The other night, as I read A Framework for Understanding Poverty, by Ruby Payne, I found some of the Hidden Rules Among the Classes very interesting. Payne says that “the bottom line in generational poverty is entertainment and relationships” (pg. 41), This intrigued me. Relationships I can understand, but really, entertainment?
She describes a situation where teachers are very concerned about a family because they did not have a fridge. So, many of the staff members came together, pooled their resources, and bought the family this much-needed fridge. About 3 weeks after this purchase, the students from this family were away for a week. Upon their return, when asked where they had been, the students told their teachers that they had gone camping because their family was so stressed. When asked how they could afford to go camping, the students responded that their family had sold the fridge (pg. 41)! Oh my!
I do not think this is unusual behaviour in families in poverty.
When I think back on my own childhood and wonder if this held true for my family as well, I believe that it did, in many respects. My family had one of the first computers when they came out – OK, maybe not the name brand Commodore 64, but a computer, nonetheless: The RadioShack Colour Computer. Did we really need this computer? No. Not really. Did we use it primarily for entertainment purposes? Yes. We had a nice stereo system in our various homes. My dad had a nice SLR camera. I can think of many things we had for the purpose of entertainment. I can also think of other things that were not entertainment related that we did not have.
So, if entertainment and relationships are the most important factors for the children who come from poverty, one may think how should we use this information in the school and in individual classrooms?
As for relationships, this only emphasizes the importance of getting to know the students and the families on a more personal level. Once these connections are made and strong relationships are formed, then one can begin to teach the students the hidden rules of the middle class, which values work and achievement.
As for entertainment, hmm…. while I understand that educators are not at school to entertain their students perse, we are there to ensure that children learn. To learn, children need to be engaged. To be engaged, they need to be entertained – especially, according to Ruby Payne, those children who come from poverty.
So, how does one engage these children you may ask?
I believe the answer is with technology and hands-on activities!
I saw this with my own eyes five years ago when I taught Science for a Grade 6 class, In this class, there were some students who were considered to be very challenging: had a learning disabilities, had a written-output disorders, refused to complete class work, and showed little interest in school (looked like they were sleeping in class half the time). Many of these descriptors also brought along behavioural challenges as well. Not fun for a classroom teacher. But, it was not an impossible teaching situation.
Once I brought technology and hands-on activities into the classroom for our Science class, however, things changed. Even the most challenging students became engaged and excited about learning. In fact, at the end of the year I don’t think any student received a final grade in Science below a C+.
Instead of working through the units in the Science 6 textbook (which, because I always taught primary students, I found to be boring and monotonous – as I’m sure the students did as well), we completed hands-on activities. For instance, students completed science experiment stations, they built their own model houses and learned how to hook lights up in the rooms (for our electricity unit), they did a webquest on a Canadian Scientist, we watched BrainPop videos when introducing new topics, and the list goes on.
That was 5 years ago. A lot has changed in 5 years when you think of technology. I can only imagine the resources available online now!
So, we, as educators, need to use the technology available to us. We need to “entertain” our students in an effort to engage them, which will, in turn, help to ensure they learn.
Payne goes on to explain that,
“One of the reasons it is getting more and more difficult to conduct school as we have in the past is that the students who bring the middle-class culture with them are decreasing in numbers, and the students who bring the poverty culture with them are increasing in numbers. As in any demographic switch, the prevailing rules and policies eventually give way to the group with the largest number.” (pg. 61)
We educate in a different day and age. We need to move along with our students and their needs. We need to teach with ever-expanding resources that are available to us.
Our students are changing, and so must we.
Here’s a short video outlining 10 tips for using technology in the classroom: