Part 3: Teaching With Poverty: Influencing Growth

As we continue our discussion on poverty, we have discussed the definition of what poverty is and how to create a positive learning environment for our students. Today, we will focus on how to  influence growth.

Tip # 1 - Encourage a Growth Mindset

When we deal with "at-risk" students, we may have the tendency to lower expectations; however, high expectations have been found to be a critical element in a student’s cognitive growth.  It is essential that we help develop a "growth mindset" in our students, which not only places importance on academics, but also attitude, effort, and strategy.  These characteristics are what will help our students become resilient and successful in life. At my school, we not only give quarterly academic grades, but we also give effort and conduct grades. We value the effort that our students show and realize that effort often leads to current and future academic success. 

We also need to let our students learn from the school of reality. For example, students in my Principles of Management Class had the opportunity to go through the Kauffman Foundation’s Ice House Entrepreneurship program.  The book discusses how to develop an entrepreneurial mindset. As part of the culminating activity, we had students develop their own business ideas and pitch it to a Shark Tank (like the TV Show) of business experts that I organized. The “sharks” gave both positive and negative feedback. The students learned more from this experience than a book could ever teach them. They needed to feel the pressure of reality, the taste of failure, and the sweetness of a successful idea. Even though they didn't have completely "perfect" products, the experience helped create a growth mindset for my kids to want to learn more to fulfill their dreams. 

Tip # 2 - Reading is the Key to Vocabulary Development

Reading is a critical element of not only a child’s cognitive development but also vocabulary development. Poverty and educational levels tend to correspond to one another. When it comes to vocabulary growth, many of our children living in poverty do not receive the same enrichment at home as those not living in poverty. For example, according to Eric Jensen 36% of low income parents read daily to their kindergarten aged child, compared to 62% of upper-income parents.

It comes down to the “Matthew Effect,” which is a term that was coined by psychologist Keith Stanovich. He has done extensive research on reading and language disabilities. The "Matthew Effect" refers to the idea that in reading (as in other areas of life), the rich tend to get richer and the poor tend to get poorer. 

In many instances, if a parent had negative experiences in school as a child, they are likely to pass along a negative outlook onto their children. If a child has negative experiences with reading early on in their career, they are more likely to experience difficulty and avoid reading altogether.  The key is to providing opportunities to provide both positive experiences to parents and children. One urban school in my area has created "family nights," where they encourage parents and kids to come into the school for a night of fun, games, and fellowship. Although this doesn't have a direct impact on academics, it does provide parents, who may have had negative experiences with school, a positive experience. When parents feel connected with their child's school community, they are more likely to become involved in the school community and in their child's education. 

 In my next post, I will discuss specific reading strategies that educators can use to help students experience this success. 

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