Monday, August 1, 2016

Peer Study - Turning Around a Socio-Economically Disadvantaged School

Last spring, our school administrators scheduled vertical articulation meetings between content area teachers of grades 6-12.  We were tasked with finding a topic of study for the coming school year.  Our group chose to research how schools that socio-economically challenged can alter their structures and classrooms to improve student learning.

My department head, and leader of our peer study group, recently forwarded us an article (How Poverty Affects Classroom Engagement) for us to read and discuss.  The notes below are my take-aways from my reading - a large portion of which are directly copied from the article.

1. Don't take away recess - for academic reasons or behavioral reasons.  Students need movement to increase their oxygen intake.

2. . "Vocabulary building must form a key part of enrichment experiences for students, and teachers must be relentless about introducing and using new words."

3.  "Research from 60 high-poverty schools tells us that the primary factor in student motivation and achievement isn't the student's home environment; it's the school and the teacher (Irvin, Meece, Byun, Farmer, & Hutchins, 2011)."  Build a classroom of respect and trust.  Involve the students as much as possible, making the learning relevant to this lives.  Be positive and affirm the effort you are witnessing.  Provide daily feedback so students can reflect on, and learn from, their short-comings.

4.  Focus on a growth mindset.  Students of lower socioeconomic status often see the future as being less hopeful.  Make statements that focus on the ability of the brain to do things we don't always expect they can. 

5. "Commonly, low-SES children show cognitive problems, including short attention spans, high levels of distractibility, difficulty monitoring the quality of their work, and difficulty generating new solutions to problems (Alloway, Gathercole, Kirkwood, & Elliott, 2009)." To combat this, start small.  Start with basic vocabulary and build up.  (I see this being somewhat difficult to do in a geometry course.)  Have students immediately recall statements.  (Ex:  Have students repeat the homework assignment to you when given verbally.  Perhaps this could be stated and repeated by the class before being written on the board.)

6. Be caring and compassionate to help combat the negative comments and stress that students may be experiencing at home. When discipline problems arise, speak to the student privately. Do not reprimand them in class.  Model the behaviors you want to see in them. 

7. "Children living in poverty experience greater chronic stress than do their more affluent counterparts. Low-income parents' chronic stress affects their kids through chronic activation of their children's immune systems, which taxes available resources and has long-reaching effects (Blair & Raver, 2012)."  This distress may present itself as in-your-face assertiveness or ignore-me-I'm-not-here passivity.  To combat this, try allowing more opportunities for students to take control of their learning.  Encourage leadership and responsibility. Include more teamwork and decision-making opportunities in the classroom.  


  1. Fascinating study for this year! I was just reading this article,, yesterday. I haven't read the research it cites but focusing on growth mindset sounds significant!

    1. Thanks for passing that on! I will definitely be reading it.
      It's amazing to me how little I had heard about mindsets until the last few years and now it seems to be showing up in every book and article I read. (Or, perhaps I am just recognizing it for the first time.)

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