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Monday, June 4, 2012
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Monday, July 25, 2011

Teaching with Poverty in Mind-Chapter 2

Tuesday, July 5, 2011
Chapter 2:  How Poverty Affects Behavior and Academic Performance
The Risk Factors of Poverty


·         Behavioral Geneticists commonly claim that DNA accounts for 30-50 percent of our behaviors, an estimate that leaves 50-70 percent explained by environment.
·         Children raised in poverty rarely choose to behave differently, but they are faced daily with overwhelming challenges that affluent children never have to confront, and their brains have adapted to suboptimal conditions in ways that undermine good school performance.
Theory and Research
                The brains of infants are hardwired for only six emotions:
1.       Joy
2.       Anger
3.       Surprise
4.       Disgust
5.       Sadness
6.       Fear
·         To grow up emotionally healthy, children under three need:
o   A strong, reliable caregiver who provides consistent and unconditional love, guidance and support
o   Safe, predictable, stable environments
o   Ten to 20 hours each week of harmonious, reciprocal interactions
This process is known as attunement.
·         One study found that only 36 percent of low income parents were involved in three or more school activities on a regular basis, compared with 59% of parents above the poverty line.
·         Students will emotional dysregulation may get so easily frustrated that they give up on a task when success was just moments away.
·         Children raised in poverty are more likely to display:
o   Acting out behaviors
o   Impatience and impulsivity
o   Gaps in politeness and social graces
o   A more limited range of behavioral responses
o   Inappropriate emotional responses
o   Less empathy for others’ misfortunes
·         Expect students to be impulsive, to blurt inappropriate language, and to act “disrespectful” until you teach them stronger social and emotional skills and until the social conditions at your school make it attractive not to do those things.
Every emotional response, other than the six hardwired emotions of joy, surprise, disgust, sadness, and fear must be taught.  Cooperation, patience, embarrassment, empathy, gratitude, and forgiveness are crucial to a smoothly running complex social environment, like your classroom. 
There are three relational forces that drive student behavior in school
The drive for reliable relationships
The relationships that teachers build with students form the single strongest access to student goals, socialization, motivation, and academic performance.
The strengthening of peer socialization
Students want to belong somewhere.  If your school aims to improve student achievement, academic success must be culturally acceptable among your students.
The quest for importance and social status
Every student will need to feel like the “status hunt” can just as well lead to better grades as better behaviors.

When students feel socialized and accepted, they perform better academically.

Action Steps
Embody Respect:
·         Give respect to students first, even when they seem least to deserve it
·         Share the decision making in class
·         Maintain expectations while offering choice and soliciting input
·         Avoid demeaning sarcasm
·         Model the process of adult thinking.  Keep your voice calm and avoid labeling actions
·         Discipline through positive relationships, not by exerting power or authority.
Embed Social Skills:
·         Teach basic but crucial meet and greet skills
·         Embed turn taking in class
·         Remind students to thank their classmates after completing collaborative activities
·         Implement social emotional skill building programs in the early years.
Be inclusive
·         Always refer to the school as “our school” and “our class”
·         Acknowledge students to make it to class, and thank them for small things
·         Celebrate effort as well as achievement
·         Stress can be defined as the physiological response to the perception of loss of control resulting from an adverse situation or person
·         Acute stress refers to severe stress resulting from exposure to such trauma as abuse or violence, where chronic stress refers to his stress sustained over time.
Theory and Research
·         A stressor is anything that threatens to disrupt homeostasis-for example, criticism, neglect, social exclusion, lack of enrichment, malnutrition, drug use, exposure to toxins, abuse or trauma.
·         The prefrontal cortex and the hippocampus, crucial for learning cognition, and working memory, are the areas of the brain most affected by cortisol, the so called stress hormone.
·         The production of fight or flight hormones in abused children atrophies the areas that control emotional regulation, empathy, social functioning, and other skills imperative to healthy emotional development.
·         Chronic unmediated stress often results in a condition known as an allostatic load.  Allostatic load is “carryover” stress.  Instead of returning to a healthy baseline of homeostasis, the growing brain adapts to negative life experiences so that it becomes either hyper-responsive or hypo-responsive.
Effects on School Behavior and Performance
Chronic stress:
·                     Is linked to over 50 percent of all absences
·                     Impairs attention and concentration
·                     Reduces cognition, creativity, and memory
·                     Diminishes social skills and social judgment
·                     Reduces motivation, determination, and effort
·                     Increases the likelihood of depression
·                     Reduces neurogenesis (growth of new brain cells)

·         Exposure to community violence-an unsafe home neighborhood or a dangerous path to school-contributes to lower academic performance.
·         Stress resulting from bullying and school violence impairs test scores, diminishes attention spans, and increases absenteeism and tardiness.
·          The chronic stress of poverty impairs parenting skills, and disengaged or negative parenting in turn impairs children’s school performance
·         Stress adversely affects cognition
·         Exposure to chronic or acute stress is debilitating
Action Steps
Recognize the signs:  It is crucial for teachers to recognize the signs of chronic stress in students.  Students who are at risk for a stress related disorder tend to:
·                     Believe that they have minimal control over stressors
·                     Have no idea how long the stressors will last, or how intense they will remain
·                     Have few outlets through which they can release the frustration caused by the stressors
·                     Interpret stressors as evidence of circumstances worsening or becoming more hopeless
·                     Lack social support for the duress caused by the stressors


Alter the environment:  Teach students how to act differently by
·         Introducing conflict resolution skills
·         Teaching students how to deal with anger and frustration
·         Introducing responsibilities and the value of giving restitution
·         Teaching students to set goals to focus on what they want
·         Role modeling how to solve real world problems
·         Giving students a weekly life problem to solve collectively
·         Teaching social skills
·         Introducing stress reduction techniques (both physical and mental)
·         The correlations between socioeconomic status and cognitive ability and performance are typically quite significant
Theory and Research
To function at school, the brain uses an overarching “operating system” that comprises a collection of neurocognitive systems enabling students to pay attention, work hard, process and sequence content, and think critically.  The five key systems are:
I.                    The prefrontal/executive system includes our capacity to defer gratification, create plans, make decision, and hold thoughts in mind.
II.                  The left perisylvian/language system encompasses semantic, syntactic, and phonological aspects of language.  It is the foundation for our reading, pronunciation, spelling and writing skills.
III.                The medial temporal/memory system allows us to process explicit learning.  It includes indexing structure and emotional processor
IV.                The parietal/spatial cognition system is important for organizing, sequencing, and visualizing information.  It is essential for mathematics and music.
V.                  The occipitotemporal/visual cognition system is responsible for pattern recognition and visual mental imagery, translating mental images into more abstract representations of object shape and identity, and reciprocally translating visual memory into mental images.

·         Children’s vocabulary competence is influenced by the mother’s socio-demographic characteristics, personal characteristics, vocabulary, and knowledge of child development
·         Reading skills are not hardwired into the human brain; every subskill of reading including phonological awareness, fluency, vocabulary, phonics, and comprehension must be explicitly taught.
Effects on School and Behavior Performance
·         Although the effects of poverty are not automatic or fixed, they often set in motion a vicious and stubborn cycle of low expectations.

Action Steps
·         Build Core Skills:
o   Attention and focus skills
o   Short and long term memory
o   Sequencing and processing skills
o   Problem solving skills
o   Perseverance and ability to apply skills in the long term
o   Social skills
o   Hopefulness and self esteem
o   Sample Problem Solving Process (on display in a classroom)
§  Identify and define the problem
§  Brainstorm solutions
§  Evaluate each solution with a checklist or rubric
§  Implement the selected solution
§  Follow up and debrief on the results to learn
·         Pinpoint Assessments:  Quality assessment is essential, but follow through is even more important
·         Provide hope and support
·         Recruit and train the best staff you can: A Boston Public Schools study the effects of teachers found that in one academic year, the top third of teachers produced as much as six times the learning growth as the bottom third of teachers did.  Top teachers crave challenge and workplace flexibility and look for highly supportive administers.

Action Steps
·         Increase health related services
·         Provide a physician on site once a week
·         Working with a local pharmacy to arrange for access to medications
·         Arranging for a dentist to make school visits
·         Educating student’s caregivers about school resources
·         Providing tutors to help students who miss class to catch up
·         Improving awareness among staff about health related issues.

·         Develop an enrichment counterattack

§  Provide wraparound health and medical services
§  Minimizes negative stress and strengthens coping skills
§  Uses a cognitively challenging curriculum
§  Provides tutoring and pullout services to build student skills
§  Fosters close relationships with staff and peers
§  Offers plenty of exercise options.


Teaching with Poverty in Mind

So, when I attended the DCPS Urban Institute a week or so ago, I found Teaching with Poverty in Mind by Eric Jensen in the Institute tote bag.  It looked like an easy read, so I decided to start reading.  What a wonderful experience the text has been.  The book is about "what being poor does to kid's brains and what schools can do about it".  Knowing this was right up my ally, I started reading.  I will summarize each chapter in case you don't have time to read the whole text, although I highly recommend it.  Until next time, take a few minutes to Understand the Nature of Poverty..........

Chapter 1:  Understanding the Nature of Poverty
·         Poverty calls for key information and smarter strategies, not resignation or despair.
·         Poverty is a chronic and debilitating condition that results from multiple adverse synergistic risk factors and affects the mind, body and soul.
·         Six Types of Poverty:  Situational Poverty, Generational Poverty, Absolute Poverty, Relative Poverty, Urban Poverty, Rural Poverty
·         There are four primary risk factors afflicting families living in poverty:
o   Emotional and social challenges
o   Acute and chronic stressors
o   Cognitive lags
o   Health and safety issues
·         Poor children often breathe contaminated air and drink impure water
·         Single parenthood strains resources and correlates directly with poor school attendance, lower grades, and lower changes of attending college
·         Common issues in low income families include depression, chemical dependence, and hectic work schedules-all factors that interfere with the healthy attachments that foster children’s self esteem, sense of mastery of their environment, and optimistic attitudes.  Poor children often feel  isolated and unloved, feelings that kick off a downward spiral of unhappy life events, including poor academic performance, behavioral problems, dropping out of school, and drug abuse.  These events tend to rule out college as an option and perpetuate the cycle of poverty. 
·         Children who experience poverty during their pre-school and early school years experience lower rates of school completion than children and adolescents who experience poverty only in later years.

Action steps
o   Deepen staff understanding:  Teachers don’t need to come from their student’s culture to be able to teach them, but empathy and cultural knowledge are essential.  Form study groups to explore the brain based physiological effects of chronic poverty.
o   Change the school culture from pity to empathy:  Encourage teachers to feel empathy rather than pity; kids will appreciate your ability to know what it’s like to be in their shoes.
Wednesday, June 29, 2011
Are you looking for ways to increase your mentoring skills? 

Mentoring for Impact Symposium

Mentoring for Impact Symposium

JUNE 25 AND 26, 2011
8:00 am - 3:00 pm

This symposium is open to teachers with three or more years of experience who are eligible to serve as mentors.  Please make plans to join us.