Moreover, U.S. students do not fare well on the international educational stage. At a time when globalization has brought much closer linkage between cultures, economies, and countries, American school children are lagging behind. The justification for focusing on strategies to keep children interested in school -- and to help them succeed in school -- is to be found in the fact that U.S. students' average scores are very poor in comparison to other students internationally.
To wit, according to the 2003 data from the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) (in cooperation with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, OECD), 15-year-old American students rank 24th out of 38 countries in science. U.S. students rank 12th of 38 countries in reading, and 26th of 38 in "problem solving." The 2006 assessment is just as grim, for those hoping that American schools are catching up to the rest of the world in academics.
Indeed, in the 2006 assessment, of 57 countries world wide, U.S. students 35th in math and 29th in science (OECD). As to the comparison of reading scores, they could not be reported because there were printing errors in U.S. test booklets, the OECD explains. In PISA's 2009 reading results, the U.S. students were 17th -- behind Iceland, Poland, Switzerland, Estonia, Norway, Belgium, Netherlands, Australia, Japan, New Zealand, Canada, Singapore, Hong Kong-China, Finland, Korea and #1, Shanghai-China (PISA, 2009).
Given the problems associated with academics and with students dropping out of high school, there is strong justification for conducting research into the positive outcomes associated with group counseling in middle school.
Definition of Terms
Group counseling (led by a professional counselor, a group of 5 to 7 students meet and learn strategies for success in academics); National Defense Education Act (NDEA) (money was made available to schools for many services, including counseling); American School Counselor Association (ASCA) (develops standards for counseling services in public schools); stakeholders (all those who are affected by the success or failure of schools); "at-risk" students (students that are in danger of failing due to a number of reasons, including academic struggles); positive self-talk (when a student has a strong self-concept or self-image); service-learning (learning how to share information with others; for example, middle school students acquire service learning skills that they then share skills by tutoring elementary students); Skill-Builders (fostering self-confidence and new skills in students that lag behind); self-disclosure (how much should a counselor reveal about his or her own life? There are limits to how much a leader should disclose to students); Experiential involvement (actual hands-on experience is referred to as experiential involvement).
Historical Background of Group Counseling
The history of group counseling cannot be traced precisely to any one era or place, because as Sally Barlow and colleagues point out, the "informal study of groups" has been occurring since humans began congregating together (Barlow, et al., 2004, p. 3). But the "written history of groups really only began at the fin-de-Siecle of the 19th Century," Barlow explains. The point Barlow makes near the beginning of the essay in Janice L. DeLucia-Waack's book is that saying "group counseling" means many things to different people. The application of psychotherapy is often done in group counseling sessions, for example, and "medical self-help groups" also meet in group counseling sessions. The "comprehensive definition" according to Barlow is that group therapy can be linked to "prevention, guidance, counseling, and training" (pp. 3-4).
To whom should credit be given for launching group counseling for any purpose? Barlow suggests it was Sigmund Freud, who had now-famous "Wednesday night meetings" with his students in Vienna, Austria, for instruction relating to understanding psychological issues. Of course this paper is linked to the need for academic help for middle school students, but there is certainly a psychological theme involved when you are asking adolescents to meet together in a group for additional scholarship support. The author asserts that by 1932, group counseling in the psychological context had been named "Group Therapy" and there were contributions to the practice of group sessions from social workers, school counseling, educational psychology, nursing, organizational behavior and clinical psychology, Barlow continues on page 5.
By the 1980s, Barlow explains, it was clear that group treatments were "effective" for whatever the particular cause or problem might have been. In the 1990s, serious research into the effectiveness of group therapy and group counseling continued, and "with few exceptions, the general conclusion to be drawn from an enormous number of studies, covering...
10). Humans gather together to help others and to receive help, Barlow goes on, and her empirical research indicates that "the human group phenomena titled 'group counseling'…clearly has a set of recognizable factors (skilled leaders…defined goals, etc.) that create positive outcomes" (p. 18). The human condition will always include some kind of shortcoming, suffering or "lack of adequate education," the author explains on page 18. Group counseling is "an intervention that can ameliorate many of these ills," she concludes.
Historical Background of Group Counseling in Schools
Meanwhile J. Board looks specifically at the origins of school counseling, the factors that led to the development of group counseling in schools "began in the 1890s with the social reform movement," Board writes in the State University site (Board, 2008, p. 1). Social and political reformer Frank Parsons is given credit by some for being what Board calls "The father of the vocational guidance movement." Parsons' work led to the creation of the Boston Vocation Bureau; by 1909 the bureau had launched a system of vocational guidance in the public schools of Boston. Other states and other countries were so impressed with the way the Boston Vocation Bureau counseling practice helped students, by 1918, Board continues, "there were documented accounts of the bureau's influence as far away as Uruguay and China."
In the early part of the 20th Century vocational guidance was the most practical help to give students, but as counseling advanced, "other personal concerns became part of the school counselor's agenda," Board explains. In the 1920s and 1930s school counseling went well beyond vocational issues and included educational, social and person aspects of a student's life. Though funds were hard to come by during the Great Depression, after World War II there were monies available for school counseling, and moreover, during that time Carl Rogers pointed the way to "nondirective" or "client-centered" counseling -- which placed the client in control of the direction of the counseling, Board continues on page 2.
When the National Defense Education Act (NDEA) was put on the books in 1958, partly in response to the Soviet Union's launching of Sputnik, money was made available to local school districts and some of those funds were used for counseling and guidance. Another milestone in the history of group counseling was the book by C. Gilbert Wrenn in 1962, called The Counselor in a Changing World. Board asserts that Wrenn's book "brought to light the need for more cultural sensitivity on the part of school counselors." Other influences that offered positive input regarding the school group counseling genre in the Sixties included: Frederick Perl's gestalt therapy; Abraham Maslow and Rollo May's "existential approach"; William Glasser's "reality therapy"; and John Krumboltz's behavioral counseling approach (Board, p. 2).
By the 1970s the school counselor position was becoming not a novelty or a rarity but a part of a school staff and program, Board explains (p. 2). In fact, there was by now a need for an accountability of services provided by school counselors and a recognition of the benefits realized by school counselors. In the 1980s training standards for school counseling were developed and although school counseling was "ignored" during the school reform movement of the 1990s, the American School Counselor Association (ASCA) developed national standards, "clearly defining the roles and responsibilities of school counseling programs" (Board, p. 30.
The American School Counselor Association Description of Counselor Duties
Middle school counselors are trained to offer proactive leadership and support, "both personally and developmentally," that "engages all stakeholders in the delivery of programs and services to help students achieve success in school," the American School Counselor Association (ASCA) explains on their Web site. The ASCA asserts that middle school counselors should have a "mental health perspective" as they help students respond to the "challenges" in society and within their diverse campus communities. The ASCA emphasizes that it is up to the middle school counselor to "design, develop" and be responsible for implementation and evaluation of a "comprehensive, developmental and systemic school counseling program." In this particular scholarship focus, it is the duty of the middle school teacher to design and develop a group counseling program, one that is "results-based" and "data driven" and that relates to students at this sometimes difficult time in their lives.
Indeed, middle school students are going through a period of very rapid physical growth and they are in search of an identity, hence the importance of the work of the counselor. Professional middle school counselors are expected to assist students…
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