Working with Economically Disadvantaged Students
The United States Census Bureau reported in 2003 that nearly 35 million Americans were living in poverty. While poverty no longer means destitution and continual hunger for most impoverished Americans, it does mean that students of poverty face challenges unique to their life experience. Ruby Payne, author of A Framework for Understanding Poverty, states: “We can neither excuse students nor scold them for not knowing; as educators we must teach them and provide support, insistence, and expectations.” By following Payne’s advice, educators increase the likelihood of achievement in spite of economic disadvantages. This week, we offer tips for working with students in high poverty areas.
This Week's Tips
Create Print-Rich Instructional Environment for Disadvantaged Students (Monday)
Provide impoverished students with a print-rich classroom. Students from poverty probably have experienced extensive exposure to television, popular music, and video games. However, many of these kids have been deprived of print material. Provide these students regular access to books, magazines, and newspapers of their own choosing, but also find ways to incorporate a variety of print material into your instruction. Introduce a novel for class study by reading aloud a popular children’s book with a common theme; enhance fictional study with nonfiction readings; and examine newspaper articles for examples of grammatical concepts being studied in class.
Build Significant Relationships with Disadvantaged Students (Tuesday)
Build significant relationships with impoverished students by taking an interest in each as an individual. Strong familial bonds are typical in impoverished families, and this need for significant relationships carries over into the classroom. Stand at the door and greet students by name, share food with the students on special occasions, continually talk to students in an encouraging manner, acknowledge weaknesses in achievement equally with strengths in achievement, and take time to listen to the stories and thoughts these students want to share with you.
Maintain High Standards for Disadvantaged Students (Wednesday)
Maintain high educational and behavioral expectations and standards for impoverished students. Fight the sympathetic urges that might permit lower expectations for students of poverty. Rather, turn your energy to creating supportive, empowering programs for economically disadvantaged students. Study sessions held after school or during lunch give students access to both you and your computer. This choice is far more empowering than accepting excuses about why impoverished students “can’t” complete the assignments.
Level the Playing Field for Disadvantaged Students (Thursday)
Provide an environment rich in diverse cultural experiences to “level the playing field” for economically disadvantaged students. Impoverished students often have minimal or nonexistent experiences with the fine arts. Find ways to expose your students to a variety of cultural experiences. Museums, art galleries, concerts, and other cultural events affect cognition and achievement. If providing excursions to cultural events is outside the realm of possibility, search for alternate ways to share music, art, and museum exhibits within your classroom. Many museums provide virtual tours of selected exhibits. CDs provide an affordable alternative to live concerts. Textbook companies typically provide fine art transparencies as part of the teacher materials.
Communicate Effectively with Parents of Disadvantaged Students (Friday)
Asses your ability to communicate with parents of varying educational levels and backgrounds. The ability to adjust the style of communication through diction and sentence structure is important. Teachers who have mastered the art of listening to parents build relationships with them that foster support and continued communication, both of which are critical to student success. Some teachers make the mistake of assuming that impoverished families are uneducated families. This message is conveyed through the mannerisms, word choice, and tone used in communication. Teachers that are more effective discard stereotypes and listen to the message of parents and how it is conveyed, and respond on the appropriate level.