Question: I teach in an American middle school located in a rural area five hours away from a major metropolitan city. I have noticed my students are coming to my classroom with lower reading and critical thinking skills. There is never one reason for this, and I am not looking for the silver bullet to solve this puzzle for me. I also have more and more students failing standardized tests (past failures do not motivate the masses!). More and more, I see students who truly do not know what to do when they hear directions or students who are so behind, it is hard to catch them up; this not an excuse to not know my students as scholars and individuals. That does not mean it is impossible! It is a challenge. Please, can you tell me how to best plug into brains of this age group, according to your research, so I can create a curriculum map that will "work" and help my students achieve goals in education? I will have three 90-minute classes starting in August, 1/3 special needs, 1/2 in poverty; two classes will be full inclusion with a part time special educator. I am not a basement person, and I am willing to work this summer on additions you think should be implemented. Is there a neuroscientist near me who is willing to visit my classroom and help me create a better learning lab environment? I am a Literacy teaching in Gen Ed English in SW Virginia. Thanks.
anon answered on 27 Apr 2015:
First, thank you for taking on such a challenging job. Most teachers worry about teaching, curriculum, and improving learning – these are serious concerns and hard enough to tackle. Other teachers, like yourself, have to worry about all of those issues plus the issues of poverty and special needs. Research shows Socio Economic Status (SES) is the best predictor of academic achievement and I am sure you have heard that plenty of times before. Personally, I believe your classroom calls for more psychological interventions to get students to improve than curriculum intervention.
It may be beneficial to get students on your side by showing them you understand the adversity they face makes it difficult to learn. Most students in poverty have parents with lower educational backgrounds, which usually means lower expectations for education. Students with learning disabilities probably have lowered expectations as well. A lot of my research revolves around how higher expectations alone can lead to higher performance. Attached are a couple short Ted Talks that you may be able to show at the start of a class to boost expectations, participation and motivation.
Here is one on Grit that you may be able to sum up for your students (as the video is quite long) so that they know this kind of mentality can lead to better academic performance, regardless of inmate intelligence or educational background: http://www.ted.com/talks/angela_lee_duckworth_the_key_to_success_grit