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Teaching with Poverty in Mind

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Darla Taylor

on 7 October 2013

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Transcript of Teaching with Poverty in Mind

Teaching with Poverty in Mind
What Being Poor Does to Kids' Brains and
What Schools Can Do
About It.

Eric Jenson (2009)
A Few Definitions

Gene expression - the translation of information encoded in a gene into protein or RNA. This process "switches on" or remains silent. "Through gene expression, students can make significant transformations in behavior and cognition regardless of the genetic makeup of their parents." (Jenson, p. 48)
Fluid Intelligence - ability to rapidly adjust their strategies and thought processes from one context to another. (p.53)
Academic Operating System - skills formed for school success such as focus, capture, process (sequencing skills using auditory, visual, and tactile), evaluate, prioritize, manipulate, and apply...using the ability and motivation to defer gratification (or disengage, if needed) and make sustained efforts to meet long-term goals. (p.55)
Other "operating systems": socialization, survival, and work
Framing - creating an intentional bias toward what follows so that students "buy in" or "hooked" into the content.
Other important terms:
S - Standards-Based Curriculum and Instruction
H - Hope Building
A - Arts, Athletics, and Advanced Placement
R - Retooling of the Operating System
E - Engaging Instruction
C - Champion's Mind Set - an attitude of success and confidence.
(Discussing biographies of relatable successful people and
instilling optimism.)
H - Hopeful Effort - an emotional long-term drive to achieve and
the ability to delay gratification. (Listening and encouraging
student hopes and dreams; teaching goal-setting and study
A - Attentional Skills - the ability to stay focused for detailed
learning, to shift when needed, and to resist impulsive
decisions. (Project-based learning, inquiry, music training,
drama/theater arts.)
M - Memory - good short-term and working memory have high
visual and verbal capacity. (In-depth projects, music, and
P - Processing skills. To manipulate and manage visual, auditory
and tactile sensory input. (Music, cooking, writing, visual
arts, critical thinking, and sports)
S - Sequencing skills. Strong sequencing skills are organized and
able to apply strategies and prioritize tasks and items.
(Music, cooking, projects, sports, and math)
Misconceptions -

"Those Kids"
"Won't change"
"Nothing can be done"
"Waste of Time"
"Can't wait until retirement"
"Window of opportunity is closed"
"If life experiences can change poor kids for the worse, can't life experiences also change them for the better?" (p.1)

"Seeing and hearing how kids from desperate home circumstances succeeded in schools around the world intrigued me." (p.1)

Jensen makes three claims:
(1). Chronic exposure to poverty causes the brain to physically change in a detrimental manner.
(2). Because the brain is designed to adapt from experience, it can also change for the better. (Poor children can experience emotional, social, and academic success.)
(3). Although many factors affect academic success, certain key ones are especially effective in turning around students raised in poverty. (p.2)
1. Understanding the Nature of Poverty
Risk factors include:
Emotional and social challenges
Acute and chronic stressors
Cognitive lags
Health and safety issues
One problem >>>>another problem
Situational poverty
Generational poverty
Absolute poverty
Relative poverty
Urban poverty
Rural poverty
Early childhood:
Deficiencies in language and emotional responsiveness
Exposed to adverse social and physical environments
Less time learning about the environment; more time trying to survive in the environment.
Less cognitive-rich opportunities
Chaotic and unstable households
Quite vulnerable to the negative effects of change, disruption, and uncertainty - undermines the development of self and the capacity for self-determination, and self-efficacy.
More stress-ridden attachments with adults they are associated and have difficulty establishing rewarding friendships with children their age.
Implications ---
Chemical Dependence
Hectic work schedules
Feelings of isolation and unloved
Unhappy life events
Poor academic performance
Behavioral problems
Dropping out of school
Drug abuse
Poverty at School in Preschool, Kindergarten and Primary Grades:
health care and family care
high tardy rates
Students begin to believe that no one cares or their teachers do not like them or talk down to them.
Students often give up on academics

Jensen's Action Steps
Deepen staff understanding -
Many teachers cannot understand-
empathy and cultural knowledge
Know Chronic Stress Disorder -
"Acting out" behavior with impulsivity
and short term memory. Blurting, acting
without permission and forgetting what
to do next.
Change the school culture from pity to empathy.
Pity leads to lowered expectations.
Speak respectfully and not
Use positive affirmations both vocally
and through displays and posters.

2 How Poverty Affects Behavior and Academic Performance

The Risk Factors of Poverty
Nine months in utero - exposure to toxins and stress
Epigenetics - the
study of heritable changes in gene function that occur without a change in primary DNA sequence
The process begins with the core relationships
with parents or primary caregivers which forms
a personality that is either secure and attached
or insecure and unattached.

Once in school, socialization and social status
contribute significantly to behavior- students
feel peer pressures and risk social rejection. The
quest for high social status drives students to attempt to differentiate in areas of sports, personal style, sense of humor or street skills.
Significant Risk Factors -
E - emotional and social challenges
A - acute and chronic stressors
C - cognitive lags
H - health and safety issues
Emotional and Social Challenges - "Typically, the weak or anxious attachments formed by infants in poverty become the basis for full-blown insecurity during the early childhood years."
teen motherhood
inadequate health care
Leads to decreased sensitiviity and poor school performance and behavior
Beginning at Birth:
attachment formed predicts the quality of future relationships
leading role in development of social functions such as curiosity, arousal, emotional regulation, independence and social competence
Attunement: most crucial during the first 6-24 months of infants' lives and helps them develop a wider range of healthy emotions, including gratitude, forgiveness, and empathy....10 to 20 hours each week of harmonious, reciprocal interactions

Safe, predictable, stable
Unfortunately, teachers interpret the students' deficits as a lack of respect and manners students must be taught....modeling and teaching!!
Three Strong "Relational" Forces that drive their school behavior -
1. The drive for reliable relationships
2. The strengthening of peer socialization
3. The quest for importance and social status
Teachers incorporate action steps in the classroom
embody respect
embed social skills
be inclusive
Some "roller-coaster" stress is healthy
Acute stress
resulting from exposure to such trama as abuse or violence
Chronic stress - refers to high stress sustained over time.
(more common and more influence)
Exposure is hardwired into children's developing brains, creating a devastating, cumulative effect.
The prefrontal cortex and hippocampus crucial for learning, cognition, and working memory are the areas of the brain most affected by cortisol...the stress hormone.
Shrinks the neurons in the brain's frontal lobes -an area that includes the prefrontal cortex and is responsible for such functions as making judgements, planning and regulating impulsity
And can modify and impair the hippocampus in ways that reduce learning capacity!
The production of "fight or flight" hormones wastes away the areas that control emotional regulation, empathy, social functioning, and other skills imperative to healthy emotional development.
Increases the complexity of neurons in the amygdala, the brain's emotion center.
Action Steps:
1. Recognize the signs
2. Alter the environment
3. Empower students
Are there going to be cognitive lags?
YES! BUT... 1. Build core skills
2. Pinpoint assessments
3. Provide hope and support
4. Recruit and train the best staff
you can!
Health and Safety Issues??? Of course!
School absences
Duration of school absences
Tardiness rates
Incidents of illness during class
Rates of undiagnosed and/or untreated health problems or disabilities.
Action Steps:
1. Increase health-related services
2. Develop an enrichment counterattack

The odds can be beat! "Low SES children's behavior is an adaptive response to a chronic condition of poverty, but a brain that is susceptible to positive, enriching effect." (p.45)
3. Embracing the Mind-Set of Change

"Brains can and do change. Brains are designed to change. (p.47)

Neuroplasticity is the quality that allows region-specific changes to occur in the brain as a result of experience.
Epigenetics - reversible heritable changes in gene function, or the capacity of environmental factors (e.g., stress, nutrition, exercise, learning, and socialization) to influence gene activity.
Gene expression can make significant transformations in behavior and cognition regardless of the genetic makeup of their parents.
Fluid intelligence - a context-independent, highly transferable skill that will serve your students well in the real world.
Early Childhood:
Head Start
Early Head Start
Not a quick fix, but a ripple effect positively influencing children's lives over the long haul. "Despite the lack of clear-cut, uniform results, it is clear that early care programs do make a difference and they are worth supporting." (p.62)
Action Steps:
1. Change staff members' mind-sets
2. Invest in staff
3. Support ongoing collaboration
4. Encourage staff dialogue
5. Gather quality data

What DOES NOT Work!!!
Focusing only on the basics (drill and kill)
Maintaining order through a show of force.
Eliminating or reducing time for arts, sports, and physical education.
Increasing and intensifying classroom discipline.
Decreasing interaction among students.
Installing metal detectors
Delivering more heavy-handed top-down lectures
Must change yourself first and way of thinking!
Chapter 4: Schoolwide Success Factors

S - Support of the Whole Child
H - Hard Data (SCARF - specific, continuous,
accurate, relevant, and fast)
A - Accountability
R - Relationship Building
E - Enrichment Mind-Set

28% of a student's waking time...whole day services

High expectations must be embraced and not parroted. (p.83)

Student staff relationships
Quality food vs. quantity food
Create a strong environmental message
Mistakes that High-Performing Schools Never Make -
Mistake #1 - Overdoing the pep talks and hot air
Mistake #2 - Planning Endlessly
Mistake #3 - Putting Kids First and Staff Last
Mistake #4 - Creating a Climate of Fear
Mistake #5 - Measuring Improvement Solely Through Test Scores
Mistake #6 - Treating the Symptoms, Not the Causes (meet the needs to reduce the need)
Mistake #7 - Counting on Big Wins Quickly
Successful schools instill substantial and realistic hope and cultivate the dreams of the next generation." (p.104)
5. Classroom - Level Success Factors
S - Standards-based Curriculum and Instruction
H - Hope Building
A - Arts, Athletics, and Advanced Placement
R - Retooling of the Operating System
E - Engaging Instruction
Action Steps
!. Turn standards into meaningful units
2. Preassess to determine students' background knowledge
3. Adjust your lesson plans.
4. Inventory students and staff
5. Implement 24/7 hope
6. Monitor results
"Dreams mobilize your students. If you do nothing else, provide hope for the future. For many people living in poverty, hope and faith in tomorrow are the only things that keep them going each day." (p.117)
"If brains can change for the worse because of hopelessness, they can change for the better because of the hope provided by good people in a good school. For students living in poverty, hope is not a frivolous luxury but an absolute necessity." (p.117)
Sensory Motor Labs
Advanced Placement Jump-Starters
Chicago Arts Partnerships in Education (CAPE)
7. Implement a strong arts program
8. Step up the activity.
9. Implement an advanced placement curriculum

Retooling of the Operating System

C - Champion's Mind-Set - attitude of success
H - Hopeful Effort - listening to and
encouraging students' hopes and dreams
and by teaching goal-setting and study
A - Attentional Skills - project-based learning, inquiry, music training, and drama and theater arts.
M - Memory - in-depth projects, music, and drama
P - Processing Skills - manipulating, manage visual, auditory, and tactile sensory input. Activities such as music, cooking, writing, visual arts, critical thinking and sports.
S - Sequencing skills - organized and able to apply strategies and prioritize tasks and items - music, cooking, projects, sports, and math


6. Instructional Light and Magic

"We do know that school turnarounds are accomplished by fostering caring relationships that build students' resilience and self-esteem, by setting high academic standards in the belief that all students can learn, and by initiating a focused and collaborative effort among staff members, parents, and the community to engage and challenge students to learn the things they need to learn." (p.151)
Full transcript