Poverty and Its Effects on Learning: Why it Matters

A huge base of literature shows the inverse relationships between poverty or low socioeconomic status and health, but very few understand the connections with poverty. You can get help teaching kids in poverty. How? Start by learning about poverty and its effect on learning and behavior.

Multiple studies have examined longitudinal relations between duration of poverty exposure since birth, cumulative risk exposure, and cognitive performance. One measure of cumulative risk exposure is basal blood pressure and overnight cortisol levels. Typically cortisol is lowest in the early morning and levels pick up during the day. In kids from poverty, the levels are elevated 24/7.

This is pretty easy to understand, since many from poverty are exposed to poor housing conditions, crowded conditions, unsafe conditions, etc. Typical risk exposure is measured by multiple physical (e.g., substandard housing) and social (e.g., family turmoil) factors. The greater the number of years spent living in poverty, the more elevated was overnight cortisol and the more dysregulated was the cardiovascular response (i.e., muted reactivity).

As a teacher working with kids from poverty, why should you care about this?

There are two reasons, both with enormous consequences. First, cumulative stress is HIGHLY correlated with behavior issues at school. In our in-depth workshop on Teaching with Poverty in Mind, we’ll give you 7 priceless solutions for this challenge. Never, ever, give up on these students. You can learn exactly HOW to deal with behavior issues in simple, strategic ways.

Second, cumulative stress is associated with worse academic performance. Why? Chronic levels of stress inhibit working memory, process speed, sequencing capacity and attentional skills. Every one of those factors is a major determinant of underachievement. You’ll get specific, practical, easy-to-implement strategies that can mitigate the effects of stress. Eric Jensen’s new book, “Teaching with Poverty in Mind” offers specific strategies you can use, too.

Join us each year for our in-depth workshop on Teaching with Poverty in Mind, we’ll give you the exact research-based solution for this challenge. Remember, you don’t usually get to select the kids you teach, but you can choose HOW you teach. Brains are designed the adapt to experience. If the experiences you are giving them in school are strong, focused, and “on point,” they will change the brain for the better.

Teaching kids in poverty

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Student Poverty – ASCD Conference – Eric Jensen On Overcoming The Challenges Of Teaching Students In Poverty

For those that didn’t make the ASCD Conference on March 7th, the recorded session on how to overcome the challenges of poverty in the classroom is now available.

The presentation is 1:57, so grab a coffee and enjoy the presentation (TIP: Start the video first, then pause it, so it buffers…)

If you are faced with the challenges that poverty creates in the classroom, you’ll pick up a few great ideas.

If you’d like to have Eric Jensen work with your school on creating a comprehensive poverty program to boost your student’s achievement, please contact us for more information: diane@jlcbrain.com or call us at (808) 552-0110.

We also have the following resources for educators wanting to address student achievement goals:

PowerPoint for staff development training:

teaching poverty challengesOvercoming Poverty Challenges: Teaching with Poverty in Mind

Learn the newest research on what poverty does to kids brains. Find out what are the four biggest factors that impact the brains of poverty.

Discover the real potential for change in every student’s brain. This updated presentation that helps teachers connect the research with the classroom-practical strategies. You get the brain scans, the key principles and most importantly, the teacher-tested ideas you can use immediately.

This 143-slide session has color, passion, science and still answers the question, “What do I do on Monday?” This shows links to differentiation, enrichment, learning and memory strategies. It is long enough for either a 2 hour, half-day or full day session. Staff will be talking about this presentation for weeks! The support book recommended for this presentation is Teaching with Poverty in Mind by Eric Jensen.

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Enriching the Brains of Students In Poverty – An Eric Jensen Workshop to Go!

Enriching The Brain Of Poverty DVD Workshop


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The Prejudice of Poverty

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Last week Andre Bauer, the lieutenant governor of South Carolina and a candidate to become the state’s next governor, compared providing government assistance to those in need – including school kids eligible for free or reduced price lunches – to feeding stray animals. He claimed that providing such services only encourage breeding and facilitate the problem.

Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their version of the facts. Bauer has it completely wrong.

We need to put to rest the idea that the only way those in need will enjoy improved outcomes in life is for them to pull themselves up by the bootstraps and do it all on their own – especially when it comes to kids. Our brains don’t grow up and flourish inside a test tube. Given the integrated way in which our brains work, it’s simply wrong to expect hungry kids or kids who aren’t exposed to healthy environments to show up at school ready to learn.

Research is compelling; the brains runs on oxygen, glucose and nutrients. Unless kids get this at home, schools must provide it. Research shows that good nutrition not only keeps kids healthy – it also contributes to better learning. Take a look at just some of the evidence:

• In a large-scale analysis of approximately 1 million students enrolled in New York City schools, researchers examined IQ scores before and after preservatives, dyes, colorings, and artificial flavors were removed from lunch offerings. Prior to the dietary changes, 120,000 of the students were performing two or more grade levels below average. Afterward, the figure dropped to 50,000. Ceci, S. J. (2001).

• In another study, elementary school children were provided with one of three breakfast options: a good breakfast, a fast-food breakfast, or no breakfast. The results replicated previous findings showing that breakfast intake enhances cognitive performance. But the study also showed differential effects based on breakfast type. Children who ate the healthy breakfast frequently demonstrated enhanced spatial memory, improved short-term memory, and better auditory attention. (Fernald L, Ani CC, Grantham-Mcgregor S., 1997)

• Adequate intake of minerals, phytonutrients, enzymes, and vitamins also makes a difference. School age children who received such nutrients over the course of a year behaved better (meaning they gave teachers more “on task time”) and scored higher on achievement tests than their peers who just received placebos. (Grantham-McGregor S, Baker-Henningham H. (2005).

The real takeaway here is that providing kids with healthy meals and other services and supports really can make a difference.

Assumptions that disadvantaged students underperform in school because their parents aren’t educated, their home environments are substandard, or their parents just don’t care only perpetuate the problem because they excuse schools and other adults in kids’ lives from making a difference.

There’s no question that poverty changes the brain, which can negatively affect behavior and student performance. But the brain can also change for the better when kids are exposed to healthy, safe, engaging, and challenging environments.

In thousands of the top performing schools across the country, only those providing nutrition for kids from poverty are meeting or exceeding the standards. Are the governor’s statements suggesting an ignorance of the facts or is it simply prejudice? Let the voters be the judge.

Eric Jensen, author of the new ASCD book, Teaching with Poverty in Mind. He’s been featured as a guest on ASCD’s Whole Child Podcast, and he’s presenting at ASCD’s Annual Conference in San Antonio, Texas.

Creative Commons License photo credit: Let There Be More Light

Teaching High Poverty Kids Using A High Impact Curriculum

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Kids from poverty do not need a “dumbed down” curriculum.

These are the three “As” that matter” most: arts, AP (advanced placement curriculum) and activity (P.E., recess, sports).

Before these kids even get to school, they have been subjected to years of “doing without.” Poor children are half as likely to be taken to museums, theaters, or to the library and are less likely to go on culturally enriching outings. Low-income children have fewer or smaller designated play areas in the home and spend more time watching television and less time exercising than non-poor children.

Financial limitations of parents also often exclude low-income kids from healthy after-school activities such as music, athletics, dance or drama. In addition, kids from poverty are more prone to depression.

This is critical information for educators because school sports, recess and physical activity all reduce the likelihood of depression in kids via increasing neurogenesis. In fact, part of depression is the inability to recognize novelty, which makes them disinterested in class and harder to teach.

Boosting neurogenesis is the ultimate low-budget anti-depressant… Read more