The Effects of Poverty on Teaching and Learning Originally Posted At: http://www.teach-nology.
com/Articles/teaching/poverty/ Another great tutorial from TeAch-nology.com! The Web Portal For Educators! (http://www.teachnology.com) by Karen M. Pellino **What's All the Hype?** Poverty is an issue that more and more of our nation’s children are coming face to face with. The price that children of poverty must pay is unbelievably high. Each year, increasing numbers of children are entering schools with needs from circumstances, such as poverty, that schools are not prepared to meet. This paper will examine the effects of poverty on teaching and learning. Poverty as a risk factor will be discussed as will a number of the many challenges that arise in teaching children of poverty. Implications of brain-based research for curriculum reform and adaptation will be presented. The Concept of Being At-Risk The term at-risk refers to children who are likely to fail in school or in life because of their life’s social circumstances. It does not appear that any one single factor places a child at-risk. Rather, when more than one factor is present, there is a compounding effect and the likelihood for failure increases significantly. Poverty is considered a major at-risk factor (Leroy & Symes, 2001). Some of the factors related to poverty that may place a child at-risk for academic failure are: very young, single or low educational level parents; unemployment; abuse and neglect; substance abuse; dangerous neighborhoods; homelessness; mobility; and exposure to inadequate or inappropriate educational experiences. Being able to identify and understand children who are at-risk is critical if we are to support their growth and development. In order to do this, warm and caring relationships need to be developed between teachers and children. This will enable teachers to detect any warning signs that may place children at-risk for failure, interfering with their chances for success in school and life (Leroy & Symes, 2001). Academic and behavioral problems can be indicators of impending failure. Among such behaviors are: delay in language development, delay in reading development, aggression, violence, social withdrawal, substance abuse, irregular attendance, and depression. Teachers may have difficulty reaching a student’s parent or guardian. They may also find the student does not complete assignments, does not study for tests, or does not come to school prepared to learn because of poverty related circumstances in the home environment. These children may be unable to concentrate or focus. They may be unwilling or unable to interact with peers and/or adults in school in an effective manner. These issues not only have an impact on the learning of the child of poverty but can also impact the learning of other children. Challenge: Diversity The rise in the number of children in poverty has contributed to making our nation’s classrooms more diverse than ever before. This, indeed, makes both teaching and learning more challenging. This issue can remain a challenge for teachers, as opposed to becoming a problem, if focus is placed on student learning as opposed to teaching. Teachers need to be tuned in to the culture of poverty and be sensitive to the vast array of needs that children of poverty bring to the classroom. Social contexts have a significant impact on the development of children. The social world of school operates by different rules or norms than the social world these children live in. Focus should be placed on finding a harmonious relationship between the cultural values of students and values emphasized in school. Considering that so many different cultures are represented in our society, we often encounter students who belong to more than one cultural group. They may be poor in addition to being non-English speaking or of an ethnic/racial/religious minority group (Bowman, 1994; Marlowe and Page, 1999). High-mobility is a symptom of poverty and its surrounding social factors. Children of poverty may live in places that rent by the week or even day. They may move from town to town as their parent searches for work or runs from problems (such as an abusive spouse, criminal record, financial responsibilities). They may live in homeless shelters or battered women’s shelters that only allow brief stays. They may live on the streets. The conditions they live in and their day-to-day life experiences can have a significant effect on their education and achievement. Moving is a very emotional event for children. Combine this issue with the multitude of other issues faced by mobile and homeless children and the impact on their emotional, social and cognitive development can be overwhelming. School attendance is often irregular. Transfer to a new school becomes the norm. Aside from the differences from the general school population due to other aspects of their poverty, mobility compounds the difficulty these children have making friends. They may behave hostilely or be totally withdrawn due to past attempts to make friends. With regard to both the academic and social aspects of school, they may figure, “Why bother? I’m just going to move again.” They also often come to school with no records from their previous schools; and it may be difficult for schools to track the records down. Teachers have no idea what these students have learned. It is challenging for schools to place these children in classrooms and get them additional services they may need. Even if placement is successful, these children will likely move again within the school year. It is also challenging to help these students to learn at least something of value while they remain in our classrooms. Children become aware of social and economic status differences at a very young age. They also grow increasingly aware of both their own social status and that of their peers, developing class-related attitudes during their years in elementary school. Teachers can help children to develop caring and sensitivity toward different cultures including social classes. Activities and lessons should be based on how children perceive themselves and the world at the various stages of development. For example, children who are in the age range of 7-12 years are less egocentric. They focus on
internal characteristics or traits of people as opposed to external, observable social class differences. They also recognize similarities and differences among groups. At around age 11, children can consider causes and solutions to poverty. Taking into account a spiral curriculum, at earlier ages children can become acquainted with social class and other cultural differences. During the latter years, the topic can be revisited for deeper understanding. This is a great opportunity to include community service learning projects in the curriculum, such as volunteering as a class in a soup kitchen. It is important that these activities be followed with both group discussion and individual reflection to help children think critically about their experiences (Chafel, 1997; Gomez, 2000). As teachers, these aspects of poverty make planning and preparation absolutely critical. Content needs to be related in varying ways to meet the needs of the diverse students in the classroom. We have to consider the cultural values of these children as we arrange their learning. Constructivism is a key concept in that it respects student differences and allows students to use their own prior knowledge and experiences to make connections and learn. It affords students the opportunity to become active learners by questioning, hypothesizing and drawing conclusions based on their individual learning experiences. If there is limited foundation for children to draw upon, we need to help them develop a base of knowledge and experiences so they have somewhere to start. By providing emotional support, modeling, and other forms of scaffolding, teachers can help students use their strengths, skills, and knowledge to develop and learn (Marlowe and Page, 1999). Learning experiences and problem solving based on real-life problems can help them deal with some of the issues they may be faced with in their lives. Learning by doing gives students the opportunity to be active and imaginative problem solvers (Bassey, 1996). Thus, diversity actually presents us with a chance to enhance the quality of education for all our students and provide them with a variety of opportunities to develop into productive citizens. As our schools and nation become more diverse, the need for understanding and acceptance of differences becomes more important. Our challenge is to provide children with an effective multicultural education that will foster awareness, respect, and acceptance. Challenge: The Achievement Gap The difference in academic performance among children from different classes or groups (ethnic, racial, income) is referred to as the achievement gap. Children of poverty generally achieve at lower levels than children of middle and upper classes. The causes are numerous and are related to both the social environment in which poor children live and the education they receive in school. Factors such as the quality of student learning behaviors, home environment, past experiences with education, and teacher attitudes are among the many influences on student achievement. Slavin (1998) proposes that schools can have a powerful impact on the academic achievement and success of all children by viewing them as atpromise rather than at-risk and preparing them to reach their full potential. A good education is often the only means of breaking the cycle of poverty for poor children. These children need an education that is founded in high standards and high expectations for all. Curriculum alignment must exist to ensure that a rigorous curriculum and assessment accompany and are aligned with the standards. What occurs in our classrooms has a significant impact on student achievement. The curriculum should be challenging to prevent decreased opportunity for higher education, which translates into less opportunity in life for them. Content should be of high quality and be culturally relevant. A watered-down curriculum is unacceptable. Teachers should be knowledgeable of the cultures in which their students live so they can plan effective and engaging lessons. Additionally, instructional and classroom management techniques that work well with some students don’t necessarily work well with poor children. The perspective and experiences of the children need to be considered (Goodwin, 2000). Other aspects that can help close the achievement gap are discussed in the following sections: motivation, readiness and parent/family involvement. An article by Haycock (2001) addresses issues related to poverty and the achievement gap through research conducted by The Education Trust in the late 1990’s. They questioned both children and adults on what they suspect are causes of this achievement gap. One comment among those made by the children was, “ ’What hurts us more is that you teach us less.’ “ Haycock (2001) concludes: “…we take the students who have less to begin with and then systematically give them less in school.” What schools do obviously matters. What also matters is effective teaching. Challenge: Student Motivation to Learn One of the social issues facing children of poverty is emotional trauma. The emotional climate can often be very stressful and emotionally depriving. The lack of emotional nurturing can lead to feelings of alienation, inadequacy, depression and anxiety. Aggressive or impulsive behavior and social withdrawal can also result. Emotional security and self-esteem are often lacking. There is a craving for attention and a need to belong (Ciaccio, 2000; Brophy, 2000). The characteristics that are lacking in the poverty environment are those that help foster effective learning and academic success. Emotional draining and negative self-status can literally zap the motivation to learn out of children. We need to place an emphasis on sparking that desire to learn or (motivation) by not only helping to restore the child’s self-image but also by encouraging students to see the demands and rewards of
schooling. Children will work hard, for intrinsic rewards, only if they have a very good reason (Ciaccio, 2000). We need to make them feel that they are lovable, important and acceptable human beings by making them feel secure and good about themselves and by building trusting respectful relationships with them (Bassey, 1996). The teacher may be the dependable and caring adult, often the only adult of this kind, who is a consistent and reliable figure in their lives of unpredictability and change (Bowman, 1994). Positive and respectful relationships of this nature are essential for at-risk students (Hixson and Tinsmann, 1990; Ciaccio, 2000). Educators also need to work to foster resilience in children, focusing on the traits, coping skills, and supports that help children survive in a challenging environment. Children need our help if they are to adapt successfully despite adversity; alter or reverse expected negative outcomes; and thrive in spite of negative circumstances. We need to set high expectations for all that communicate guidance, structure, challenge, and, most importantly, a belief in the innate resilience of children. We need a curriculum that supports resilience (Benard, 1995). Ciaccio (2000) also discusses the technique of total positive response to student misbehavior as a method of developing relationships with students and a method of effective classroom management. Every incidence of student misbehavior is dealt with in a positive versus negative manner in an effort to disarm students that may exhibit some of the most challenging behaviors. Total positive response involves the use of positive strategies to meet student needs, combined with caring and total acceptance. The challenge is to find the positive in the negative. Because at-risk students have egos that are often severely damaged, criticism can cause them to tune teachers and authority out. Additionally, emotionally damaged students cannot effectively deal with criticism and channel it to improvement. We must make it our responsibility to find ways to generate and maintain student interest and involvement on a consistent basis by making our classrooms safe, accepting, interesting and engaging places (Haberman, 1995). By creating lessons that have meaning to these children, teachers are responding actively and constructively to the background or prior knowledge and experience of their students. The concepts of agency and conation, which encompasses self-efficacy and self-regulation, are key to understanding motivation as it relates to children of poverty. The living environments and the culture of poverty often leave poor children with low levels of motivation to learn. Besides the fact that all of their energies may be directed elsewhere in their struggle to survive, they may have poor experiences with schooling or may perceive that they don’t really need school to be successful. They may translate money or belonging into success, and perceive careers in criminal activity that permeate poorer neighborhoods (such as drug dealing, prostitution, gambling, theft and gang involvement) as lucrative careers and as the only ones possible for them. Children from low SES live in environments with social conditions over which they have little control. It is not their choice where they live. It is not their choice that their parent may be unemployed or disabled. It was not their choice to be born into poverty. They often have the feeling they want or need to escape this environment and do better; but they feel they have no control over the nature and quality of their lives. The concept of agency is that an individual can intentionally make things happen through their actions. This is an underlying concept in social learning or social cognitive theory. If we can show children that they can be agents, we can enable them to play a part in their self-development and take responsibility for their learning, personal development and achievement (Brophy, 1998; Bandura, 2001). As agents, children do not simply undergo experiences. They become actively engaged participants by using sensory, motor and cognitive processes to accomplish tasks and goals that give their lives meaning and direction. They explore, manipulate and influence the environment. We need to get children to act mindfully to make desired things happen rather than let themselves be acted on by their environments. When many children from low SES run into difficult challenges they engage in negative self-talk and may perceive their failures as challenges they cannot overcome. They may not increase their efforts and may become despondent if they interpret failure to mean they are personally deficient. Because of the culture they live in, they may also feel exploited or disrespected and respond hostilely or apathetically. Goal setting is a critical aspect of agency because it allows individuals to construct outcome expectations. This provides direction, coherence and meaning to life, elements often lacking in low SES students, and can also enable these students to transcend the dictates of their environment. Conation refers to the connection between knowledge, affect and behavior. It is the intentional, goal-oriented component of motivation that explains how knowledge and emotion are translated into behavior. Conation is a proactive aspect of behavior that is closely related to volition (the use of will or freedom to make choices about what to do). It is necessary in order for an individual to become selfdirected and self-regulated. Conation is especially important when addressing issues in learning. It is something that is often lacking in low achieving students, particularly those from low SES backgrounds (Huitt, 1999). A critical task facing teachers is to help students develop conative attitudes, skills for selfregulation (goals, plans, and perseverance), and self-efficacy (the belief that something can be done). SES affects behavior through its impact on an individual’s aspirations, sense of efficacy, personal standards and emotional states. A strong sense of efficacy can help strengthen resiliency to adversity often found in the environment of the low SES student. Low SES students often live in chaotic and unstructured
environments. They live day to day. They may be unable to manage their emotions, have poor role models, and feel they have no choice or control over their destiny. Students with low SES may also be depressed, have a fear of failure due to past experiences or have acquired failure expectations from their parents. They may be truly capable children who, as a result of previous demoralizing experiences or self-imposed mind-sets, have come to believe that they cannot learn. If they doubt their academic ability, chances are they envision low grades before they even complete an assignment or take a test. This has an effect on goal setting in that these individuals also tend to set lower goals for themselves. They may have no real personal goals or vision, but only fantasies of what they hope for. If they do have goals, these children need to learn how they can achieve the goals and develop awareness of the possible self. Goals need to be difficult but attainable in order for significant achievement to be recognized. We need to assign challenging tasks and meaningful activities that can be mastered (Huitt, 1999; Pajares, 1996). Through exercises designed to help these children identify what is important to them, we can begin to help them develop conation. Personal reflection, through the use of a journal, can be a very effective tool for this purpose. Periodic journal reflection on what they think their lives would be like if money and time were not limiting factors and what they think they would do in the future can also be helpful to students. Inquiry learning can help to foster the development of conation, focusing on skills such as problem solving, fact finding, probing, organizing, reforming, adapting, improvising, revising, constructing and envisioning. If a student can become self-regulated, they can mediate the negative environmental influences they may encounter. Unless they believe they can produce desired results, students have little incentive to persevere in the face of difficulty. Efficacy beliefs influence whether people think pessimistically or optimistically and in ways that are self-enhancing or self-hindering. Teaching the use of self-talk techniques through role playing and group activity can be helpful in identifying thoughts that are often inaccurate and negative. This can also help students to persist longer at challenging tasks as opposed to simply giving up, resulting in higher levels of achievement (Huitt, 1999; Pajares, 1996). The social environment has an impact on goal-oriented motivation. We need to work towards developing conative components that enhance self-direction, self-determination and self-regulation. Low SES children need to realize the possibilities in their lives, set goals that they can attain and experience success directly, through mastery experiences, and vicariously, through the success of others. Teachers should focus on the learning process, effort and striving, not solely on the ability of the child or results. Personal standards should be stressed as opposed to normative standards. Because success helps to raise self-efficacy, we should do whatever possible to help our students succeed and work to strengthen confidence through our words and actions. Student self-beliefs have great influence on whether they fail or succeed in school. We need to provide intellectual challenge and create classroom climates of emotional support and encouragement to help students meet the challenge. We need to nurture the self-beliefs of our students and provide them with successful models that transmit knowledge, skills and inspiration. Improving self-efficacy can lead to increased use of cognitive strategies and, in turn, higher achievement. A high sense of efficacy also promotes pro-social behaviors such as cooperativeness, helpfulness, sharing, and mutual concern for welfare. Many of the difficulties students encounter are closely connected to beliefs they hold about themselves and their place in the world they live in. Academic failure is a consequence of the beliefs that students hold about themselves and about their ability to have control over their environments. Challenge: Lack of Readiness to Learn Readiness is a multi-dimensional concept that considers behavioral and cognitive aspects of a child’s development as well as adaptation to the classroom. When considering the poverty factor as related to readiness, it is important to note that poverty is not just about money; it is about how an individual does without resources and with all of the baggage that goes along with being poor (Slocumb and Payne, 2000). When readiness is considered, it is generally considered with regard to readiness for school entry. However, after researching the topic of poverty, readiness really needs to be considered at all age levels as the student approaches any new learning experiences or activities. Regardless of when intervention begins, the whole idea is to educate children beyond their poverty and give them the intellectual and social skills needed to succeed in life (Renchler, 2000), Children from poverty start out in life at a disadvantage. Their mothers may have no or inadequate pre-natal care. They may have insufficient early health care. If the parents are fortunate to have jobs, affordable day care may be of poor quality (Slavin, 1998). Additionally, poor children do not have the same kind of experiences that children of other social classes do. The experiences they miss out on are those that could help in the development of skills and academic achievement. Some examples would be the use of home computers; visits to zoos and museums; attendance at pre-school programs; availability of literature and educational reading materials; interaction with educated, literate and well-spoken adults; and being
read to by a parent. The social environment that is present in conditions of poverty affects the development of these children by limiting the ways they learn to live in social groups. Opportunities for intellectual development, such as the development of cognitive skills and thinking patterns, are the result of social interaction. Children who live in poverty conditions are unable to develop mutually satisfying social relationships. Language is an important tool in the process of learning to think. If children have limited opportunity to learn language, organize perceptions, and develop other higher order cognitive processes, their ability to solve problems and think independently is negatively affected (Benson, 1995; Bowman, 1994; Guerra and Schutz, 2001). The quality of a child’s earliest experiences has great influence on future development and potential to succeed. Intervention should be implemented at an early stage to stop the process of failure before it begins (Slavin, 1998). Early childhood education programs (such as Head Start) can help at-risk preschoolers overcome the disadvantages that come with being poor and ensure that they enter school ready to learn by providing emotional nurturing and intellectual challenge. These programs foster the development of language abilities and cognitive skills. They provide children with experiences that will serve as a foundation of knowledge for future learning. They also provide children with the opportunity to observe pro-social behavior and develop positive relationships with adults and peers (Spectrum, 1999). Readiness from the perspective of older children has not only to do with the development discussed above but also with creating a support system that will enable children to be free to focus on learning. By encompassing more aspects of the lives of these children, schools can give them a better chance at succeeding. This may include developing a support network with community partners by offering or referring students and families to community programs that meet health, social, and recreational needs. It may also involve keeping schools open and accessible to children and their families during evening or early morning hours so they have safe, quiet places to study and have access to athletic facilities, recreational activities, computers, libraries, tutoring and other resources. This can provide poor children with a full range of support so they can develop a sense of connectedness or belonging with their schools and can concentrate on learning and being students (Maeroff, 1998). Challenge: Relationships with and Involvement of Parents and Families Developing positive relationships with parents and families of low socio-economic status and getting them involved with their children’s education and school activities is a challenge. In order to address this challenge it is first necessary to understand the dynamics of parenting in the context of poverty. Parenting is a critical process affecting many developmental outcomes for children living in poverty. Parent ability is weakened by living in poverty conditions and by the emotional and psychological stress associated with living in poverty (Kaiser and Delaney, 1996). Parenting is the means through which children experience the world. Because the parent-child relationship is the primary context for early behavioral, social and cognitive development, negative effects on parents due to poverty factors in turn have a negative effect on the development of the child. Children rely on their parents to mediate their environment, respond to their needs and provide emotional stimulation and support. If, because of poverty related stresses, the parent does not do this, the child’s development could be delayed or be otherwise negatively affected (Kaiser and Delaney, 1996). Conditions required for families to be successful are often lacking in the environment of poverty: stability, security, emotionally positive time together, access to basic resources, and a strong shared belief system. Thus, family relationships suffer when individuals live in poverty. Parents exhibit less capacity to be supportive and consistent in their parenting, provide less vocal and emotional stimulation, are less responsive to their children’s needs and model less sophisticated language. Parenting style is more punitive and coercive and less consistent (Kaiser and Delaney, 1996). Overall, parental support and involvement in school activities is lower among poor parents. This does not necessarily indicate a lack of interest. It reflects issues related to poverty such as time (especially if they work shifts or more than one job), availability and affordability of child care and/or transportation, as well as possible negative personal experiences between the parent and his or her own school when growing up (Kaiser and Delaney, 1996). The importance of strengthening and supporting parents and families cannot be emphasized enough. Areas of positive functioning need to be supported in programs that help families and children work to build or re-build their lives. Preventive programs can also help families of poverty. Any of the programs can build on the children’s strengths while simultaneously providing needed services to families (Schmitz, Wagner and Menke 2001). Research shows that most parents, regardless of their socio-economic status, love their children and want them to succeed. Many of these parents need to learn strategies that can help them cope and help their children get a chance at breaking the cycle of poverty (McGee, 1996). Home-school collaboration is particularly important for children of poverty in helping to facilitate better educational outcomes (Raffaele and Knoff, 1999). Because relationships with these families are often the most difficult to cultivate, teachers and schools need to make an extra effort to reach out to
parents and families of poverty, helping them to help their children. Research suggests that the more parents participate, the better student achievement is. Sometimes reaching a parent can be difficult if they have no phone, do not speak English or cannot read. It is even more critical that we find ways to reach these parents. Once we do reach them, however, there is no guarantee that they will be positive, cooperative, or receptive. We must do our best to attempt to foster a positive relationship with them in face of resistance, keeping in our minds and trying to convince them that their involvement is for the benefit of the child. McGee (1996) mentions that a significant discovery was made by researchers studying poverty and homeless families. They discovered that human relationships must take precedence over academics. They found that only if parents trusted teachers and felt accepted by teachers could the teachers stand a chance of getting through to them. Teachers can inform parents of simple, time-efficient ways to help their children at home. Activities involving parents with their children can be scheduled such as family math, science, reading or technology nights. Teachers can provide literature and articles for parents to read on parenting issues. Teachers and schools can schedule conferences and activities at school during convenient times for parents. Child-care and activities can be provided for children while conferences are held. Meetings and activities can also be held at community centers or locations more accessible to families without transportation. One author mentioned the importance of providing food at meetings and activities when homeless families are involved. However, this sounds like a good idea when any families of poverty are involved (McGee, 1996). Parents should know that they are welcome to observe the class and spend time helping out in the classroom, lunchroom or during activities. Parents should be encouraged to view student work, accomplishments and portfolios when they come to school so they can become more aware of their child’s abilities and talents and can discuss them with their children in a meaningful way. Parental involvement sends a message to all children, not only the child of the involved parent, that school is important. Parental involvement can also be contagious, especially when other children observe positive interaction among the teacher, student and parent. Teachers should keep parents informed of what is going on in the classroom and encourage parents to talk to their children about school. A monthly calendar of topics and activities can help parents to discuss topics both as they approach and after they have been studied. We can encourage parents to read with their children or have their children read to them. A class trip to the local public library where every student signs up to receive a library card is a great opportunity for children to get excited about literacy. Parents can then receive mailings from the library as to free activities for children and adults that can help to develop literacy and technology skills and give parents an opportunity to spend time with their children. Libraries can also provide parents with resources for finding employment and writing resumes. Brain-Based Research, Learning and Poverty Knowing how the brain functions can have a great influence on how teachers address the emotional, social, cognitive and physical learning of students. Because it is known that perceptions and emotions contribute to learning, brain research provides rich possibilities for education. Research findings encourage us to expose children to a variety of multi-sensory early learning experiences and encourage even very young children to work with patterning, sorting, classifying, using number games, and exploring shapes. Emotions are a significant aspect of life for children of poverty. Emotions have a connection to memory in that they help to store information and also trigger recall. Emotions affect the actual capacity of children to grasp ideas. One of the most prominent emotions in children of poverty is fear. Brain research indicates that constant fear has a negative effect on learning. Additionally, a person’s physical and emotional wellbeing are related to their ability to think and learn. Considering that children of poverty may be poorly developed, both physically and emotionally, and that their home environments are often emotionally stressful can explain why they often encounter difficulties in school (SEDL). Classroom environments that are safe and trusting can enhance learning. Environments should be high in challenge and low in threat. An atmosphere of relaxed alertness should be maintained. The living environment of many poor children is high-stress, so one of our immediate concerns should be to keep the stress level and perceived threat in the classroom at a low level. Fear and threat can cause the brain to downshift. Downshifting is biological response that focuses solely on survival needs. Poor children often have a feeling of helplessness, low self-esteem and may be fatigued. Thus, when their brains downshift they will not go any further than addressing survival needs. New information and experiences will be shut out. Attention will be affected because the brain keeps repeating thoughts or unresolved emotional issues. Additionally, cortisol, a stress hormone, will be in abundance; and the result will be emotional volatility. Downshifting can also cause behaviors such as vigilance and resistance or defiance. Students under these conditions can only learn in concrete ways, not abstract ways. This needs to be considered when planning lessons and when considering classroom management (Caine, 2000). Cooperative learning and shared decision making can help to build a sense of community and foster development of relationships, both student-teacher and student-student relationships. This can help
students of poverty to develop a sense of belonging and a sense of connectedness to their school (Kovalik and Olsen, 1998). Helping students to find ways to handle strong emotions productively can help them to deal with emotions such as anger, fear, hurt and tension in their daily life experiences and relationships. If students can deal with these emotions effectively, they will be free to learn. Brain based research supports the constructivist theory of learning: students build understandings based on prior knowledge and experiences. Intellectual development is gradual and dependent on external stimulation. If there is deprivation, as may be the case for children of poverty, their intellectual development will likely be delayed. We need to be aware of the emotional needs of our students. If children are lacking in emotional and intellectual development, they may have difficulty with language development. Difficulty with language development may prevent a child from developing higher order thinking skills that eventually lead to independent problem solving. This will make it difficult for them to learn and develop several of Gardner’s multiple intelligences. Gardner’s theory states that all seven intelligences are needed to function productively in society. In order to help motivate students, teachers can use a teaching style that engages all or most of the students, with the goal of exciting students about learning. While all students possess all seven intelligences, each child comes to school with different areas developed. Poor children may come to school with musical or bodily-kinesthetic intelligences more developed due to the types of experiences and modeling children of poverty may have in their home environments. This is also an indicator of the child’s learning style and possible strengths and weaknesses. This information can tell teachers what a child’s learning style is by indicating how easy or difficult it is to learn when lessons are presented in a certain way. Learning styles also allow teachers to properly assess student progress (Brualdi, 2000). Emotions have an impact on memory, as previously mentioned, because emotion drives attention and attention drives learning and memory. If content has no motional relevance to students, they will not recall it. Thus, when developing lessons and units we need to find topics that are both relevant to our students’ lives and of interest to our students. Again, in order to do this, we need to have developed relationships with our students. We cannot just guess at what they find interesting or what is relevant to their lives. We need to find ways to relate content to their lives (Kovalik and Olsen, 1998). Brain-based learning research has shown that the brain does not store memories, but recreates them every time we recall. We have pathways for specific types of learning. We can use methods of instruction to help students to access information stored in different pathways and retrieve memories needed to learn new information (Jensen, 1998). Since the brain learns by capturing, sorting and holding onto information, we should create classrooms and experiences to capitalize on the brain’s natural abilities and promote student learning (Parry & Gregory, 1998). Sensory memory decides what should go on to short-term memory and what should be discarded. Our attention is focused on anything the brain finds new, exciting, pleasurable or threatening. The more closely new information conforms to what the learner perceives as interesting, useful and emotionally stimulating, the more likely it is to be integrated. This supports the importance of anticipatory set, contingent value and engaging activities (Parry & Gregory, 1998). We, as teachers, need to introduce information in new and exciting ways and make the learning experience challenging yet enjoyable. Children must be exposed to language patterns and have interactions on which to build a foundation of knowledge. New information should be introduced and examined in context in order to create a link for the student to help recall the learning experience and the information learned. Retrieval is better in contextual, episodic, eventoriented situations (Jensen, 1998). We need to refocus attention frequently, change activities and vary modalities to keep the learner stimulated (Parry & Gregory, 1998). Lessons should be multi-sensory and employ the use of motion, rhythm and manipulatives in an effort to facilitate learning (Jensen, 1998). Activating prior learning at the start of a lesson is beneficial because it enables the students to bring information up to the level of conscious thought, from long-term into short-term or working memory. Making connections between separate pieces of information aids the formation of concepts or generalizations, which increases the possibility the material will be transferred into long-term memory and made available for recall. Poor children may need more attention in this area because of the level of their emotional and intellectual development or lack of a knowledge or experience base. Additionally, advance organizers help students to organize, integrate and retain information to be learned. Research has shown a high correlation between the use of advance organizers and increased learning and retention of material. Graphic organizers and maps organize knowledge into conceptual frameworks, making it easier to understand and recall the information. They organize and present information in an accessible way. They display relationships, connect new learning to prior learning and organize information into a more usable form (Fogarty, 1997). Rehearsal is important because information can be held much longer if it is given conscious and continuous attention. Repetition and review help to practice retrieval of information. Without rehearsal information stays in short term memory for less than 20 seconds. This is an important concept when considering literacy and reading instruction. Children of poverty often have difficulties with reading development. For a new reader or a reader with problems, the repetition and patterns found in multi-sensory instruction help to keep information in short-term memory long enough for it to be processed
and transferred to long-term memory (Fogarty, 1997). Brain congruent activities can help make the curriculum more meaningful. If the brain can access stored information that is similar to new information, it is more likely to make sense of the new information. Activities should help children to link new and existing information. This can help students see that they already possess some knowledge about the new topic and are, in fact, dealing with information that has meaning or relevance for them. This is important for poor children in helping boost self-esteem and confidence in learning situations. Since students retain and apply information in meaningful ways when it is connected to real-life experiences, lessons that involve solving authentic problems and simulations should be used. This can also help children of poverty to develop their problem solving skills and begin to realize their abilities (Westwater and Wolfe, 2000). One last issue in brain research has to do with nutrition and children of poverty. The foods that children eat or do not eat affect their brain development, functioning and behavior. Chemicals released in response to both stress and from foods can prevent higher order thinking. Children of poverty are exposed to great amounts of stress and their nutrition may be poor. Chronic stress causes the body to deplete nutrients, inhibits the growth of dendrites and limits interconnections among neurons. The results are: no nutrients are available for learning; thinking is slowed; learning is depressed. When protein foods, often lacking in diets of poor children, are digested, tyrosine is released into the bloodstream. Tyrosine becomes L-dopa in the brain and is then converted into dopamine. Dopamine produces a feeling of alertness, attentiveness, quick thinking, motivation and mental energy. Fear of failure, isolation and trauma, usually present in poor children, cause dopamine to be converted into norepinephrine. This causes alertness to be converted into aggression and agitation. Thus, when nutrition is poor, children: have difficulty tolerating frustration and stress; become apathetic; and are non-responsive, inactive and irritable (Given, 1998). How can they even attempt to learn? Given (1998) also discusses serotonin, carbohydrates and their effect on brain functioning. Carbohydrate foods cause the production of serotonin. Low levels of serotonin are associated with depression and low self-esteem. Additionally, the body manufactures its own serotonin when an individual experiences positive self-esteem, success in problem solving and other accomplishments. One implication for teachers is to find ways for all students to be successful, thereby increasing levels of serotonin. Another implication is to make sure that students have access to the breakfast and lunch programs available as well as nutritious snacks. Implications for Curriculum Adaptations I have discussed curriculum throughout the paper as it pertains to each dimension. In summary, the following are highlights of what must be considered when developing curriculum in schools or classrooms where students of poverty are involved. • Provide all students with a rigorous curriculum. • Have high expectations for all students. • Make students responsible for their own learning. • Provide support to students and their families. Involve parents. Early intervention is critical. • Help children to succeed. • Create an environment and use activities that foster mutual respect, resilience, self-esteem, selfregulation and self-efficacy. • Develop relationships with students to identify their needs (emotional and intellectual) and identify their individual learning style. • Emphasize that each student is unique with value, talents and abilities. • Promote awareness and acceptance of diversity. Encourage students to recognize similarities as well as differences. • Use principles of constructivism to make learning interesting, valuable and relevant to students. Teach for meaning. • Provide developmentally appropriate, meaningful learning activities and use thematic or integrated instruction, cooperative learning, inquiry and authentic learning. Poverty should not be an excuse for us to expect less from our students. They indeed come to us with numerous issues and challenges that interfere with their learning. We need to focus on their learning, find ways to help them overcome these challenges and gain the most they can from their education. Their education is likely their one chance to break the poverty cycle and escape. Just because they are poor doesn’t mean they cannot succeed. It is actually one of the best reasons for them to succeed. References Ascher, C. 1998. Improving school-home connection for low-income urban parents. ERIC Digest, ERIC Clearinghouse on Urban Education, NY, NY. Bandura, A. 2001. Social cognitive theory: An agentic perspective. Annual Review of Psychology, 52, 1-26. WilsonWeb July 11, 2001. Bassey, M. 1996. Teachers for a changing society: Helping neglected children cope with schooling. The Educational Forum, 61, 58-62. WilsonWeb June 30, 2001. Benard, B. 1995. Fostering resilience in children. ERIC Digests. Bowman, B. 1994. The challenge of diversity. Phi Delta Kappan, 76, 234-38. WilsonWeb July 16, 2001. Bracey, G. 1997. A few facts about poverty. Phi Delta Kappan, 79, 163-4. WilsonWeb July 10, 2001. Brophy, J. 1998. Failure syndrome students. ERIC Digest, ERIC Clearinghouse on Elementary and Early Childhood Education, Champaign, IL.
Brualdi, A. 1996.Multiple intelligences: Gardner’s theory. ERIC Digests. ERIC Clearinghouse on Assessment and Evaluation, Washington, DC. Caine, R. 2000. Building the bridge from research to classroom. Educational Leadership, 58, 3, 59-61. WilsonWeb July 18, 2001. Chafel, J. 1997. Children’s views of poverty: A review of research and implications for teaching. The Educational Forum, 61, 360-71. WilsonWeb July 10, 2001. Ciaccio, J. 2000. A teacher’s chance for immortality. The Education Digest, 65, 6, 44-8. WilsonWeb July 16, 2001. Council of State Governments. 1999. For the sake of children. Spectrum, 72, 3, 8-11. WilsonWeb July 11, 2001. Fogarty, R. (1997). Brain-compatible classrooms. Arlington Heights, IL: SkyLight Training and Publishing, Inc. Garbarino, J. 1997. Educating children in a socially toxic environment. Educational Leadership, 54, 12-16. WilsonWeb July 10, 2001. Given, B. 1998. Food for thought. Educational Leadership, 56, 3, 68-71. WilsonWeb July 18, 2001. Gomez, R. 1991. Teaching with a multicultural perspective. ERIC Digests, ERIC Clearinghouse on Elementary and Early Childhood Education, Urbana, IL. Goodwin, B. 2000. Raisingthe achievement of low-performing students. Policy brief retrieved from website www.mcrel.org Gordon, E. 2000. Bridging the minority achievement gap. Principal, 79, 5, 20-23. WilsonWeb July 16, 2001. Guerra, C. & Schutz, R. 2001. Vygotsky. http://www.english.sk.com.br/sk-vygot.html. Retrieved July 16, 2001. Haberman, M. 1995. Selecting star teachers for children and youth in urban poverty. Phi Delta Kappan, 76, 77781. WilsonWeb July 10, 2001. Haycock, K. 2001. Closing the achievement gap. Educational Leadership, 58, 6, 6-11. WilsonWeb July 16, 2001. Hixson, J. & Tinzmann, M. 1990. Who are the at-risk students of the 1990’s? North Central Regional Educational Laboratory Website. http://www.ncrel.org/sdrs/areas/rpl_esys/equity.htm Huitt, W. 1999. Conation as an important factor of mind. Website for Valdosta State University, GA. http://chiron.valdosta.edu/whuitt/col/regsys/conation.html. Jensen, E. (1998). Introduction to brain-compatible learning. San Diego, CA: The Brain Store, Inc. Johnson, G. 1998. Principles of instruction for at-risk learners. Preventing School Failure, 42, 4, 167-74. WilsonWeb July 16, 2001. Kaiser, A. & Delaney, E. 1996. The effects of poverty on parenting young children. Peabody Journal of Education, 71, 4, 66-85. WilsonWeb July 18, 2001. Knapp, M., Shields, P. & Turnbull, B. 1995. Academic challenge in high-poverty classrooms. Phi Delta Kappan, 76, 770-6. WilsonWeb July 16, 2001. Kovalik, S. & Olsen, K. 1998. How emotions run us, our students, and our classrooms. NASSP Bulletin, 82, 598, 29-37. WilsonWeb July 18, 2001. Leroy, C. & Symes, B. 2001. Teachers’ perspectives on the family backgrounds of children at risk. McGill Journal of Education, 36, 1, 45-60. WilsonWeb July 9, 2001. Maeroff, G. 1998. Schools as community agencies help needy kids. The Education Digest, 64, 3, 29-34. WilsonWeb July 10, 2001. Marlowe, B. & Page, M. 1999. Making the most of the classroom mosaic: A constructivist perspective. Multicultural Education, 6, 4, 19-21. WilsonWeb July 10, 2001. McGee, K. 1996. One family at a time. Educational Leadership, 53, 30-33. WilsonWeb July 10, 2001. Pajares, F. 1996. Self-efficacy beliefs in academic settings. Review of Educational Research, 66 (4), 543-578. Article retrieved from website for Valdosta State University, GA on July 10, 2001. Parry, T., & Gregory, G. (1998). Designing brain-compatible learning. Arlington Heights, IL: SkyLight Training and Publishing, Inc. Raffaele, L. & Knoff, H. 1999. Improving home-school collaboration with disadvantaged families: organizational principles, perspectives, and approaches. The School Psychology Review, 28, 3, 448-66. WilsonWeb July 16, 2001. Renchler, R. 1993. Poverty and learning. ERIC Digests, ERIC Clearinghouse on Educational Management, Eugene, OR. Schmitz, C., Wagner, J. & Menke, E. 2001. The interconnection of childhood poverty and homelessness: Negative impact/points of access. Families in Society, 82, 1, 69-77. WilsonWeb July 11, 2001. Slavin, R. 1998. Can education reduce social inequity? Educational Leadership, 55, 6-10. WilsonWeb July 16, 2001. Slocumb, P. & Payne, R. 2000. Identifying and nurturing the gifted poor. Principal, 79, 5, 28-32. WilsonWeb July 10, 2001.
Stover, D. 2000. The mobility mess of students who move. The Education Digest, 66, 3, 61-4. WilsonWeb July 18, 2001. Westwater, A. & Wolfe, P. 2000. The brain-compatible curriculum. Educational Leadership, 58, 3, 49-52. WilsonWeb July 18, 2001. Wolfe, P. 1998. Revisiting effective teaching. Educational Leadership, 56, 3, 61-64. WilsonWeb July 18, 2001. Websites: www.ed.gov/pubs/FamInvolve/local5.html: Article entitled Bridging School-Family Differences, 1997. Retrieved July 18, 2001. www.ncrel.org/sdrs/areas/issues/students/atrisk/at700.htm: North Central Regional Educational Laboratory Website. Critical Issue: Rethinking Learning for Students at Risk. Retrieved July 20, 2001. www.ncrel.org/sdrs/areas/issues/students/atrisk/at600.htm: North Central Regional Educational Laboratory Website. Critical Issue: Providing Effective Schooling for Students at Risk. Retrieved July 20, 1002. www.ncrel.org/sdrs/areas/issues/students/atrisk/at7lk7.htm: North Central Regional Educational Laboratory Website. Affective Dimensions of Learning. Retrieved July 20, 2001. www.sedl.org/scimath/compass/v03n02/brain.html: Website for Southwest Educational Development Laboratory. Article titled How Can Research on the Brain Inform Education? Retrieved May 4, 2001. http://tip.psychology.org/vygotsky.html: Article on social development theory. Retrieved July 16, 2001. ©2007 Teachnology, Inc. All rights reserved.