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Using Group-Prevention to Target School Climate

Shana Ingram, BA
Shana Ingram, BA

Using Group-Prevention to Target School Climate

Bullying is not a new phenomenon, but its presence in our schools and its harmful effects not only in childhood and adolescence but throughout life is one of the most pressing reasons behind finding and implementing successful, sustainable prevention programs. If children do not feel safe in school, how can they be expected to learn? Providing a safe, supportive school environment is crucial in fostering academic and socioemotional success (Cohen, McCabe, Michelli, & Pickeral, 2009). This school environment, also known as school climate, reflects the quality of life experienced while at school and consists of students’, parents’, and other school personnel’s experiences (National School Climate Council, 2012). Research has shown that positive school climates promote academic achievement and social development (McEvoy & Welker, 2000), while negative school climates lead to increased aggression (i.e., bullying, assault), lower levels of academic achievement, and truancy (Astor, Guerra, & Van Acker, 2010). Regarding the prevalence of bullying in schools, recent statistics from the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Educational Statistics [NCES] show that, in 2015, approximately 21% of students between the ages of 12 and 18 experienced bullying while at school. Overall, 13.3% reported verbal harassment and 5.1% reported physical harassment. While females reported higher rates of overall bullying, specifically bullying relating to verbal harassment, males reported higher rates of physical assaults. Based on this study, bullying appears to occur more during middle school. Also, Black and White students reported more instances of bullying than Hispanic students.

Although there have been many programs that have worked to address socioemotional concerns in school systems, the majority of these programs have been found to be ineffective for a variety of reasons. However, the Safe and Welcoming Schools project at the University of Georgia focuses on improving school climate using prevention methods that are tailored to the school’s needs, and early findings related to the program’s effectiveness have been encouraging (Raczynski, n.d.).

I would like to invite others to share their experiences with programs that have effectively used prevention to target school climate and/or bullying within secondary schools.    

Shana Ingram seingram526@gmail.com

 

 

 

References

 

Astor, R. A., Guerra, N., Van Acker, R. (2010). How can we improve school safety research? Educational Researcher, 39, 69-78.

Cohen, J., McCabe, E. M., Michelli, N. M., & Pickeral, T. (2009). School climate: Research, policy, practice, and teacher education. Teachers College Record, 111(1), 180-213.

McEvoy, A., & Welker, R. (2000). Antisocial behavior, academic failure, and school climate: A critical review. Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders, 8(3), 130-140.

National School Climate Council. (2012). School climate. Retrieved from http://www.schoolclimate.org/climate/

Raczynski, K. (n.d.). The Safe and Welcoming Schools Partnership: A university-school district collaboration for improving school climate. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/pi/families/resources/safe-schools/university-school-district.pdf

U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. (2017). Indicators of School Crime and Safety: 2016 (NCES 2017-064), Indicator 11.

 

 

 

 

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Prevention Corner: Preventing Stigma and Suicide Through Mental Health Awareness

Shana Ingram, BA
Shana Ingram, BA

Prevention Corner: Preventing Stigma and Suicide Through Mental Health Awareness

While fall can be a very exciting time of year for kids going back to school, freshmen just starting college, and gatherings with loved ones for the numerous holidays throughout the season, it inevitably brings about change, sometimes life-altering change, which can be very unsettling for many individuals. For some, this time of year means returning to an environment where personal safety is a concern due to bullying, or becoming familiarized with a new environment away from home proves challenging, or perhaps making it through the holiday season with or without loved ones becomes more difficult than expected. Regardless of the different types of obstacles people encounter during this season, many people will also experience the unwelcome feelings of anxiety, depression, and despair as a result of these struggles. While not everyone who experiences these feelings will ultimately seek mental health services for a variety of reasons, unfortunately, these feelings, especially when left untreated, will result in suicidal ideation and attempts for many individuals. Some of the risk factors associated with suicidal ideation and attempts include stressful life events, history of substance use, history of mental illness, and stigma surrounding mental illness and help-seeking behaviors (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], 2017). Despite the many treatment routes individuals can choose to alleviate the thoughts and feelings associated with suicide, if people feel stigmatized for seeking mental health services, treatment will likely be avoided, or discontinued, and issues may continue to worsen until it is too late. One way to diminish the harmful and deadly effects of stigma surrounding mental health issues is to better educate the public by engaging in more open discussions about mental health, and also by challenging media interpretations of individuals suffering from mental illness (Corrigan, 2004). There are many successful organizations working around the world to fight mental health stigma, particularly the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) in the United States (Rüsch, Angermeyer, & Corrigan, 2005). NAMI provides a wide range of services relating to mental health, including educational classes and support groups for individuals with mental health needs and for families of individuals with mental illness, as well as presentations focusing on promoting mental health awareness (NAMI, 2017). Recent research has noted the positive impact this organization has had on mental health advocacy efforts (Fitzpatrick, 2017).

While efforts to promote mental health awareness and decrease the stigma associated with mental health issues, including suicide, is important for everyone across all age groups, prevention efforts are particularly important for individuals between the ages of 15 and 34 since suicide rates are one of the leading causes of death during this time (CDC, 2015). This is understandable since this wide range of time encompasses extensive changes, such as the social and emotional changes related to adolescent development and the onset of mental health issues (Kessler, Berglund, Demler, Jin, & Merikangas, 2005). In the following issue of this column, I will invite individuals who have experience working in prevention efforts targeting areas associated with stigma and suicide with individuals in this age range, such as school climate and bullying, to share their experiences.

If you or someone you know is experiencing thoughts of suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).

References

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2015). 10 leading causes of death, United States. Atlanta, GA: National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. Retrieved from https://webappa.cdc.gov/cgi-bin/broker.exe

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2017). Preventing suicide. Atlanta, GA: National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Division of Violence Prevention. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/features/preventingsuicide/index.html

Corrigan, P. (2004). How stigma interferes with mental health care. American Psychologist, 59(7), 614-625.

Fitzpatrick, J. J. (2017). Psychiatric mental health nurses and family caregivers: Creating synergy. Archives of Psychiatric Nursing, 31(5), 431.

Kessler, R. C., Berglund, P., Demler, O., Jin, R., & Merikangas, K. R. (2005). Lifetime prevalence and age-of-onset distributions of DSM-IV disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication. Archives of General Psychiatry, 62, 593-602.

National Alliance on Mental Illness. (2017). NAMI programs. Retrieved from https://www.nami.org/Find-Support/NAMI-Programs.

Rüsch, N., Angermeyer, M. C., & Corrigan, P. W. (2005). Mental illness stigma: Concepts, consequences, and initiatives to reduce stigma. European Psychiatry, 20(8), 529-539.

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Brief Articles

Prevention Corner: Reading Orienteering Club

Shana Ingram, BA
Shana Ingram, BA

Prevention Corner: Reading Orienteering Club

As of 2015, 64% of fourth grade and 66% of eighth grade students were still reading below national proficiency standards (National Center for Education Statistics, 2015).  These numbers are troubling since illiteracy has been linked to lower socioeconomic status and poor health (Dugdale & Clark, 2008).  The importance of learning how to read cannot be understated, and, as such, it is vital that prevention programs target reading skills in childhood.  One program that aims to help children overcome difficulties with reading, as well as difficulties with interpersonal relationships, is the Reading Orienteering Club (ROC) founded by Dr. Clanton Harpine.  This program combines teaching and counseling in order to maximize academic benefits in an approach known as group-centered prevention (Clanton Harpine, 2015).  This format for a reading prevention group is incredibly important for two reasons.  First, combining academic and therapeutic interventions in prevention programs has been linked to a higher likelihood of obtaining academic success (Baskin, Slaten, Sorenson, Glover-Russell, & Merson, 2010), and, second, research has shown that teaching in groups, especially in small groups, leads to better results than other forms of teaching instruction (National Reading Panel, 2000).  Although this program originated in Ohio, it has found a home in Aiken, South Carolina, and, under the careful direction of Dr. Clanton Harpine, has experienced great success in improving children’s reading abilities and interpersonal skills for many years.  Even though Dr. Clanton Harpine is retiring this year, the ROC will continue under the guidance of Collytte Cederstrom, a former intern whom I worked with at the clinic while I was an undergraduate, as well as three additional team members, Sara Puckett, Matt Haslinger, and Ashley Conklin, and a rotation of church, community, and student volunteers.  Dr. Clanton Harpine was kind enough to share her thoughts on building and continuing a sustainable student-run reading prevention program, as well as the important effects of these programs for students and the larger community.  

While the ROC has typically depended on student volunteers from local undergraduate courses in order to operate fully, this proved challenging at times due to the high number of children in the program, the fluctuating number of volunteers, and the small number of permanent team members working in the clinic.  This past year, Dr. Clanton Harpine sought to enlarge her team of permanent members in order to provide more stability to the program, and, did so successfully.  The ROC now has four permanent team members and each member is in charge of their own room within the clinic with the children rotating throughout the workstations in each room.  Having this consistent, larger student presence in the clinic has not only provided a stronger base for the program, but will also continue to provide more opportunities for students and community members to gain experience working in a prevention group setting.  In addition to these permanent team members, the clinic will still rely on student volunteers, as well as community volunteers, and a rotation of church volunteers.  Community involvement has always played a role in the success of the ROC, but it seems the remarkable improvement shown by students in the program these past few years has garnered even more community and financial support, which will be vital in continuing this program.  

Although group prevention programs for academic purposes are often overlooked in favor of individual tutoring, for the 2016-2017 academic year, the ROC had two students move up four grade levels, three students move up three grade levels, and five students move up two grade levels.  In addition to the success the program has had in improving students’ reading abilities, this program, as well as others like it, also provide an area for job growth, specifically for students graduating with bachelor’s degrees in psychology who do not wish to, or are unable to, attend graduate school (Clanton Harpine, 2016).  Overall, group prevention programs represent a field that will not only benefit the participants in the programs, but also the communities they are a part of by providing more opportunities for support and job expansion.    

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.

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

Clanton Harpine, E. (2016). Prevention Corner: Why can’t I get a job with a four year degree in psychology. The Group Psychologist, 26(2).

Dugdale, G., & Clark, C. (2008). Literacy changes lives: An advocacy resource. London, UK: National Literacy Trust.

National Center for Education Statistics. (2015). The Nation’s Report Card: Reading 2011 (NCES 2015-457). Washington, D.C.: Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. 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).

 

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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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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

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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.

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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

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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.

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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