Changes in self-concept and academic skills during a multimodal summer camp program

Changes in self-concept and academic skills during a multimodal summer camp program

Westervelt, Van D

The impact of a six-week multimodal summer camp program on the self-concept and reading/writing skills of a group of dyslexic students (n = 42) was assessed. Campers ranged in age from 9 to 14 years (mean = 11 years, 5 months) and came from public, private, and specialized private schools serving students with learning disability (LD). Twenty-six percent of the sample had a comorbid diagnoses of attention deficit disorder (ADD) and 11 percent had attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Campers improved significantly in phonetic reading and spelling skills, but not in sight word vocabulary or reading speed. Campers also exhibited significant improvements in self-concept, both on a general level and in the specific areas of reading and overall academic competence. The kinds of changes observed on the more general measures of self-concept, however, were not the same for the various groups of campers. Campers from regular private

schools and from public schools typically experienced greater gains in general self-concept than did campers from LD private schools. Campers with diagnosed comorbid disorders typically realized little or no gains, whereas campers without ADD or ADHD displayed significant improvement in general self-concept.


Many educators endorse using the summer months to enhance children’s basic academic skills which are deficient relative to age and/or cognitive ability (Conderman, Snider, and Crawford 1997). One of the early camp programs for dyslexic students was established in 1946 by Helene C. Durbrow in the foothills of Vermont’s Green Mountains through the encouragement of her colleagues and mentors, Samuel Orton and Anna Gillingham. After a few summers of the eight-week sessions, it was clear not only that the camp improved deficient reading, spelling, and writing skills, but also that positive socialemotional changes occurred along with the acquisition of academic and physical skills. These were informally observed by staff and were noticeable to parents in the fall. The camp’s guiding theme soon became “a strong mind in a strong body.”

Many states now offer sleep-away camps for children to address academic, social-emotional, and physical skill development. Some camps are more comprehensive in their mission than others. One comprehensive camp is Camp Glencoe outside of Baltimore which runs a six-week summer session (five days a week boarding) for children with specific reading disabilities (dyslexia). The camp offers many features not experienced by most children during the school year. These include a chance to meet other capable students with specific academic weaknesses, a structured and balanced day where they can receive one-onone instruction targeted to their needs at a time of day when they are the freshest, recreational activities that range from challenging to purely fun, creative arts, and group living with peers and young adult counselors. Exposure to radio and television is minimized to encourage pleasure reading, contact with nature, and more interpersonal involvement.

Children with specific learning disabilities have been shown to experience a lack of confidence in approaching academic tasks (Harter 1990). The presence of a negative self-concept in regard to a certain academic skill area can be a factor in the future development of that skill. Using math as an example, Marsh (1990) has reviewed findings (Meece et al. 1982; Relich 1983; Marsh, Smith, and Barnes 1985) that indicate that, relative to boys, fifth- and sixth-grade girls have higher math achievement levels but lower math self-concepts. Interestingly, by high school, girls’ math achievement is significantly lower than boys, thereby falling in line with their previously evident lower selfconcepts in math. Although a multitude of factors may be at play, such a pattern suggests that a socialization process, as reflected by self-concept, may precede and influence later achievement differences. Such a process could further impair learning disabled children who do not feel they have the potential to improve deficit skills.

In order to determine the multidomain impact of a summer camp program, both academic and self-concept measures need to be employed. In this program, academic measures focused on growth in phonological awareness. The efficacy of intensive programs focusing on phonological awareness skills in students, kindergarten through elementary school, has been documented (Wagner, Torgesen, and Rashotte 1993). Torgesen and Davis (1996) note the substantial evidence linking early development of phonological awareness and subsequent acquisition of reading skills. When phonological awareness is explicitly taught and related to beginning reading activities, significant growth in reading skills occurs. This process is at the core of many phonetics-based instructional curriculums. Camp Glencoe’s language program is based on the OrtonGillingham approach of teaching phonetic concepts, progressing from the simple to the complex, learned and reinforced through all the senses (Gillingham and Stillman 1997). The multisensory emphasis of this program meets the needs of students with poor visual and/or auditory memories. Every student learns the language from single sounds and letters to syllables, words, phrases, and sentences. This approach develops skills in oral language, reading, writing, and spelling. The efficacy of individualized and systematically sequenced phonetics-based interventions for reading deficits in elementary through high school aged students has been substantially documented (Ball and Blachman 1988; Felton 1993; Greene 1993, 1996; Lyon 1995).

The measurement of self-concept in children is derived mainly through two theoretical perspectives (Harter 1990). One model (Rosenberg 1979) emphasizes a person’s general sense of self-esteem or self-worth, and the other (Shavelson, Hubner, and Stanton 1976; Harter 1986) postulates that self-concept is multidimensional and made up of a person’s perceived competence in multiple specific domains. Harter (1986) has delineated five specific domains–scholastic competence, athletic competence, physical appearance, peer social acceptance, and behavioral conduct–which children can distinguish and reliably rate themselves on by eight years of age. Based on the Shavelson, Hubner, and Stanton (1976) theory of a multifaceted, hierarchical model of self-concept, Marsh et al. (1984) developed the SelfDescription Questionnaire-I (SDQ-I) (see Figure 1), which incorporates academic and nonacademic facets of self-concept, and also has a “general self” scale designed to capture Rosenberg’s more global sense of self-esteem. Marsh’s measure provides a helpful degree of specificity of subdomains that appeared to be relevant to our camp intervention.

The purpose of this study was to document the changes in children’s self-concept and select academic skills during a comprehensive six-week camp program for dyslexic students involving multiple modes of intervention: tutorial instruction, interpersonal, and physical skill development. We hypothesized that campers would make gains in reading and spelling skills. In addition, we expected concurrent improvements in specific areas of self-concept pertaining to confidence in reading, general school abilities, physical abilities, and peer relations.



The 48 students participating in the camp program had been previously diagnosed with reading and/or written language disabilities and were referred by parents, educators, and psychologists from the Baltimore-Washington area. Thirty percent were from specialized private schools for learning disabled students, 45 percent attended regular private schools, and 25 percent were from public school settings. The campers were generally from middleto upper-middle-class families. Nine children received tuition waivers: one full and eight partial. The age of the campers ranged from 9 years, 3 months to 14 years, 3 months, with a mean age of 11 years, 5 months. Other characteristics were gender (64 percent boys, 36 percent girls), race (85 percent white, 15 percent black), and comorbidity (26 percent ADD, 11 percent ADHD). Forty-two campers had received an intellectual evaluation with the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children – Third Edition (WISC-III) within the past three years, and the remainder had been tested with the WISC-III (n = 4) or WISC-R (n = 2) within the past six years. For the whole sample, the standard score means and standard deviations were Verbal IQ 112 (13), Performance IQ 108 (17), and Full Scale IQ 111 (15).

Because of family vacations and one broken ankle, six of the 48 students were not present for the standardized academic posttests; complete academic data was available for the remaining 88 percent of the campers. Due to logistical problems in implementing the self-concept testing as a new procedure in the camp program, only 32/48 (67 percent) of the campers received both the pre- and posttests on that measure. The characteristics of this subset were not significantly different from the whole camper group except the percentage of boys went from 65 percent to 54 percent.


All of the campers with comorbid ADHD or ADD were on their morning dose of stimulant medication during the camp program. The campers received the following academic measures, individually administered, at testing sessions one to three weeks before camp and again immediately at the end of camp: Woodcock Johnson-Revised Word Attack subtest (Woodcock 1989); Diagnostic Potential Spelling Test (DP) (Arena 1982); and the Gray Oral Reading Test – Third Edition (Wiederholt and Bryant 1992). For the spelling test (DP) and the Gray Oral (GORT-3), alternate forms were used for the preand posttests.

To measure self-concept, the campers received the 76-item SDQ-I which yields subscales in four nonacademic areas, three academic areas, and a separate General Self scale (shown in figure 1). Sample items from each subscale are presented in table I. The subscales, in turn, sum into nonacademic, academic, and total self scores (separate from the General Self scale). Test items were read to the campers individually or in small groups, and campers circled one of the five responses in a grid labeled False, Mostly False, Sometimes False/ Sometimes True, Mostly True, and True. The internal consistency reliability estimates for the various scales and total scores are in the .80s or .90s whereas the average correlation among the individual self-concept scales is relatively low, with a mean of r = .17 (Marsh 1990). The stability of fourth to sixth graders’ self-concepts over a six month interval was high for both individual scales (mean r = .61) and total score (mean r = .65) (Marsh 1990). Although the instrument is normed on school-aged children from Australia, a sample of American students taking the SDQ revealed only slight differences compared to Australian children (Marsh 1994).


The setting for the camp was a girl’s boarding school in the rolling hills of Greenspring Valley outside of Baltimore, Maryland, which was leased for the summer.

Staff Assembling a capable staff is an essential part of producing a successful outcome for the camp session. The camp model tends to attract energetic individuals with idealistic interests in counseling and educational intervention. Some counselors and tutors identify with the camper population from previous experience with learning disabilities in family members or in themselves. Training sessions for both counselors and tutors involved a rigorous schedule covering theoretical viewpoints and practical application of intervention techniques during a precamp week. The sessions were both didactic and experiential, which enabled the camp staff to develop a high degree of cohesion and open communication. The academic staff of sixteen tutors was composed mainly of teachers who had varying degrees of background experience in Orton-Gillingham type approaches, and who worked during the school year with LD students in private or public school settings. Each tutor was assigned to work individually with three to five students. In addition, four tutor interns worked under supervision with two students each. Tutors received a review of Orton-Gillingham instruction (Gillingham and Stillman 1997) and other phonetic approaches (Wilson 1988), and shared complementary techniques with each other.

The counselors were mainly college students with interests in education, psychology, or health care. The counselor training followed a handbook covering communication, conflict management, creative problem-solving, camper incentives, and general camp procedures.

During the precamp week, full staff meetings were held to develop individual profiles on each camper based on application materials and prior contact with the student. Strengths and weaknesses in academic and interpersonal skills, along with activity interests outlined in the profile, heightened the staff’s awareness of how to engage campers and be of help from the outset.

Academic. Grouped by age, the campers moved through a daily individualized schedule. The morning hours were used for tutorials employing the multisensory and phonetics-based methods of language instruction. The core curriculum was Orton-Gillingham. Depending on the student’s skill level, elements of sound/symbol relationships were taught, including how sounds are made in the mouth and throat, and how letters are written. The sequence of phonetic concepts progressed in the following order: single letters, digraphs, diphthongs, syllable types, syllable division patterns, roots, and affixes. The multisensory method included the presentation of information through the tactile/kinesthetic pathway, as well as through the auditory and visual pathways. Techniques such as tracing letters in the sand, skywriting, writing with eyes closed, identifying a letter written on one’s back, and feeling the mouth/tongue positions when producing a sound engage the tactile/kinesthetic pathways. When students see a word, then say it and write it simultaneously, all three pathways are activated, increasing the likelihood that the word, with practice, will be committed to memory. Work with written language was guided by Diana King’s (1989) curriculum for writing and keyboarding.

Each camper’s hour of tutoring was complemented by an hour of supervised study hall and at least one half hour of oral reading. Daily oral reading was important to help the student make progress toward the goal of reading fluently, with understanding, and for enjoyment. The oral reading sessions allowed the tutor and student to know which skills had become internalized and automatic and which skills needed continued attention and reinforcement in isolation. Selection of books was geared to the student’s reading skill level, vocabulary, and interests. On a weekly basis, the staff documented camper progress (or regress) on cards, which were submitted at staff meetings. On these cards, tutors noted progression: decoding/encoding skills, organization, pace, and study habits. Tutors acknowledged campers’ achievement by placing their names on the roster of the Write Stuff Club, which was published in the weekly newsletter, The Homing Pigeon. Individually based criteria regarding progress and effort made it possible for each camper to achieve academic recognition, possibly for the first time ever. The tutor-camper relationship became one of trust and revelation. Campers realized in a short time that they could learn ways of doing “school stuff” that previously had not been available to them. In recognition of the close relationship attained, tutors presented a lavishly wrapped book to each of their campers at the banquet finale.

Psychosocial. For many of the children, the scars of struggling unsuccessfully in academic settings were quite apparent. Children would withdraw, avoid, subtly or overtly disrupt tutorials, and exhibit sarcasm, which could progress to frustration or anger when they were confronted with tasks that exposed their academic weaknesses. The counselors and tutors were committed to providing an experience that would interrupt this process of self-esteem deflation, by using dialogue, interactions, and sequenced learning opportunities. The staff saw themselves as “bricklayers” of positive esteem, building a more solid foundation of confidence and skills with which campers could engage their school tasks in the fall.

Three general themes governed staff practices:

1. Take every opportunity to praise a child.

2. Confidence comes through successful performancecreate an environment where a child can succeed.

3. Prompt campers to be esteem builders among themselves.

With regard to the first theme, “taking every opportunity to praise a child,” counselors worked to transform themselves into observant people who were on the “hunt” for times that they could inject uplifting statements about campers. Counselors were guided by the belief that if they were not sincere, the campers would pick up on that right away and kind words would turn into a joke. Counselors also realized that they needed to gain the campers’ respect, as any statement that came from a person the campers valued would go a long way.

The staff also built in opportunities to praise campers. Breakfast was a time of general announcements, and was also used as a time for individual recognition of as many campers as possible. Recognition was in the form of verbal praises accompanied by awards of food. A person would win the “golden banana” if they had an outstanding night. The “orange you cool” was given to someone who had shown a bright spirit that morning. The “buddy bagel” recognized two friends who had treated each other well. As time went on, counselors focussed more on specific attributes they wished to highlight. At lunch, counselors gave the “sunshine” award, to praise someone who had done an act of kindness that brightened someone else’s day. In the evenings they would comfort a child who was feeling down by doing the “dead lift.” The unhappy child was lifted over the heads of other campers, while validations were voiced, in an attempt to raise the child’s spirits. As the summer progressed and counselors became better acquainted with the students, the awards and praise time became opportunities to deepen relationships.

Camp staff held the conviction that children feel confidence through success, so they set out to create environments where campers could succeed. At breakfast, a place where all the campers were together, campers were taught the importance of clapping and cheering for each other. Many announcements and activities that had initially been run by adults in the morning were turned over to the campers. Children were chosen to stand up and tell a joke, give the weather, outline the day, or share any other news that had to be given. Afterwards, they were bathed in applause. Some children who had never previously talked in school learned, through these little exercises, that they could stand up in front of people and do well.

Both athletic and academic performance were always recognized through medals, certificates, and creative trophies. However, counselors also wished to recognize the campers who did not excel in these areas. As they got to know the campers better, the counselors began to design tournaments and activities to highlight the talents of the children who were not quite as capable in sports or academics. One example was a staring contest that the staff held for a withdrawn child. Over the course of several meals, this boy out-stared everyone at his table, then the winners of other tables, until he was in the final stare-down with a girl. With their eyes locked and faces frozen, he began to minutely wiggle his ears which caused the girl to break into a smile and his fellow campers to cheer loudly. This victory was a turning point for this boy who subsequently became more involved with the other campers and camp activities.

At sunset, staff and campers ate snacks while each child was encouraged to share with the others, his or her thoughts about the day. It was truly encouraging to watch campers be supported and take risks.

The camp was run on the principle that to be able to build esteem in others, one must have a fair appreciation of one’s own self-worth. Conversely, to maintain self-esteem, one must be able to build it in others. Counselors were committed to teaching the campers how to become esteem builders of others. During the last three weeks of camp, the staff used several tools to encourage positive affirmation among the campers. In one activity, students gave each other pennies, saying something they appreciated about the next child as they handed over the penny. Another activity around the campfire involved one person leaving while the group came up with uplifting statements which were related by the group, one at a time, when the person returned. The session concluded with a candle-lighting ceremony in which campers stood up and acknowledged one person who had “lit a fire under them” over the summer.



It is to be expected that children entering camp programs such as the one studied here will generally have self-concept profiles that differ somewhat from those of the reference group norms. Means are based on scale scores that have been standardized to the reference group norms with a mean of zero and a standard deviation of one. As can be seen in table II, the initial mean self-concept scores for the total sample of Camp Glencoe children are in keeping with this expectation. The children entered camp with an average reading self-concept score that was well below the norm, and were generally below the norm regarding their overall confidence to perform in school. They also tended to have lower selfconcepts where physical ability was concerned, although to a slightly lesser degree. On the other hand, campers generally came in with significantly greater than average self-concept scores about their physical appearance.

Gain scores on the “total self” score generated from the SDQ-I confirmed our personal sense that the camp experience had a positive impact on overall self-concept. The mean total self-concept score for campers, which was 29.61 prior to camp, rose to 31.20 by the session’s end. A simple repeated measures ANOVA indicates that this increase was significant at p = .002, F(1,31) = 11.416.

Our interest, however, was in pinpointing where subjects experienced the most substantial changes in self-concept. The “nesting” of more specific scales within the total scale allows just that. By including each distinct set of variables in a doubly multivariate repeated measures design, we tested whether significant increases occurred in connection with the set as a whole, while simultaneously checking to see in which specific area(s) such improvement has occurred.

When the total scale was divided into academic and nonacademic components, the overall change observed across the two scales was statistically significant, F(2,30) = 5.597, p = .009. When each scale is considered separately, we find that increases are also statistically significant, F(1,31) = 8.260, p = .007 for the academic scale; F(1,31) = 5.827, p = .022 for the nonacademic scale. The mean academic self-concept score increased more than two points (from 27.10 to 29.27) whereas the corresponding value for the nonacademic scale increased about half as much (from 32.12 to 33.14).

Breaking these composite scales down still further affords more of an opportunity to do the sort of pinpointing discussed above, as the SDQ-I provides the national normative data needed to standardize the raw scores generated by the basic scales. This allows us to identify the specific areas wherein significant changes occurred, and to make direct comparisons across scales.

We turn first to the campers’ scores on the SDQ-I’s three academic scales which, when combined, yield a significant multivariate F-ratio, p = .023 F(3,30) = 3.672. This justifies a separate look at the changes in each of the three scales. As depicted in figure 2, the increases observed in connection with selfassessments of reading skills and of general school skills were roughly equivalent (from -.41 to -.OS on the reading scale; from -.52 to -.18 on the general school scale). In both cases, moreover, the increases were statistically significant, F(1,32) = 6.913, p = .013 for the reading scale; F(1,32) = 7.278, p = .011 for the general school scale. In sum, the increase in overall academic self-concept can be rather neatly characterized as a joint increase in campers’ assessments of their specific capacities to read, and of their more general capacities to perform in school.

Unfortunately, we cannot be so precise regarding where changes occurred in connection with nonacademic factors. When the four nonacademic scales were entered into a repeated measures ANOVA, the overall change across this whole set of scales was not great enough to give us much confidence in our ability to isolate singly significant changes, F(4,29) = 1.542, p = .216. Although the composite nonacademic measure (formed by adding the four scales) does indicate significant gain as mentioned earlier, there is little that we can say to identify more specific areas of gain. Accordingly, figure 2 does not depict the changes observed in campers’ mean scores on the four nonacademic scales.

The final change depicted in figure 2 involves the General Self scale, the one basic SDQ-I scale not included in any of the academic or nonacademic composite measures. Here, as with the reading and general school scales, the mean standardized score increased substantially from pretest to posttest (from .21 to .39), and this increase was statistically significant F(1,32) = 5.213, p = .029.

In addition to testing for basic treatment effects, we also explored the possibility that the treatment might interact significantly with certain between-subject factors. The type of school regularly attended and any prior diagnosis of comorbid disorders were the two most promising factors to consider along these lines. The consistent informal observation was that treatment seemed to have the greatest effects on the self-esteem of those students who were enrolled in regular private schools, modest effects for those who attended public school, and the smallest effects for students from specialized private schools for the learning disabled. This was confirmed by a significant correlation between treatment and school type on the General Self scale, F(2,28) = 8.132, p = .002.1

Figure 3 depicts the differential treatment effects on this scale across the various school types represented. Notice that campers from regular private schools showed the greatest increase in mean general self-concept scores (from .08 to .51), while campers from public schools also showed substantial gains (from .30 to .49). Mean scores for campers from specialized private schools actually tended to decrease, although we should note that in and of itself, this decrease (from .31 to .18) is not statistically significant. In any case, the overall pattern is typical of what we find whenever we observe how treatment interacts with school type in its effects on campers’ self-concepts.

In addition, campers who were diagnosed with ADD or ADHD generally manifested much smaller increases in selfconcept than campers without such disorders, as evident in a significant interaction between treatment diagnosed comorbid disorder on general self-concept F(2,28) = 3.567, p = .042.

Figure 4 illustrates the typical pattern for the interaction of treatment with comorbid diagnoses. Campers with no diagnosed comorbid disorders showed a marked increase in General Self scores (from .10 to .39), while those campers diagnosed ADD or ADHD showed almost no change (from .50 to .51 and from .04 to .03, respectively).


The second series of analyses dealt with the effects of the camp experience on participants’ reading abilities as measured by a battery of standardized tests. All raw scores from the tests were converted to percentiles for the purposes of analysis. The investigation followed much the same course as that above, with doubly multivariate repeated-measures analyses of variance generating the relevant test statistics.2

The changes observed in reading from pretest to posttest are presented in table II. The multivariate statistics assessing overall changes across the full complement of tests, F(6,35) = 8.777, p

The amount of improvement, however, varied greatly from test to test. The largest average increase was observed in connection with the Woodcock-Johnson Word Attack subtest (from 43 to 57). The next largest occurred in connection with the accuracy component of GORT-3 (from 31 to 41), while the two remaining components of the DP test–phonetic (from 39 to 47) and spelling (from 32 to 39)–showed more modest gains. Comparing changes in percentile scores can, of course, be problematic, but the comparative magnitude of these effects are confirmed by the fact that the values of Eta-squared for the various tests fall into the same pattern. The largest one is associated with the treatment effect on Word Attack scores (.402), followed by the GORT-3 accuracy component (.253) and the two DP test components (.215 for phonetic and .224 for spelling).

Recognizing that the kinds of interactions previously observed between treatment and school type or comorbid diagnosis might might also apply to academic gains, we conducted a final analysis incorporating the two between-subject factors. However, these interactions were not significant: F(12,64) = 1.442, p = .171 for treatment x school type; F(12,64) = 1.302, p = .240, for treatment x comorbid diagnosis.3 The increase in reading abilities associated with the camp program was equally distributed across the various groups of campers.


This study was designed to assess the effectiveness of a summer camp program for dyslexic students on two different fronts. The conventional evaluative focus for such programs is on their success in improving objective reading skills. Beyond this, however, this study also sought to evaluate how much such programs contribute to a subjective sense of competency in reading, and perhaps in other areas as well. Several observations made over the course of the study suggest that, for most campers, the camp program was effective on both fronts.

First, the children in the study exhibited clear improvements in phonetic reading and spelling skills, but not in sight word knowledge or in rate of reading skills. This finding parallels results of an intensive eight-week tutorial program for third, fourth, and fifth graders involving systematic, explicit instruction in phonics (Torgesen, Rashotte, and Wagner 1997). Very large gains in phonetic reading skills were evident over a relatively short period, but deficient skills remained for fluency of both phonetic decoding and sight-word reading. Other intervention studies have produced similar results (McGuinness, McGuinness, and McGuinness 1996; Alexander et al. 1991). At least in a six-week summer program, acquisition of decoding skills do not move the student into the automatic and fluent reading that is characteristic of skillful readers. Fluency is receiving increased attention from researchers as a potential key to understanding and improving the reading levels of deficient readers (Foorman, Francis, and Fletcher 1997; Torgesen, Rashotte, and Wagner 1997).

Second, the observed academic improvements were closely linked to the specific interventions employed, with little indication that they were any more or less pronounced in the various subgroups of the camp population. Campers who had been diagnosed with ADD or ADHD were not significantly more or less responsive to the interventions than were campers who had no such diagnoses. Nor could we conclude that the type of school in which campers were regularly enrolled had any impact on how much their academic skills improved as a result of the program. Therefore, the educational intervention seemed to be equally effective across the entire range of students at camp.

Third, along with these objective improvements in reading and spelling skills, the academic self-concepts of children were apparently enhanced as a consequence of the camp experience. On a purely subjective level, campers felt more capable of performing academically at the end of camp than they had felt at the outset. The specific areas where this increased sense of academic competence took hold corresponded with what we would expect given the nature of the educational intervention. We would not expect to find that campers felt themselves better equipped in the area of mathematics, for example, and indeed, we observed no such change. Campers did, however, come to think of themselves as better readers by the time the camp let out. Moreover, we found that they were also able to extend this new self-confidence somewhat, regarding themselves as better able to handle the more general challenges associated with school life. To the extent that such feelings of academic competence can be shown to affect one’s performance in school, it seems the camp program is helpful for those students who face specific learning challenges.

Fourth, the camp program apparently helped to promote an even more generalized sense of competence and self-worth than is narrowly associated with specific skills such as reading. The sources of this heightened self-concept were probably numerous. In part, campers’ confidence may have arisen as an “overflow” of their newfound sense of academic competence. It is also likely that it evolved out of the overall atmosphere of acceptance and affirmation that the camp staff worked to cultivate. Whatever the source, campers clearly embraced a more positive view of themselves as camp progressed.

Fifth, when it comes to these kinds of changes in overall self-concept, the effects of the camp intervention did seem to differ for different types of campers. The differences in the observed effect patterns proved to be significant for only the most general self-concept scales, but the patterns themselves were quite similar for all of the dimensions of self-concept we explored. For the most part, campers who were diagnosed ADD or ADHD did not experience significant gains in self-concept despite academic gains similar to the other campers. Although the numbers are too small to make comparisons between campers with ADD (n = 9) and those with ADHD (n = 3), inspection of the mean scores in figure 4 suggests that the campers with ADD show pre-camp general self concepts that are relatively high compared to campers with ADHD. Perhaps the behavioral-social difficulties associated with ADHD made these three youngsters less frequent recipients of affirmation and positive feedback from staff and peers. Alternatively or in addition, the same difficulties that children with ADHD have with internalizing rules to guide their behavior could interfere with the internalization of positive feedback or other information to change their self-concepts (Barkley 1997).

Regarding the relationship of school type to self-concept, the most positive changes in self-concept were found among campers who attended regular private schools, with campers from public schools enjoying the next most positive changes. Campers from specialized LD private schools typically experienced no significant changes in self-concept. For those students who are accustomed to an individualized, tutorial (or small group) format with supportive teachers during the regular school year, the camp environment may be “business as usual.”

A factor that may partially explain why campers from private and public school settings experienced significant increases in positive self-concept may be the effect of their reference group on self-concept. Marsh (1990) has termed this the “Big Fish Little Pond Effect” where equally able students have lower academic self-concepts when they compare themselves to more able students, and higher academic self-concepts when they compare themselves to less able students. Therefore, the private school students may have entered camp with an academic selfconcept referenced against a more competitive academic peer group. The same may be true for the public school campers but to a more moderate degree because of the wider academic ability range of their public school peers. Along with the other ingredients in the camp environment, the private and public school campers may have been more primed by the reference group shift to appreciate the camp setting where they were not in the minority as students with specific learning difficulties. This suggests that some homogenous grouping of dyslexic students may be more helpful for self-esteem development than the prevailing practice of universal inclusion.

The major limitation of this program-evaluation study is the lack of a control group to control for threats to internal validity. It could be argued that the campers showed positive changes because it was summer and the Baltimore Orioles were having a good season! However, the specificity of changes in self-concept and academic skills support the argument that the changes were mediated by the interventions in the camp program.

A second limitation is that there were not enough campers to statistically analyze in a more thorough manner the relationship between changes in academic scores and changes in selfconcept scores. Little can be said about the causal direction of the relationship of these variables, but Marsh (1990) provides support for a reciprocal causal effects relationship between academic self-concept and academic achievement, where changes in one facilitate changes in the other. It may not be important to establish causal priority, but rather to determine whether an intervention designed to focus on both factors has a greater impact on dependent variables of interest compared to an intervention focusing on only academic skills or self-concept (Marsh 1990).

A final limitation is the lack of follow-up after the campers returned to school. A follow-up would yield information about the durability of the effects observed at the end of camp and also about the relative influence on self-concept of the peer reference group in the various school settings to which campers return. On the latter point, if the reference group effect is a dominant factor, then we would expect private and public school students’ selfconcept scores to decrease while LD private school students’ selfconcepts would stay the same. As a source of information on durability of effects, we have only unsolicited reports and letters from parents. These have been encouraging, at least for some campers. One parent of a camper who returned to public school wrote after several months into the fall, “There has been a tremendous change in Will both academically and personally. He began middle school this year with very little anxiety and difficulty. Historically, Will has been very timid, shy, and frightened when attempting something new. We were extremely concerned about his not being able to adjust to 6th grade in a new school…. To make a long story short, he is doing extremely well. Academically, he is performing much better than we ever hoped, he seems content and well-adjusted, and most miraculously, is able to work INDEPENDENTLY.”

In conclusion, the study provides support that a multimodal camp program of six weeks’ duration has a positive impact on the self-concept and select academic skills of dyslexic students. Future studies are needed to more rigorously control for the validity of and to determine the durability of these effects. An intensive camp program may offer some students a real turn-around platform to begin a trend of more fruitful academic and interpersonal growth; for others, it may at least prevent regression in skills and/or provide continuity for services during the school year in addressing more persistent academic and social difficulties.

1 There is no joint interaction of school type and comorbid diagnosis with treatment.

2 The fact that the GORT-3 generates a total score as well as separate component scores moved us to carry on with the full logic of the previous analyses, conducting initial tests using the total GORT-3 score and then exploring what happens when that score is broken down into its constituent elements. The observations made during these preliminary passes over the data add little to the overall analysis, so they have been dropped here.

3 The F statistic used here is Pillai’s Trace.


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Van D. Westervelt

University of Virginia Children’s Medical Center

Daniel C. Johnson

University of Virginia

Mark D. Westervelt and Scott Murrill

Camp Glencoe, Jemicy School, Baltimore, Maryland

Address correspondence to: Van D. Westervelt, Ph.D., Learning Assistance Center, Wake Forest University, P.O. Box 7283, Reynolda Station, WinstonSalem, NC 27109 email:

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