I got an email from a very good friend of ours in response to a recent newsletter we sent out.  She said that they had done a lot of work around how to handle their poverty-level school clientele and wanted to get my take on it.  So here it goes…

A lot of our clients read ad study books and speakers on teaching students from poverty-level homes and here’s the deal: while our clients have identified why the kids are possibly the way they are and that there exists a gap in experience along with a different mindset, it still comes down to the teaching of it.  In fact (and I don’t publicly share this info), but we have a client in the South that is so focused on reading the books, having book studies and going to conferences that they haven’t IMPLEMENTED anything and their teaching really suffers…and the data shows it.

I see every week that explicit, direct, scope and sequenced teaching that is based upon the data is the very best that we have to offer to struggling kids of poverty (or any other struggling kid for whatever reason!) – – my mindset is basically this: We have control over one thing and one thing only – the quality of instruction.  If I can teach with lots of energy and interest, be well prepared for my lessons, have a strong management system in my classroom and teach literally like my hair’s on fire, then I’m bringing my best to the kids who need it most every day.  And I have full control over that!  

The thing that I worry about is that those books help provide us a framework for how to think about “those” kids (I hate that term, but you get what I mean!), but they leave off on the “what” to teach them thing.   I realize that’s not the purpose of the books, per se – – but that IS what the teachers want to know most!  It’s kind of like going on a diet (ugh!  Hate it!) – I can read a zillion books on what to do combat weight gain or struggling fitness and, while it might help me understand the problem at hand, the ACTION still comes down to moving more and eating less. 

The same is true for teaching kids who struggle or might potentially struggle: its the proper DOING that’s going to make a difference.  Knowing more about their home-life is going to help us be empathetic and might help us with our management of the student, but there is NOTHING that we can provide students that is more powerful than off-the-charts-exceptional instruction.  That’s why they come to school anyway!

We are seeing incredible results with kids that have not previously scored well – the results are coming from very focused, very streamlined, very energetic (this is key), very enthusiastic (this is really key!), yet VERY SIMPLE instruction that is done every single day that the kids are in school.  We are working with our clients to de-clutter the instruction – – simple works every time.  Simple ESPECIALLY works with strugglers of any kind for whatever reason.

So, the bottom line as I see it and experience it is this: when you’re trying to figure out what strategies or tricks to use with kids of poverty, look back at what works for all kids: explicitly, well-planned, thoroughly thought-out, energetically taught, simple and habitual teaching on what the scientifically based reading research tells us kids need to know.