prevention: psychoeducational groups, traditional counseling groups, and group-centered prevention groups. A prevention group specialization would need to teach each of these approaches to group prevention. Again, textbooks are already available.

Research has shown that therapy is more effective when learning or an educational component is incorporated alongside therapy interventions (Baskin et al., 2010). The same is true with prevention groups. From a 20-year longitudinal study, Jones, Greenberg, and Crowley (2015) provide support for this concept of combining learning and counseling. They call it “combining cognitive and non-cognitive skills-training. The cognitive skills are the educational component. The non-cognitive skills include social emotional skills, behavior, personal control, self-regulation, persistence with a task, interpersonal skills or ability to relate to others, and group interaction skills. If you refer back to our definition of a prevention group, each of these skills must be incorporated in a prevention group training program. This level of understanding and training cannot be successfully taught in a single workshop or training session.

Group leaders cannot learn how to work with others effectively in a group setting without professional training (Erchul, 2013). Prevention groups need to offer skills training, especially interpersonal and group skills. Prevention group programs must also offer both a combination of knowledge and skills if such a program is to be effective (Long & Maynard, 2014). Knowledge incorporates the subject or what is being taught (diabetes or heart attack prevention), skills training involves application or how to use such knowledge in everyday life. Before group leaders can teach others, they too must receive skill-based training. One of the primary causes of prevention group failure is poor implementation and the way in which skills and knowledge were taught by the group leader (Coles et al., 2015).

Evidence-based programs sound fantastic, but in practice, they have not always been successful (McHugh & Barlow, 2010). Research has shown that many evidence-based programs result in ineffective practice because the program was not implemented as designed or was used incorrectly (Erchul, 2013). What many group leaders do not understand is that any time you change or only use bits and pieces of an evidence-based program; you have changed the program and thereby changed or reduced the effectiveness of the program (Rotheram-Borus et. al, 2012). Therefore, we need to provide training for group leaders using evidence-based prevention group programs.   Knowing how to implement or use a prevention group program, regardless whether it is an evidence-based program or not, is essential if we are ever to have effective prevention programs and must be included in any four-year degree program.

Students must also be taught how to identify an effective prevention group program as well as learn how to design and develop effective prevention group programs. Evaluation techniques must be taught.

  1. The principles of an effective prevention group
  2. Program evaluation

We also need to teach students how to design effective prevention group programs. Robert Conyne offers an excellent book for psychoeducational style programs (Conyne, 2010, 2013). I offer three books for group-centered prevention programs (Clanton Harpine 2008, 2011, 2013a). Textbooks are available. All that is missing is a 4-year undergraduate course of study in prevention groups.

  1. Designing and conducting an effective group prevention program
  2. Introduction to group counseling
  3. Group-centered prevention: Combining counseling and learning in one prevention group program
  4. Supervised internships working with actual prevention groups

Research states that courses incorporating service-learning result in higher test scores and more knowledgeable application of textbook and course content (Postlethwait 2012). Some universities are now even requiring service-learning courses or as much as 30-hours of service learning during a semester. Supervised internships working with some prevention groups should be a very vital component of any four-year degree.

We have organizations, hospitals, community groups, and schools crying out for trained personnel to organize and conduct prevention group programs. We have students seeking a four-year degree in psychology that will enable them to qualify for employment upon graduation. So, why do we refuse to offer college-level training programs in group prevention?

Students, like yourself, need to step forward and demand a four-year degree program in prevention groups. Faculty need to step forward and make it happen.

If you would like to join this discussion, let us hear from you. We welcome your participation. We invite psychologists, counselors, prevention programmers, graduate students, teachers, administrators, parents, and other mental health practitioners working with groups to network together, share ideas, problems, and become more involved. Please send comments, questions, and group prevention concerns to Elaine Clanton Harpine at clantonharpine@hotmail.com

References

American Psychological Association. (2014). Guidelines for prevention in psychology. American Psychologist, 69, 285-296.   doi: 10.1037/a0034569

Baskin, T. W., Slaten, C. D., Sorenson, C., Glover-Russell, J., & Merson, D. N. (2010). Does youth psychotherapy improve academically related outcomes?: A meta-analysis. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 57, 290-296. doi: 10.1037/a0019652

Clanton Harpine, E. (2008). Group interventions in schools: Promoting mental health for at-risk children and youth. New York: Springer.

Clanton Harpine, E. (2011). Group-Centered Prevention Programs for At-Risk Students. New York: Springer.

Clanton Harpine, E. (2013). After-school prevention programs for at-risk students: Promoting engagement and academic success. New York: Springer.

Clanton Harpine, E. (2015). Group-Centered Prevention in Mental Health: Theory, Training, and Practice. New York: Springer.

Coles, E. K., Owens, J. S., Serrano, V. J., Slavec, J., & Evans, S. W. (2015). From consultation to student outcomes: The role of teacher knowledge, skills, and beliefs in increasing integrity and classroom management strategies. School Mental Health, 7, 34-48.   doi: 10.1007/s12310-015-9143-2

Conyne, R. K. (2010). Prevention program development and evaluation: An incident reduction, culturally relevant approach. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Conyne, R. K., & Clanton Harpine, E. (2010). Prevention groups: The shape of things to come. Group Dynamics: Theory, Research, and Practice, 14, 193-198. doi:10.1037/a0020446

Erchul, W. P. (2013). Treatment integrity enhancement via performance feedback conceptualization as an exercise social influence. Journal of Educational and Psychological Consultation, 23, 300-306.

Jones, D. E., Greenberg, M., & Crowley, M. (2015). Early social-emotional functioning and public health: The relationship between kindergarten social competence in future wellness. American Journal of Public Health, 105, 2283-2290. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2015.302630

Kazak, A. E. (2008). Evidence-based treatment and practice: New opportunities to bridge clinical research and practice, enhance the knowledge base, and improve patient care. American Psychologist, 63, 146-159. doi: 10.1037/0003-066X.63.3.146

Long, A. C. J., & Maynard, B. R. (2014). Treatment integrity as an adult behavior change: A review of models. In L. M. H. Sanetti and T. R. Kratochwill (Eds.), Treatment integrity: A foundation for evidence-based practice and applied psychology (pp. 57-78). Washington, D. C.: American Psychological Association.

Pettigrew, J., Miller-Day, M., Shin, Y. J., Hecht, M. L., Krieger, J. L., & Graham, J. W. (2013). Describing teacher-student interactions: a qualitative assessment of teacher implementation of the 7th grade keepin’ it REAL substance use intervention. American Journal of Community Psychology, 51, 43-56.   doi: 10.1007/s10464-012-9539-1

McHugh, R. K., & Barlow, D. H. (2010). The dissemination and implementation of evidence-based psychological treatments: A review of current efforts. American Psychologist, 65, 73-84. doi: 10.1037/a0018121

Pirog, M. A. & Good, E. M. (2013). Public policy and mental health: Avenues for Prevention. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Postlethwait, A. (2012). Service learning in an undergraduate social work research course. Journal of Teaching Social Work, 32, 243-256.   doi: 10.1080108841233.2012.687343

Vogel, D. L., Heimerdinger-Edwards, S. R., Hammer, J. H., & Hubbard, A. (2011). “Boys don’t cry”: Examination of the links between enforcement of masculine norms, self-stigma, and help-seeking attitudes for men from diverse backgrounds. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 58, 368-382. doi: 10.1037/a0023688

Categories
Book Review

Group-Centered Prevention in Mental Health

Group-Centered Prevention in Mental Health

Elaine Clanton Harpine, Ph.D.

Reviewed by John Dagley, Ph.D.

Elaine Clanton Harpine focuses attention throughout her new book, Group-Centered Prevention in Mental Health, on the most important aspect of prevention, namely, “group process.” Unfortunately, to date, prevention efforts have tended to focus solely on various forms of passive reception of information. While we have at least begun to think somewhat developmentally, we have not made as much progress in understanding how important it is to help individuals make a personal investment in processing information. Good intentions are simply not enough, as Harpine points out. Growth and change require more than passive reception of information. If we’re truly committed to making a positive difference in children’s lives, we need to involve them as much as possible in their own cognitive and affective learning. With the kind of substantive help that can come from small group “processing,” all can benefit from good intentions. Harpine draws from her vast experience to show just how this can work effectively in small groups with the right kind of leadership.

Harpine has contributed greatly to our understanding and promotion of prevention group work for years. Her new book is in many ways a dynamic integration of what has worked effectively for her in her small group prevention work with children, adolescents and adults. Harpine knows about group leadership, and particularly about prevention groups. In fact, when it comes to prevention group leadership, she’s among a handful of experienced, enlightened professionals.

One of the strongest contributions Harpine offers in this book is a description of the successful “Reading Orienteering Group” that she has led for years. This unique application of group principles and methods to the development of reading skills is truly a substantive addition to our group-centered prevention work. She’s especially attentive to keeping the reader focused on the importance of both support (process) and challenge (outcome). She’s very open about her commitment to change within the group and within each individual. Her group-centered prevention is not just a feel-good approach. She designs interventions to effect growth and change.

The most outstanding characteristic of the book is its specificity. Harpine keeps the reader focused throughout the book on the specific elements of group-centered prevention work, not just process but product as well. She also stretches the reader to remember the prevention is not just targeted on work with children and adolescents, but with adults and couples as well. She wants and expects prevention group members to change.

There are so many wonderful quotes that I’m tempted to end this review with one, but in a variation of one of most consistent messages offered throughout this book, Harpine offers that group-centered prevention requires action on the part of members (or in this case, readers).

Categories
Brief Articles

Prevention Corner

Elaine Clanton Harpine, Ph.D.
Elaine Clanton Harpine, Ph.D.

Should Students be Retained or Socially Promoted When They are Failing Academically?

Elaine Clanton Harpine, Ph. D.

School questions seem to dominate our list of concerns once again. Parents, teachers, and school psychologists seem to be seeking answers to the age old question: should students be retained in the same grade for another year when they have failing grades? We actually received several letters asking if retention is psychologically safe. Our question is from a school psychologist who is grappling with this very question.

Editorial Question Posed

Dear Prevention Corner: 

I’m a school psychologist assigned the task of deciding whether children should be retained or socially promoted. Teachers make a recommendation based on student grades. After testing, I must recommend which students should be retained or socially promoted. I just read an article that said 78% of dropouts were once retained a grade in school and that 90% of students retained more than once drop out of school. Is this true?

I’m Confused

Response

Dear Confused:

You are not the only one. The question of retention has been argued for over 40 years. Since 1975, research and statistical analysis has shown that neither grade retention (repeating a grade) nor social promotion (simply moving on to the next grade) has been effective as a method for improving academic achievement. Jimerson’s landmark study in 2001 contains one of the best overall discussions. I’ve listed the citation in the reference section. Although grade retention is still widely practiced in schools, retention is actually listed as the single most dominant predictor of whether a student will drop out of school (Thomas, 2013). You did not list the title of the article that you had read, but the statistics match commonly accepted predictions. Retention has a “scarring effect” (Andrew, 2014). Retention is a stigmatizing negative event that infuses with development across the life span—from early elementary school to college and even into adulthood (Andrew, 2014; Jimerson & Kaufman, 2003). So yes, retention is something that we as psychologists should be concerned about. It is not simply an educational problem. Students list retention as one of the most stressful events of their life (Anderson et al, 2005). The stress and stigmatization of retention and failure can even pave the way for other mental health problems and also lead to behavioral problems. Furthermore, research shows that retention is not effective. It does not help students correct their academic problems (Thomas, 2013).

Retention has not worked. Social promotion also does not work. The National Center on Response to Intervention (2010) suggests three strategies that have proven to work with students who are failing: (1) early intervention (do not wait until the child is failing), (2) customizing learning to individual student needs, and (3) focus on reading. They go on to say that the most prominent academic problem leading to failure and retention is reading failure (NCRI, 2010; Lyon, 2002). Jimerson’s research (2003) concurs with the National Center’s three suggestions and also states that improving reading skills should be listed as one of the most important variables needed for academic success.

The Monitor on Psychology this month (March, 2016) reported that reading proficiency scores for public school children have dropped. We should also be alarmed that for the past 25 years, nationwide testing has shown that over half the children and teens across the nation cannot read at grade level by 4th or 8th grade. The Nation’s Report Card for 2015 stated that only 36% of 4th graders and 34% of 8th graders across the nation can read proficiently at grade level. When we tie reading failure to retention and to dropping out of school before graduation, we truly have a serious problem.

As we have stated in this column many times before, reading failure can also lead to depression and other mental health concerns (Herman et al., 2008). Reading failure becomes a psychological problem because of the stigmatization, mental health concerns, and developmental damage caused by such failure across the life span. Reading failure in not just an educational problem; it is a psychological problem as well.

You are very wise to seek alternatives to retention. A six-year-old student was assigned to my reading clinic at the beginning of first grade as an early preventive intervention. He lived in a low socioeconomic neighborhood, single-parent home, and seemed to be having trouble adjusting to school. By the end of his first grade year, the student was reading at the third grade level and demonstrating exemplary behavior– very cooperative, very hard-working. When he returned to school at the beginning of the nest year (He should have been entering 2nd grade.), the parent was informed that the student had been retained in first grade because of his attendance record. The school had a policy of retaining all students who missed more than a certain number of days. Obviously, this was a schoolwide policy and an attempt to reduce truancy. Unfortunately, no one checked to see why the student had been absent. The student had asthma. Even with extensive absences, including at my program, the student was able to finish first grade reading at the third grade level. Math wasn’t a problem either. The student was returned to my reading clinic while repeating first-grade because of behavior problems. In talking with the student, he said, “Need something to do. Only have ‘baby books.’ Little kids think I’m funny when I get in trouble.”

Retention can and does cause psychological “scarring.” So, what is the alternative?

Homework does not help students improve academically (Cooper, 2006). After-school programs have proven to not be effective, especially homework based programs or programs that simply repeat teaching methods used in the classroom (Sheldon et al., 2010; Shernoff, 2010). Merely incorporating social and emotional learning principles is also not effective (Kaufman et al., 2014). Some educators have even gone so far as to say that failure is based on the socio-economic neighborhood in which the child lives (Plucker & Esping, 2014). I disagree.

This fall, from September to December, we had four students move up an entire grade level in reading at my reading clinic. Three of these students were from low socio-economic neighborhoods. Two were African American and one student in the group was Hispanic. This is not a one-time occurrence. Previously, we had six students move up two entire grade levels during nine months in the program. All six students were from low socio-economic neighborhoods: one Caucasian and five African Americans. Two of the students lived in a housing project neighborhood. As G. Reid Lyon said back in 1998, ineffective teaching methods are the primary cause of reading failure. No, I did not say teachers. I said teaching methods—the method that we are using to teach children to read. Whole language and old style phonics rules have both proven not to work (National Reading Panel, 2000).

Are there methods that work? Yes. In 2009, Keller and Just proved that at-risk readers can be taught to read through their neuroimaging studies. Shaywitz (2003) put forth an entire program for teaching dyslexic children. Shaywitz (2003) says that the key to teaching reading to any child is that you must teach the child to break the word down into letters sounds or phonemes. Then, teach the child to put the sounds back together as a word. I teach a similar method called vowel clustering (Clanton Harpine, 2011; 2013).

So yes, methods are available that have been proven to work. Why do we not use them in the schools? That is an excellent question. I’ll leave that question for another time. For now, I hope that you will refer to some of the references that I have listed for you. I hope that some of the programs can help you to look beyond retention and social promotion. Look to the source of the problem—reading failure.

If you would like to join this discussion, let us hear from you. We welcome your participation. We invite psychologists, counselors, prevention programmers, graduate students, teachers, administrators, parents, and other mental health practitioners working with groups to network together, share ideas, problems, and become more involved. Please send comments, questions, and group prevention concerns to Elaine Clanton Harpine at clantonharpine@hotmail.com

References

Anderson, G. E., Jimerson, S. R., & Whipple, A. D. (2005). ‘Students’ ratings of stressful experiences at home and school: Loss of a parent and grade retention as superlative stressors, Journal of Applied School Psychology, 21(1), 1-20.

Andrew, M. (2014). The scarring effects of primary-grade retention? A study of cumulative advantage in the educational career. Social Forces, 93, 653-685.   doi: 10.1093/sf/sou074

Clanton Harpine, E. (2011). Group-Centered Prevention Programs for At-Risk Students. New York: Springer.

Clanton Harpine, E. (2013). After-school prevention programs for at-risk students: Promoting engagement and academic success. New York: Springer.

Herman, K. C., Lambert, S. F., Reinke, W. M., & Ialongo, N. S. (2008). Low academic competence in first grade as a risk factor for depressive cognitions and symptoms in middle school. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 55, 400-410.

Jimerson, S. R. (2001). Meta-analysis of grade retention research: Implications for practice in the 21st century. School Psychology Review, 30, 420-437.

Jimerson, S. R., & Kaufman, A. M. (2003). Reading, writing, and retention: A primer on grade retention research. Reading Teacher 56, 622-635.

Keller, T., A., & Just, M. A. (2009). Altering cortical connectivity: Remediation-induced           changes in the white matter of poor readers. Neuron 64, 624-631.

Lyon, G. R. (April 28, 1998). Overview of reading and literacy initiatives. Testimony before the Committee on Labor and Human Resources, Senate Dirkson Building. Retrieved November 27, 2006, from http://www.cdl.org/resourcelibrary/pdf/lyon_testimonies.pdf

Lyon, G. R. (2002). Reading development, reading difficulties, and reading instruction educational and public health issues. Journal of School Psychology, 40, 3-6.

National Assessment of Educational Progress. (2013). Nation’s Report Card: Reading 2013. Retrieved from http://nces.ed.gov/nations report card/pdf/main2013/2010458.pdf

National Center on Response to Intervention. (March 2010). Essential components of RTI: A closer look at response to intervention.   Washington, DC: US Department of Education, office of Special Education Programs

National Reading Panel, (2000). Teaching children to read: An evidence-based assessment of the scientific research literature on reading and its implications for reading instruction (NIH Publication No. 00-4754). Washington, DC: National Institute for Literacy.

Plucker, J., & Esping, A. (2014). Intelligence 101. New York: Springer.

Shaywitz, S. (2003). Overcoming Dyslexia: A new and complete science-based program for reading problems at any level. New York: Knopf.

Thomas, A. (Ed.) (2013). Retention is not the answer! Metairie, LA: Center for Development and Learning.

Categories
Brief Articles

Prevention Corner: Is Homework Helpful?

Elaine Clanton Harpine, Ph.D.
Elaine Clanton Harpine, Ph.D.

As the school year progresses, the number of letters that we have received concerning school problems has multiplied tremendously. The letter chosen today highlights a problem that has been an issue of concern between parents and schools for many years: Is homework actually helpful? How much is too much? In the past several years, the question of homework has also become a topic of study by many researchers as well. Researchers are asking: Is homework harmful?

Editorial Question Posed

Dear Prevention Corner: 

I’m at my wits end. My teenager has been up every night past midnight doing homework. The school says that homework will help raise test scores and help my son prepare for college. He’s worn-out, and says, “That if this is what college is like, he doesn’t want to go.” I think the school is pushing too hard. What should I as a parent do? Am I wrong? Is four hours of homework a night normal?

In Need of Help

Response

Dear In Need Of Help:

As a parent of three grown children, I certainly understand your problem and your concerns. This subject of homework is being discussed by more than just parents and schools. Many researchers are stepping forward to say that there is no correlation between homework and classroom improvement in academics for elementary age children (Cooper, 2006). Only a tiny bit of improvement has been shown from homework in middle school. While research has supported benefits from homework in high school, researchers also caution that too much homework can backfire and create more problems than benefits (Cooper & Valentine, 2001; Cooper, Robertson, & Patall, 2006). So, why do schools still insist on more homework? It’s been estimated that the homework load has increased about 40% for students (Cooper, 2006). As you indicated in your letter, some students are being assigned as much as four hours of homework a night. Still other schools are totally banishing homework. Some schools are suggesting that web-based applications for online teaching opportunities actually benefit students more than paper and pencil homework.

One of the age old problems with homework is that if a student does not know how to work a math problem correctly, practicing the problem incorrectly for homework, will not teach the student the correct procedure for working the problem. Practicing a mistake does not make the mistake go away. Research shows that math scores do not necessarily improve with homework. On the other hand, if online teaching was incorporated, then the student could learn and practice the problem correctly.

Trying to improve test scores by loading on additional homework has also not proven to be successful. Excessive homework and the results of incomplete homework have even been listed as one of the reasons that some students give for dropping out of school before graduation. Homework is supposed to help students learn, improve study skills and organization of time, and teach responsibility. Unfortunately, researchers are finding that too much homework actually reduces its effectiveness and that when students consider homework simply “busy work,” such homework discourages learning (Kalish & Bennett, 2006).

We have worked for years from the premise that “homework is good.” New research is showing that too much homework actually has negative effects on well-being and behavior. If a student sacrifices sleep to study for a test or complete homework assignments, they are going to have more trouble the next day in school and miss out on new material being discussed in class (Gillen-O’Neal, Huynh, & Fuligni, 2013). Students who consume energy drinks in order to stay awake at night also increase their risk of becoming too reliant upon stimulants and other drugs. Excessive homework (over 2 hours a night in high school) can lead to sleep deprivation, headaches, exhaustion, stomach problems, weight loss, and even depression (Galloway, Conner, & Pope, 2013).

When students are assigned too much homework, such homework assignments create stress (Pressman et al., 2015). High levels of stress can lead to physical as well as mental health problems. Homework needs to have a purpose that benefits the student’s overall education and well-being. In a recent survey, 90% of the students surveyed said that homework created stress in their daily life.

Since homework has not necessarily led to better grades or higher test scores and has been found to be a major source of stress for many students, what should a parent do?

  1. Talk with the teacher. See if you can reach a compromise on the amount of homework being assigned.
  2. If your child is exhibiting signs of stress, talk with a school counselor.
  3. If you’re still unable to negotiate a “healthy” homework level, talk with your school principal and/or a member of the school board.

Nancy Kalish and Sara Bennett (2006) state in their book, The Case Against Homework: How Homework is Hurting Our Children and What We Can do About It, that we need to find new educational alternatives to homework. We also need to remember that quality is more important than quantity.

I do not have simple or easy answers for you, but going to the school and intervening on behalf of your child may be the best prevention that you can provide to alleviate problems in the future. No one is saying that your child should just sit around and watch TV or play computer games, but sometimes a student may need a more individualized approach to homework and learning in the classroom. You definitely want to make the teacher and school aware of stress and other concerns. Never be afraid to be your child’s advocate.

Let me know if I can be of further assistance, and watch for our next column when we will turn to some educational policy experts to see if they can offer some suggestions for how to change the schools.

If you would like to join this discussion, let us hear from you. We welcome your participation. We invite psychologists, counselors, prevention programmers, graduate students, teachers, administrators, parents, and other mental health practitioners working with groups to network together, share ideas, problems, and become more involved. Please send comments, questions, and group prevention concerns to Elaine Clanton Harpine at clantonharpine@hotmail.com

References

Bennett, S., & Kalish, N. (2006). The case against homework: How homework is hurting our children and what we can do about it. New York: Harmony Books.

Cooper, H. (2006). The battle over homework: Common ground for administrators, teachers, and parents, 3rd ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin press.

Cooper, H., Robinson, J. C., & Patall, E. A. (2006). Does homework improve academic achievement? A synthesis of research, 1987–2003. Review of Educational Research, 76, 1–6.

Cooper, H., & Valentine, J. C. (2001). Using research to answer practical questions about homework. Educational Psychologist, 36, 143–153.

Galloway, G., Conner, J., & Pope, D. (2013). Nonacademic effects of homework in pivileged, high-performing high schools, The Journal of Experimental Education, 81, 490-510. doi: 10.1080/00220973.2012.745469

Gillen-O’Neal, C., Huynh, V., & Fuligni, A. J. (2013). To study or to sleep? The academic cost of extra studying at the expense of sleep. Child Development, 84, 133-142.   doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8624.2012.01834x

Pressman, R. M., Sugarman, D. B., Nemon, M. L., Desjarlais, J., Owens, J. A., & Schettini-Evans, A. (2015). Homework and family Stress: With consideration of parents’ self-confidence, educational level, and cultural background, The American Journal of Family Therapy, 43, 297-313. doi: 10.1080/01926187.2015.1061407

Categories
Brief Articles

Prevention Corner: Age Old Problems

Elaine Clanton Harpine, PhD
Elaine Clanton Harpine, Ph.D.

With the end of the school year, age old problems and questions re-arise, particularly the question: Why are so many children failing in reading? We have discussed reading prevention programs before, but a question comes to our attention that brings reading failure to the forefront of prevention programming once again. Prevention efforts in reading are relevant to our group prevention focus because the majority of childrens’ prevention programs take place at school. Also, the National Reading Panel (2000) stated that groups are one of the most effective ways to teach reading. Therefore, let’s take another look.

EDITORIAL QUESTION POSED:

Dear Prevention Corner:

I am a school psychologist, and I attended your 2nd Annual School-Based Mental Health Group Interventions Conference where both you and Dr. Keith Herman stated that “children can definitely be taught to read.” We just finished reviewing this year’s scores where 60% of our students are failing in reading. These are students below the fourth-grade level. What can we do? I returned from your conference with exciting ideas, but my school only allows teachers to use the curriculum and methods that they endorse. Obviously, school methods are not working. How do you make the school change?

Signed,

Desperate for Help

RESPONSE

Dear Desperate for Help:

It is wonderful to hear from you again, and I’m glad that you remembered my invitation to keep in touch.

I am sorry to hear that you are still having trouble. It is neither helpful nor comforting to say that you are not alone. According to the Nation’s Report Card (2013), only about 40% of 4th graders are able to read at grade level. Such reading scores are dismal and have not significantly improved over the past 14 years. Reading failure is a nationwide problem that has not been corrected, nor is it showing any signs of significant progress.

I do still stand by my statement that “children can definitely be taught to read.” My work is mostly in community-based settings, and that may be an option that you may want to consider. I just tested a 2nd grade student this year from our after-school Reading Orienteering Club (Clanton Harpine, 2013b) program who started the year in September reading at the pre-primer level (below kindergarten). The student ended the year in May reading at the 4th grade reading level. No, not every student makes that much progress in one year’s time. Each child has distinct needs and learns in a different way. Yet, for the past six years in our after-school program, we have been taking students who are failing in school, teaching them to read, and sending them back to the classroom to be successful. How? Phonemic awareness and phonological decoding are essential if you want children to learn to read (Fleming et al. 2004; Foorman & Torgesen, 2001; Hoeft et al., 2007; Lyon, 1998; Rayner et al., 2001; Shaywitz, 2003).

So, to answer your first question, yes, we know how to teach children to read. Unfortunately, so far as a society, we refuse to accept the research findings and change the way we teach children to read. I have included an extensive list of references so that you may read the research.

To answer your second question on how to make the schools change, I am sorry but I do not have an answer for you. I do plan to pass your letter on to others who work more directly with the schools to see if they can offer suggestions.

The reason that I suggested a community-based organization or setting is that you often have more flexibility in community-based organizations than you do in a public school. The teaching method being used in most public schools is being cited as one of the primary reasons for reading failure (Chessman et al., 2009; Foorman et al., 2003; Keller & Just, 2009; Lyon, 2002; Meyler et al., 2008; Shaywitz and Shaywitz, 2007Torgesen et al., 2001).

Many schools offer an after-school program for at-risk readers, but these use the same teaching strategies under which the child failed to learn to read in the classroom. Some after-school programs are successful. Many programs are not. Children who struggle in school need programs that emphasize step-by-step instructions, intrinsic motivation (no reward or incentive programs), active hands-on learning, structured skill-building, social skills, and group process with emphasis on interaction and cohesion.

So, try something new. Do not simply repeat methods and curriculum that has failed in the classroom. What is needed is an after-school prevention program that uses a totally different approach to learning.

If you decide that you would like to develop a community-based program, help is available. Robert Conyne (2010) offers a detailed account for developing psychoeducational prevention programs. If you want specific help on developing an after-school program, my After-School Prevention Programs for At-Risk Students: Promoting Engagement and Academic Success (Clanton Harpine, 2013a) gives a step-by-step plan for developing a successful after-school program using a group-centered approach.

In the June 2015 Monitor on Psychology, in an article entitled: Grabbing Students– Researchers have identified easy ways to boost student success by increasing their engagement and learning, several ideas are specified for making school programs more successful. The researchers highlighted in the article state that education in the classroom should include: (1) engagement that includes application, importance, and enjoyment (with the students being actively involved—not just sitting and listening to a teacher talk), (2) being intrinsically motivated (being interested and seeing the value or relevance in what is being taught—not working for rewards or prizes), (3) rebuilding self-efficacy (helping the student believe that they can succeed—based on skills learned), (4) art enrichment hands-on activities related to the subject or topic being taught, (5) relationship building activities, (6) reducing the emphasis on testing and striving for mastering a learning task rather than striving for a grade, (7) measuring growth on an individual level rather than comparing to other students, and (8) finding ways to personalize learning– possibly even using forms of technology. The article ends by explaining that researchers and educators must work together, but the article does not give any advice on how to make this happen. Again, they do not offer suggestions for how to change the schools.

Keller and Just (2009) showed conclusively through their neuroimaging studies with at-risk readers that phonological decoding skills and enhanced phonemic awareness can teach a student how to read. Regrettably, these are not the methods being used in most public schools.

Let me know if I can be of further assistance, and watch for our next column when we will turn to some educational policy experts to see if they can offer some suggestions for how to change the schools.

If you would like to join this discussion, let us hear from you. We welcome your participation. We invite psychologists, counselors, prevention programmers, graduate students, teachers, administrators, and other mental health practitioners working with groups to network together, share ideas, problems, and become more involved. Please send comments, questions, and group prevention concerns to Elaine Clanton Harpine at clantonharpine@hotmail.com

References

Chessman, E. A., McGuire, J. M., Shankweiler, D., & Coyne, M. (2009). First-year teacher knowledge of phonemic awareness and its instruction. Teacher Education and Special Education: The Journal of the Teacher Education Division of the Council for Exceptional Children, 32, 270-289. doi: 10.1177/0888406409339685

Clanton Harpine, E. (2013a). After-school prevention programs for at-risk students: Promoting engagement and academic success. New York: Springer.

Clanton Harpine, E. (2013b). Erasing failure in the classroom, vol. 3: The Reading Orienteering Club, using vowel clustering in an after-school program. North Augusta, SC: Group-Centered Learning.

Collier, Lorna, (2015, June). Grabbing students: Researchers have identified easy ways to boost student success by increasing their engagement and learning. Monitor on psychology, 46(6), 58-63.

Conyne, R. K. (2010). Prevention program development and evaluation: An incident reduction, culturally relevant approach. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Fleming, C. B., Harachi, T. W., Cortes, R. C., Abbott, R. D., & Catalano, R. F. (2004). Level and change in reading scores and attention problems during elementary school as predictors of problem behavior in middle school. Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders, 12, 130-144.

Foorman, B. R., Breier, J. I., & Fletcher, J. M. (2003). Interventions aimed at improving reading success: An evidence-based approach. Developmental Neuropsychology, 24, 613-639.

Foorman, B. R., & Torgesen, J. K. (2001). Critical elements of classroom and small-group instruction promote reading success in all children. Learning Disabilities Research and Practice, 16, 202-211.

Hoeft, F., Ueno, T., Reiss, A. L., Meyler, A., Whitfield-Gabrieli, S., Glover, G. H., Keller, T. A., Kobayashi, N., Mazaika, P., Jo, B., Just, M. A., & Gabrieli, J. D. E. (2007). Prediction of children’s reading skills using behavioral, functional, and structural neuroimaging measures. Behavioral Neuroscience, 121, 602-613.  doi: 10.1037/0735-7044.121.3.602

Keller, T., A., & Just, M. A. (2009). Altering cortical connectivity: Remediation-induced changes in the white matter of poor readers. Neuron 64, 624-631. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2009.10.018

Lyon, G. R. (April 28, 1998). Overview of reading and literacy initiatives. Testimony before the Committee on Labor and Human Resources, Senate Dirkson Building. Retrieved November 27, 2006, from http://www.cdl.org/resourcelibrary/pdf/lyon_testimonies.pdf

Lyon, G. R. (2002). Reading development, reading difficulties, and reading instruction educational and public health issues. Journal of School Psychology, 40, 3-6.

Meyler, A., Keller, T. A., Cherkassky, V. L., Gabrieli, J. D., & Just, M. A. (2008). Modifying the brain activation of poor readers during sentence comprehension with extended remedial instruction: A longitudinal study of neuroplasticity. Neuropsychologia, 46, 2580-2592.

National Assessment of Educational Progress. (2013). Nation’s Report Card: Reading 2013. Retrieved from http://nces.ed.gov/nations report card/pdf/main2013/2010458.pdf

National Reading Panel, (2000). Teaching children to read: An evidence-based assessment of the scientific research literature on reading and its implications for reading instruction (NIH Publication No. 00-4754). Washington, DC: National Institute for Literacy.

Rayner, K., Foorman, B. R., Perfetti, C. A., Pesetsky, D., & Seidenberg, M. S. (2001). How should reading be taught? Scientific American, 286, 84-91.

Shaywitz, S. (2003). Overcoming Dyslexia: A new and complete science-based program for reading problems at any level. New York: Knopf.

Shaywitz, S. , & Shaywitz, B. (2007). Special topic: What neuroscience really tells us about reading instruction: A response to Judy Willis. Educational Leadership: Improving instruction for students with learning needs, 64(5) 74-76.

Torgesen, J. K., Alexander, A. W., Wagner, R. K., Rashotte, C. A., Voeller, K. S., & Conway, T. (2001). Intensive remedial instruction for children with severe reading disabilities: Immediate and long-term outcomes from two instructional approaches. Journal of Learning disabilities, 34, 133-158. doi: 10.1177/002221940103400104

Categories
Columns

Prevention Corner: Violence Prevention

Elaine Clanton Harpine, PhD
Elaine Clanton Harpine, Ph.D.

Violence seems to be a problem plaguing many practitioners as evidenced by the number of letters that we have received recently asking for help. The letter chosen for today highlights a problem facing families, schools, parenting prevention groups, and those training prevention group practitioners.

Editorial Question Posed:

Dear Prevention Corner: 

I have a second-grade student who lives in a violent household.  The parents are not married but live together.  There are five children living at home.  My student is the middle child.  My student “worships” his father.  The father has just returned to the household from prison.  Drugs are also part of the family scene. 

Upon the father’s return from prison, my student has turned violent in the classroom.  He was so excited to have his father return but now he is angry and acting out violently toward others.  He has been to the school counselor, but it has not helped.  What can I do to help this student?  I have heard that a prevention group might be helpful.  Do you think this would help?  If so, what kind of group should I look for?

Signed,

Wanting to Help

Dear Wanting to Help:

Thank you for sending in your question. Unfortunately your student is not alone, as millions of American children live in homes with exposure to drugs and violence. Additionally, it is common in those situations for children to act out in their other environments, such as in school. As an educator, it can be particularly distressing to watch this happen to one of your students.

Even though you suspect that the problem behavior does not originate within this individual child, and is a result of distressing changes within the family system, it can be difficult to make referrals based on what the child alone has to say about his family. Therefore, you need to find a way to corroborate what is happening and to what extent the child is exposed to violence or is in danger. If you suspect that the child is being abused, you should call the local protective services department and report it. Another way to get some help for the child and the family would be to ask for an evaluation of the child by a school or clinical psychologist. This evaluation should include separate interviews with the parents where questions are asked about conflict tactics used in the home. Hopefully, there will be a recommendation for individual child treatment with parent guidance. This would bring attention and support to the child and his family. Community clinics with sliding fee scales may be an option here. Another option is for the evaluator to call the local domestic violence shelter to inquire whether support or intervention groups are available to those living in the community but not residing in the shelter. These kinds of support groups have been found to be effective in reducing child aggression and in providing support and education to the mother and thus would be ideal for both the child and the mother in this family.

Ultimately, children living in homes with violence are under great stress. Your support and continued interest in this child’s well-being will do a good deal towards helping him and, hopefully, his whole family.

Signed,

Maria Galano, M.S. and Sandra A. Graham-Bermann Ph.D.

Department of Psychology

University of Michigan

 

Categories
Brief Articles

Prevention Corner

Elaine Harpine, Ph.D.
Elaine Harpine, Ph.D.

This is our second column on our series on developing training programs in group prevention. In our last column, two experts in the field of group prevention, Robert K. Conyne, Ph.D. and Arthur M. Horne, Ph. D., presented two perspectives on training prevention groups: (1) the American Psychological Association Guidelines for Prevention in Psychology (APA, 2013) and (2) training with an awareness toward social justice. We received a response to that column and continue the discussion.

EDITORIAL QUESTION POSED:

Dear Prevention Corner:

I read the column each time, and I know that you are talking about training programs at the college level—course work training. My question though is: what is the best way to train workers for a community or school program? I attended your APA convention workshop a couple of years ago on developing and designing group prevention programs. I came home excited and overflowing with ideas. I followed the workbook that you gave us, set up my program, held a training session, but then I ran into a brick wall. I work in a school where half of our students drop out before graduation because they cannot read. I want to keep students in school by helping them learn to read. The other teachers who volunteered to work in the program wouldn’t listen; they went back to teaching reading using the same way they have for years. My program failed. How can I train people to use these new prevention ideas?

Signed,

In Need of Help.

RESPONSE:

Dear In Need of Help:

I want to thank you for bringing to the discussion a very important point that we have failed thus far to emphasize: training in group prevention must include (1) training at the university level for professionals planning to specialize and work with prevention groups and (2) training in the community or at the prevention group level with volunteers, health practitioners, teachers, or others who may be leading or working with prevention groups. While it is essential that we increase course work and training at the university level, it is just as essential that we provide effective training programs for volunteers or others who use the group prevention format.

Universities do not always see the necessity for adding new courses in group prevention, and community and school prevention groups do not always see the need for extensive training in prevention techniques and interventions. Change is often hard to accept.

Introducing a change or new group prevention approach for solving an old established long-standing problem is even more difficult. I truly understand your frustration, and trust me, you are not alone. I just spoke this past week with a nurse working with obesity prevention groups. She was also complaining that her prevention group leaders would not change and try new prevention techniques. Her nursing staff was accustomed to lecturing to obesity patients and therefore saw no need to change to a more interactive format.

In reading, change is twice as hard. You are not only trying to train workers to use new group prevention techniques (such as cohesion and interaction); you are also trying to train workers to use a totally new and different approach to teaching reading.

According to the Nation’s Report Card, approximately 40% of students across the nation are unable to read at grade level (Nation’s Report Card, 2013). This is not a new statistic, and the problem did not occur yesterday. The problem has been compounding without any sign of significant improvement for the past 12 years. With such a staggering history of failure, you would think that we would be eager to engage in a new approach. Such is not the case. Even after Congress commissioned the National Reading Panel (2000) to ascertain the most successful method for teaching reading and the panel stated that phonemic awareness (the teaching of sounds and decoding of sounds) was the best method for teaching students to read, the whole- language fight goes on.

The National Reading Panel (2000) stated emphatically that phonemic awareness worked better than “old style” phonics and better than whole-language—even blended methods. Yet, the majority of schools across the nation today still handout sight word strips for students to memorize each week (whole-language); even though, such methods have been proven ineffective (Blaunstein & Lyon, 2006; Fleming et al., 2004; Foorman et al., 2003; Keller & Just, 2009; McGuinness, 1997; National Reading Panel, 2000; Pullen Paige & Lane, 2014; Vaughn, Denton, & Fletcher, 2010). Phonemic awareness is not the same as old-style phonics or the new blended method. Shaywitz and Shaywitz (2007), Co-directors for the Yale Center for the Study of Learning, state it best: In order for a child to learn to read, the child must learn that (1) each and every word is composed of individual sounds (phonemes), (2) these sounds are represented by alphabetic letters, (3) some letters represent several sounds, and that (4) children or any struggling reader (Shaywitz, 2003) must learn how to pull words apart into their elemental phonemes and then put the letter sounds back together into words that have meaning.

Research has solidly proven that phonemic awareness (sounds) and the phonological understanding of those sounds and how they work together to form a word is by far the best way to teach children to read. Yet, there are still universities teaching new prospective teachers the whole-language method for teaching reading. Just this past week, a parent complained that her Kindergartener was failing because she could not memorize her sight word list each week (a whole-language technique). A college professor spoke to me recently and explained that all children need is more exposure to books. “If someone would just read to them, then the children could learn how to read.” Reading is a skill that must be taught; you cannot simply learn how to read by listening to someone else. Community groups are organizing to purchase and distribute new books in order to teach children to read, but simply handing a child a book, even a new book, will not teach the child how to read.

The newest trend is excitement. Pep rallies, costume characters, book collection drives, and free gifts are the latest fad in teaching children how to read. No, excitement is not the answer. Such an approach would be like giving someone a book in French. If they had not learned French, the book would be worthless because someone not schooled in reading French would not be able to read the book. Don’t get me wrong. I think that giving a child or teenager a book (new or used) is the best gift that you can ever give, but simply handing a child a book will not teach a child to read (even if the book is distributed through a very exciting program by a costumed character). You must teach the child to read first, and then give the child a book.

If you want to develop a group prevention program to teach children and teens to read, you must first combat this age old unwillingness to change from whole-language teaching techniques to phonemic awareness and phonological teaching techniques. Therefore, in your group prevention training program, you are not only teaching that prevention groups must be interactive (Conyne & Clanton Harpine, 2010); you must also prove that there is a need for a change and that prevention groups will offer the best means of change for your students. No, this will not be easy because you are combating years and years of denial. The challenge will be to change the ideology of your group leaders in respect to reading. You may not be able to accomplish this within the schools. If you encounter too much resistance to change, you might try establishing an after-school program through a community organization. After-school community-based programs can offer you more freedom and the opportunity to try new prevention ideas.

You may also find that you want to set up skill-building training sessions for your workers or volunteers so that they can learn how to work in a group setting. A prevention group is more than just a discussion, and it is certainly not the time for a lecture. Your training sessions may need to incorporate interaction and cohesion so that your workers can see how to use interaction and how to help group members build a cohesive group atmosphere. I find the best way to do this is by using group prevention techniques and interventions in my training sessions. Instead of the age old tradition of standing in front of your workers and explaining to them what you want them to do or lecturing to them about how the program will be conducted, set up training sessions that use a group prevention format. For example, I use group-centered prevention workstations for my program and my training sessions. In this way, workers and volunteers get to experience prevention techniques during the training program instead of just listening to me talk about interaction, cohesion, and working together as a group.

My answer to your question, how can you best teach people to use new prevention techniques, is to show your workers and volunteers how group prevention works during your training program. Let them experience group prevention in action.

We would like to continue this discussion and invite your comments and responses. Our next column will be devoted to the responses that we receive. Let us hear from you. We welcome your participation. We invite psychologists, counselors, prevention programmers, graduate students, teachers, administrators, and other mental health practitioners working with groups to network together, share ideas, problems, and become more involved. Please send comments, questions, and group prevention concerns to Elaine Clanton Harpine at clantonharpine@hotmail.com

References

Blaunstein, P., & Lyon, R. (2006). Why kids can’t read: Challenging the status quo in education. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman and Littlefield Education.

Conyne, R. K., & Clanton Harpine, E. (2010). Prevention groups: The shape of things to come. Group Dynamics: Theory, Research, and Practice, 14, 193-198. doi:10.1037/a0020446

Fleming, C. B., Harachi, T. W., Cortes, R. C., Abbott, R. D., & Catalano, R. F. (2004). Level and change in reading scores and attention problems during elementary school as predictors of problem behavior in middle school. Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders, 12, 130-144.

Foorman, B. R., Breier, J. I., & Fletcher, J. M. (2003). Interventions aimed at improving reading success: An evidence-based approach. Developmental Neuropsychology, 24, 613-639.

Keller, T., A., & Just, M. A. (2009). Altering cortical connectivity: Remediation-induced changes in the white matter of poor readers. Neuron, 64, 624-631. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2009.10.018

McGuinness, D. (1997). Why our children can’t read and what we can do about it: A scientific revolution in reading. New York: The Free Press.

National Center for Education Statistics. (2013). The nation’s report card: Reading 2013 (NCES 2012-457). National Center for educational statistics, Institute of education sciences, US Department of Education, Washington DC.

National Reading Panel, (2000). Teaching children to read: An evidence-based assessment of the scientific research literature on reading and its implications for reading instruction (NIH Publication No. 00-4754). Washington, DC: National Institute for Literacy.

Pullen Paige, C., & Lane, H. B. (2014). Teacher-directed decoding practice with manipulative letters and word reading skill development of struggling first grade students. Exceptionality, 22, 1.

Shaywitz, S. (2003). Overcoming Dyslexia: A new and complete science-based program for reading problems at any level. New York: Knopf.

Shaywitz, S. , & Shaywitz, B. (2007). Special topic: What neuroscience really tells us about reading instruction: A response to Judy Willis. Educational Leadership: Improving instruction for students with learning needs, 64(5), 74-76.

Vaughn, S., Denton, C. A., & Fletcher, J. M. (2010). Why intensive interactions are necessary for students with severe reading difficulties, Psychology in the Schools, 47, 432-444.