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Teaching With Poverty In Mind Ann Burns, EdD Laura Dedic

Teaching With

Poverty In


Ann Burns, EdD

Laura Dedic


– Changes in the Brain

– Achievement Factors

– What can teachers do

Poverty Myths

1. Most poor are lazy and lack ambition.

2. Poor value education about the same as middle class.

3. If you gave the poor money, everything would change.

4. The parents of poor children have got to do more for

the children to learn better.

5. Schools already do their part; it’s up to the students to

do more.

6 F






Absolute VS Relative


Generational VS Situational


Urban VS Rural

Bottom Line

– Kids from poverty are different

– Brains adapt to suboptimal conditions

– Brains can and do change everyday

– YOU can facilitate positive change

– It will take a 100% “no excuses” mindset

How are children from low SES

different? EACH deserves better

Emotional & Social Challenges

Acute & Chronic Stressors

Cognitive Lags

Health & Safety Issues

Social and Emotional


Surviving, Not Thriving

– Medical Care - Substance Abuse

– Support Networks - Depression

– Books - Attendance

– Single Parenting - Change, Disruption

– Emotional Responsiveness - Instability

– Stress - Isolation

More Likely to Display

– Acting out behaviors

– Impatience and impulsivity

– Gaps in politeness and social graces

– More limited range of behavioral responses

– Inappropriate emotional responses

– Less empathy for others’ misfortunes

Emotional Support

– A mother in poverty is less likely to provide the

emotional support needed for proper

developmental growth when she’s stressed about

her own health, safety, bill paying, hunger and

housing prospects.

Emotional Punctuation

– Students that have emotional punctuation learn much

faster than students that do not.

– Emotional Punctuation is a “memory maker” and these

positive interactions make better memories. These

include: verbal affirmations, smiles, physical gestures,

head nodding, positive comments, positive music,

celebrations, etc.

What about Negative Emotional


– Teachers who criticize, demand, and use sarcasm as

classroom discipline will activate the fear and stress

areas of the student’s brain. This alters the student’s

ability to think and learn.

– Fight, Flight or Freeze

So What? Now What?

– What might you do differently in your

context with this new knowledge?

Acute and Chronic


Stress and Distress

– Stress (on and off) is healthy for us!

– Distress (chronic) is toxic to our brain and body!

– Low SES children are exposed to more stressors,

more intense and longer lasting stressors, and

have fewer coping skills than higher SES

counterparts.Evans, G.W., Kim P. (2007) Childhood Poverty and Health: cumulative risk exposure and stress dysregulation.

School Behaviors

– Children in poverty are often distractible and

hyper vigilant OR may have learned helplessness.

These are symptoms of stress disorders, not apathy

or a negative anti school attitude.

So What? Now What?

– What might you do differently in your

context with this new knowledge?

Cognitive Stimulation

Environments Power Brain


– The physical environment needs to be safe, varied

and complex.

– The language must be interactive, complex and


– The cognitive environment needs variety, richness

and increasing complex physical movement.

Parental Verbalization

– The difference in the amount of parental verbalizations of children in families on welfare versus professional families is:

A) double

B) triple

C) four fold

Extras for Learning

– Quality child care Team travel costs

– Stimulating toys Summer camps

– Recreational books School supplies

– Private music/ dance lessons

Memory and Cognition Conflict

– Low SES students are less able to handle

dissonance; the cognitive conflict skills which are

learned because they often get little or not role

models to see and hear them being used.

So What? Now What?

– What might you do differently in your

context with this new knowledge?

Health and Safety


More Toxic Exposure– Lead

– Twice as likely to have levels of lead in their blood

– Poison

– 1/4 live with someone who smokes

– Hazards

– Greater exposure to environmental hazards

– Dangerous Address

– Live on or near toxic waste sites

– Pesticide Exposure

– More exposure to pesticides

So What? Now What?

– What might you do differently in your

context with this new knowledge?


What can we do in the


Use Mental Models

– Help students develop a file management system for their brains.

– Develop mental models for your curriculum

– Helps with identifying abstract content information.

– Reinforce generic mental models for occupations

– Space – our relation to direction; establishing order to the universe we


– Time – understanding days, weeks, hours, etc.

– Part to Whole – break down in parts to understand the whole

– Formal Register – the language of work or school


– Vocabulary is the tool for thinking.

– It is essential to help build the vocabulary in a child living in poverty.

– Classroom Strategies

– Word walls SAT word of the day

– Working on Greek and Latin prefixes Madlibs

– Identifying key vocab in content areas

– Bell Ringers/Exit Slips

– Daily Oral Grammar

– Teach school/workplace vocabulary

Teach the Processes or “How”

– Teach how to complete the task.

– Classroom strategies

– Demonstrations

– Rubrics

– Examples of good and bad work

Student Developed Questions

– Question making leads to metacognition for a student

– Classroom strategies

– Jeopardy Questions

– Student Created Study Guides

– Student Created Multiple Choice test questions

– Thick or Thin Question Activity

Exercise, Energy & Oxygen

– Do not take recess away from students. They need physical activity

for the brain.

– Classroom Strategies:

– PE in the classroom Creative Dramatics – Skits & Plays

– Breathing techniques Stretching

– 30/90/10 Rule

– Games with movement – Twister, Board Races, etc.

Forge Relationships

– Children need a strong, caring, & positive adult in the classroom.

– Classroom Strategies:

– Learn student names

– Learn about their families

– Ask about their hobbies

– Demonstrate and role-model positive behaviors rather than


– Mentor or develop Peer Mentor relationships