Payne Discusses How Poverty Affects Education; Minkel Describes Work with English-Language Learners
Courtesy of Zac Lehr, The Morning News
Ruby Payne's image appears on a large screen as she addresses educators June 5 at the University of Arkansas Literacy Symposium at the Fayetteville Town Center.
Poor children and their parents think differently about education than people with more money, but teachers can help when they understand the hidden rules associated with different levels of income, Ruby Payne explained to educators earlier this month.
Payne, of Highlands, Texas, speaks all over the world, teaching educators and others about how poverty colors a person's outlook on the world. People living in poverty frequently lack the concept of a "future story," Payne said, meaning they have low expectations for the future.
Payne wrote A Framework for Poverty in 1995, the same year that she created her consulting organization, the aha! Process. A professional educator since 1972, Payne includes many personal experiences in her presentations.
What you are doing is giving them a choice. If they are not educated, they don't have a choice anymore. If you can't read at a ninth grade level, you can't get out of poverty. States plan for prisons depending on their fourth-grade reading scores.
Nearly 550 educators from five states listened to Payne and other nationally known speakers at a University of Arkansas symposium June 5-6 focusing on differentiated literacy for diverse learners. The curriculum and instruction department in the College of Education and Health Professions has hosted the symposium at the Fayetteville Town Center the past three years to help teachers meet challenges they face in ensuring their students succeed academically.
Teachers receive 12 hours of continuing education credit for attending. They left not only with practical information and materials but also with inspirational messages.
Payne addresses generational poverty, in which a family remains in poverty generation after generation, not situational poverty that results from an event such as a catastrophic illness, job loss or divorce. Children who come from a family in generational poverty have difficulty in a formal learning environment because schools are based on middle-class norms, she said. They need additional understanding and support from teachers and administrators.
"Individuals bring with them the hidden rules of the class in which they are raised," Payne explained. "When you meet people different from you, you have to suspend your hidden rules."
A primary difference between people of varying levels of income is time, Payne continued. Poor people are occupied with basic survival while those with more money can devote time to other pursuits that the poor may consider unnecessary, including education.
"Money and time shape what people do," she said. "Without a future story, school and even work don't make sense."
Differences in thinking affect literacy, Payne said. People living in poverty rely heavily on nonverbal signals for survival, she said.
"Based on the teacher's nonverbal signals, a child will decide whether they like you and can learn from you. Also, their parents teach them to fight to be tough, so the teacher has to be strong but not mean.
"Teach them there are two sets of rules for in and out of school. It's like the rules for playing football versus the rules for playing basketball. You wouldn't try to play basketball with football rules."
She outlined various forms of language such as formal, casual and intimate and how to teach when each form should be used. She also described helping children make pictures in their heads to help them learn new words.
"Specificity of language builds structures in the brain," Payne said. "Vocabulary is how we share what we know. If we don't have language, we can't share something."
A vital point to remember, she stressed, is that teachers are not trying to change children.
"What you are doing is giving them a choice," Payne said. "If they are not educated, they don't have a choice anymore. If you can't read at a ninth grade level, you can't get out of poverty. States plan for prisons depending on their fourth-grade reading scores.
"The greatest gift you can give a child is literacy. What we teach is transferred to the next generation. What we do is so phenomenal – we just don't know it."
Other speakers who made presentations at the conference were Linda Gambrell, a professor of education at Clemson University and immediate past president of the International Reading Association, whose topic was "Differentiated Comprehension Instruction for Diverse Learners"; Timothy Shanahan, professor of urban education at the University of Illinois at Chicago and director of the university's Center for Literacy, 2006-07 president of the International Reading Association and a member of the National Reading Panel, whose topic was "Making a Difference Means Making it Different"; and Carol Keller, director of Educational Partnerships for Scholastic Education, whose topic was "Using Nonfiction Text to Improve Reading Achievement."
The final speaker of the conference didn't have far to travel, but he spent much of the past year on the road speaking to educators since being named a finalist for National Teacher of the Year in 2007. Justin Minkel is a Fayetteville High School graduate who was named Arkansas Teacher of the Year last year for his work at Springdale's Harvey Jones Elementary School. He named his presentation "To Triumph in This Country" based on the wish of a boy in his class when he taught in Houston. The boy had come to the United States from Cuba the day before Minkel asked his class what they wanted to do with their lives.
Teaching in a Springdale second-grade classroom in which English was a second language for the vast majority of students, Minkel helped them make significant gains in English proficiency, with nearly a third becoming fluent. Achievement scores on the Iowa Test of Basic Skills indicated that all of Minkel's students performed at grade level or above.
Minkel played an instrumental role in bringing about the proposed Teachers at the Table Act to create a panel of teachers to advise the U.S. House and Senate education committees, and he helped draft the Teachers of the Year's 10 proposed changes to the No Child Left Behind Act. He speaks to teachers and policymakers around the nation about the importance of creativity, higher-order thinking and teacher' voices in a time of increasing standardization.
The proud new father of baby Ariana Grace, Minkel told his audience at the Town Center that he views teaching much like parenting – determining a child's needs and how to meet them as well as to make children's lives better.
"Instead of shaping kids to fit school, we should shape school to fit individual kids," he said. "School should be exciting and fun, rather than frustrating."
Minkel showed video of his classroom at Jones Elementary, where about 85 percent of the school's enrollment are English-language learners, and talked about differentiated learning techniques he used. When asking children about their favorite character in a story, an English-language learner could point to a picture of the character while a child fluent in English would describe his choice in a complete sentence.
Each week, he scheduled one-to-one conferences with each child so that he could concentrate on where the child needed help. Some children in his class needed to learn things children usually learn in kindergarten while others were working at an advanced level. He discussed their work with them both as a reader and a teacher, an important distinction, according to Minkel. The reader in him talked about feelings evoked by the student's writing while the teacher taught mechanics such as punctuation and grammar.
"I wanted them to understand they have the power to make the reader feel something," Minkel said. "The children took turns reading from the front of the class, teaching them public speaking, but the children in the audience were expected to be active listeners. For example, they would put a hand on one ear when they heard a simile in the story. They also asked questions and gave the student who was reading suggestions about the work."
Using a writer's workshop format, Minkel estimated he gave 180 mini-lessons on writing during a year as well as having 600 conferences with individual students.
"It reminded me of walking through a mist," he said. "You don't realize you're getting wet and suddenly you're drenched."
Minkel invited parents to the classroom regularly and kept books in both English and Spanish on hand so that parents and children could read together, regardless of their native language. Sometimes, a parent could not read in English or Spanish, and the child would do the reading. Minkel encouraged the parents to discuss stories with the children.
Minkel also used methods common to English as a second language instruction: acting out a story and bringing in objects to build vocabulary.
"Children are counting on us in this room to help them triumph in this country," Minkel told the educators. "A teacher is someone you can trust, someone who takes care of you."
Heidi Stambuck, director of communications
College of Education and Health Professions
(479) 575-3138, email@example.com