Part 5: Teaching with Poverty: Reading Strategies

In one of my earlier posts, I had mentioned the term "Matthew Effect," a term coined by psychologist Keith Stanovich, referring to the fact that the "rich get richer and the poor get poorer." He was referring to the fact that if a student has negative experiences with reading early on in their career, they are more likely to experience difficulty and avoid reading altogether. How do we give our students opportunities to be successful in reading? 

My blog post mentioned yesterday that it comes down to understanding vocabulary. If students don't understand it, then they won't read. What other strategies can we use to get our students reading? 

Tip # 1: Access to Materials

There was a study done outside of LA, which found that affluent and middle class students had significantly more access to reading materials than students in poverty (newspapers, books of varied reading levels, etc.). It may sound simple, but we need to provide access to a variety of reading materials in our classroom. 

Budgets are tight, so how do we do this? One school I know collects used newspapers and magazines from members of the community, so that students have access to reading materials. I have a retired teacher who drops off used copies of Time Magazine, Business Week, and Forbes when he is done reading. I make sure that I have them placed throughout my room for kids to access during down times.

Tip # 2: Opportunities to Read

We need to provide opportunities to read in school. This is something that is often forgotten in high school. A high school that I used to work for used the first 15 minutes of class (in a block schedule) each Friday for students to read. It was called POWER (Positive Outcomes While Enjoying Reading). Each Friday, teachers, administrators, and students would use this time to stop and read whatever reading material they chose. Test scores dramatically improved!

Tip # 3: Have Supports in Place

Many of our students in poverty are intimidated by reading and shut down when it is time to read. One student of mine would automatically start acting out when it came to reading. He was embarrassed that he couldn’t understand the text. 

This really changed my perspective and made me think that perhaps we needed to think about potential barriers that could exist and have supports in place to address them. I began looking through the article and pre-teaching vocabulary before we read the article.

This same student was able to comprehend text better by "hearing it." Initially, I gave him the opportunity to listen to the reading assignment by copying and pasting text from a digital copy into Voki, while reading silently. As I saw how successful this was, I began having students record themselves reading the article on a free podcasting program called Audacity. I would use this recording for future reading assignments.

 Other teachers have used reading stations, where students can either read silently or go to another part of the room, where they can read aloud. By providing options during reading assignments, we could develop their reading ability. 

Tip # 4: Reading is Social

We need to give students an opportunity to talk about what they have read by focusing on what the University of Pennsylvania calls the social lens. This gives students an opportunity to connect with what they read and with what they already know. Literature Circles are a great way to do that. For high school students, I have found that you really need to have structures in place. One of my favorite protocols is called the 4 A's protocol.  


I personally want to thank you for taking this journey with me and I would enjoy hearing your feedbackUnfortunately, poverty is something that seems to be on the incline rather than the decline in this country. We may not be able to control why our students are living in poverty; however, we can control what happens within the four walls of our classroom. Theodore Roosevelt said it best, when he said "Do what you can with what you have." I challenge you to do the same! 

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