Teaching with Poverty in Mind: What Being Poor Does to Kids’ Brains and What Schools Can Do About It by Eric Jensen

5. Classroom-Level Success Factors

  • Although you have to deal with adopted standards, it doesn’t mean that every student should get standard instruction. A goal should be to personalize instruction as much as possible. Make your lessons engaging and bring in students’ interests when possible. Bored kids don’t learn much and they are more likely to get in trouble. Some students will require additional instruction to master some concepts and mastery is important when concepts build upon each other. When you do need to reteach something, teach it in a different manner so some aspects seem fresh and try to stay excited. Look for tutoring options for students who need it. Eric suggests that you don’t spend more than 50% of class time teaching new content. “You can teach faster, but students will just forget faster” (p. 141).
  • In addition to formative assessments that will help you know how each student is doing, you need to use pre-assessments prior to the beginning of new unit. This allows you to adjust your lesson plans to emphasize the things students know less about. Give yourself several days to analyze pre-test results prior to the start the unit. It may reveal that some students already understand some things, which will allow them to work on something else or start at a more advanced level. Pre-tests will also allow you to compare the students’ knowledge and understanding before and after the unit.
  • Expect less and you will get less. Many teachers don’t think higher-order thinking is appropriate for poor or low-achieving students. Let the students see that you are hopeful and optimistic about their prospects. Research shows that when teachers think students are intelligent the students learn more. Treat all students as if they are gifted, tell stories of hope, and avoid complaining. Track random acts of kindness and be sure to read the very cool story on page 117. Pages 114-115 give suggestions for surveys you can give to students and staff so see what their attitudes are regarding expectations.
  • Arts, Enrichment, and Physical Activity: Research supports the idea that these three features improve brain function and learning. Unfortunately many schools are cutting arts and physical education in favor of more test prep. They also set high bars for entrance into AP courses and other enrichment activities. This is a big mistake. Joggers perform better on learning and memory tests than non-joggers. Look for ways to incorporate movement as part of instruction and make sure that kids don’t just sit around during recess. Integrate art and music into other subjects and have the teachers of art and music try to do the same. Look for opportunities for teachers of other subjects to collaborate with art and music teachers.
  • Projects help students develop a personal connection to their work. Students should have as much input as possible regarding the nature of the project and the results should be published somehow. They can be displayed in common areas and/or placed on the school or class website. Projects are also likely to feature interactions with the real world, and they allow students to apply and strengthen skills.
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