Every fall we meet in our PLC to plan our program for the year. We start with our vision and mission, analyze the previous year’s data and advisory council feedback, the ScIP committee’s improvement goals, and we conduct a student needs assessment. We plan our program, including small groups, based on this information. The ASCA Mindsets and Behaviors are the guides to how we conduct our groups. We try to pique students’ interest by offering groups on engaging topics. Knowing that middle school students are developmentally focused on peer relationships, we’ve found that small groups are an excellent format for our students to learn from and with their peers. The struggles of young adolescence are many so our needs assessment surveyed students about groups on a variety of developmentally appropriate topics. In 2017-2018, we offered eleven topics aimed at improving academic achievement (Organization, SIXess, Relaxation, Changing Families, Grief/ Loss), attendance (Attendance, Girls’, Gender/Sexuality Alliance, Relaxation, Diversity, Feelings) and behavior (Friendship/Games). To select participants,we use the assessment results and also meet individually with our students for personal interviews making sure to ask which, if any, groups they would like to join. Because we publicize our programs, we receive parent requests and teacher recommendations to invite a child to join groups as well.
For our SIXess group, the process was similar. One of our school improvement goals was to increase student achievement and reduce failures. Mrs. Carroll chose the Mindsets and Behaviors M5, “Belief in using abilities to their fullest to achieve high-quality results and outcomes” and B-SMS 2, “Demonstrate self-discipline and self-control”, which she felt were most likely to help move students from failing to passing grades. She then invited every 6th-grade student who was failing two or more academic classes at the end of the third marking period to participate in the group. Every lesson tied in to one or both of these standards for success, from writing SMART goals to learning about self-control via the example of the “Marshmallow Test.” Every question on her pre and post-survey addressed these standards, too.
The group’s results showed outcome data improvements with 5/10 students now passing for the year and the total number of Fs dropping from 23 to 13, as well as perception data improvements, with an overall 12.5% increase in the results on the post-survey. Because of this success, we will expand the offering to at-risk students in all grades. Data shows targeted students had a significant drop in grades for marking periods two and three, so next year we plan to implement this group earlier in the school year to improve student success, and then follow up with refresher lessons later in the year.
The perception data for this 10-student sample indicated that these students already held belief M 5, but perhaps, given a deeper analysis of gradebook grades and discussions with teachers, they could better benefit from another standard: B-LS 4, “Apply self-motivation and self-direction to learning” since these sources indicated that lack of homework was the major cause for their failing grades. The students who attended were engaged in the lessons and expressed appreciation at having time to start their homework. It may be useful to add a pre and post-test on knowledge of school requirements and homework strategies.
We will continue to implement all of these lessons, and will also add several more. We hope that an expansion of lesson #3, “Fostering self-discipline and self-control”, into two or three separate lessons using a variety of modalities, would have the dual effect of being more successful at instilling these qualities, while also allowing these at-risk students more weeks of instruction and time to complete homework during school.
Our small group counseling services are fluid and responsive to student needs as shown through data. We collect and analyze it, judging our ultimate success at the end of the year against the outcome data. We continually tweak groups’ timing, duration, topics and focus all to better achieve our goal: helping students improve in their academic achievement, attendance and behavior. By frequently stepping back and analyzing our data we can improve all of our small groups for the good of our students.