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?  


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.  


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). 


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).


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