Ho; Poverty ;;ects Classroom Engagement
Students from low-income households are more
likely to struggle with engagement—for seven reasons.
Poverty is an uncomfortable word. I’m often asked, “What should I expect from kids from low-income households?” Typically, teachers are unsure what to do differently. Just as the phrase middle class tells us little about
a person, the word poverty typically tells us little about the
students we serve. We know, for example, that the poor
and middle classes have many overlapping values, including
valuing education and the importance of hard work (Gorski,
2008). But if poor people were exactly the same cognitively,
socially, emotionally, and behaviorally as those from the
middle class, then the exact same teaching provided to both
middle-class students and students from poverty would bring
the exact same results.
But it doesn’t work that way. In one study of 81,000 students across the United States, the students not in Title;I programs consistently reported higher levels of engagement than
students who were eligible for free or reduced-price lunch
(Yazzie-Mintz, 2007). Are children from poverty more likely
to struggle with engagement in school?
The answer is yes. Seven differences between middle-class
and low-income students show up at school. By understanding those differences and how to address them, teachers
can help mitigate some of the negative effects of poverty.
But first, my most important suggestion is to get to know
your students well. Without respect—and without taking
time to connect with your students—these seven factors will
Health and Nutrition
Overall, poor people are less likely to
exercise, get proper diagnoses, receive
appropriate and prompt medical
attention, or be prescribed appropriate
medications or interventions. A study
by two prominent neuroscientists suggested that intelligence is linked to
health (Gray & Thompson, 2004).
The poor have more untreated ear infections and hearing loss
issues (Menyuk, 1980); greater exposure to lead (Sargent et
al., 1995); and a higher incidence of asthma (Gottlieb, Beiser,
& O’Connor, 1995) than middle-class children. Each of these
health-related factors can affect attention, reasoning, learning,
Nutrition plays a crucial role as well. Children who grow
up in poor families are exposed to food with lower nutritional value. This can adversely affect them even in the womb
(Antonow-Schlorke et al., 2011). Moreover, poor nutrition at
breakfast affects gray matter mass in children’s brains (Taki
et al., 2010). Skipping breakfast is highly prevalent among
urban minority youth, and it negatively affects students’
academic achievement by adversely affecting cognition and
raising absenteeism (Basch, 2011).
When students experience poor nutrition and diminished
health practices, it’s harder for them to listen, concentrate,
and learn. Exposure to lead is correlated with poor working