Strategies to Improve Student Literacy

Abstract

In this research, we will analyze the causes that affect literacy in students of poverty and the best strategies to improve it. If teachers want to address the needs of this group of students and lessen the educational gap, it is imperative to consider their social and economic circumstances outside the school. In addition, we suggest strategies for teachers to support these students in the classroom. This project research used studies as reference for information such as journal articles, blogs, and website articles.

Introduction

Schools across America have the responsibility of educating millions of students of social classes and economic conditions. The achievement gap between children that comes from poverty homes represents a great challenge in our educational system. Lacour and Tissington (2011) define poverty as the extent to which an individual does without resources. Teachers need to understand how poverty impacts students’ literacy and that poverty in itself is not the cause of low achievement, but the lack of resources to fulfill basic needs. Students from low-income homes come to school lacking some basic skills and with different experiences than those from middle and high class. This project researches the reasons that affect the literacy of students in poverty and suggests strategies to help these students improve literacy.

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Stress Factor

Students that come from low-income homes don’t have much consistency in their lives (Kieffer, C. 2013). From not knowing who will pick them up at the end of the school day to moving to a new home two or even three times in a year, are factors that cause fear and anxiety. Other factors that contribute to stress are lack of food, overcrowding, or utility disconnection(Woolfolk, A. 2016). Children need consistency in their lives to feel safe and secure. The brain of students that experience high levels of stress does not look or behave the same as brains who don’t (Levy, L. 2014). The difference was found in areas of the brain that are in charge of paying attention, listening, learning on demand, spatial skills, memory, organizing thoughts to formulate written language, and thinking about what someone is saying(Vasconcelos, k. 2017).

Students from poverty homes have different experiences than students from a different social class. They don’t have the same opportunities to go to a museum, travel to other cities and countries, go to movie theaters or cultural activities; therefore, their vocabulary will be limited which in turn will make reading and reading comprehension difficult.

Prenatal care and Early stimulus

Many cognitive and learning problems are due to inadequate prenatal care, infant healthcare, and nutrition. Woolfolk (2016) states that children of poverty who are exposed to drugs and alcohol before birth besides presenting attention and organizational difficulties will have problems with language skills. Many of these children live in low-income neighbourhood apartments that have lead pipes and walls have remains of lead paint. Lead constitute a health hazard that is associated with attention problems, hyperactivity, irritability, cognitive problems, and permanent brain damage(Layton, L. 2015).

Children who are not exposed to early stimulus come to school lacking cognitive and social skills, which puts them behind others that received early stimulus. They don’t have as much language exposure as children from middle and high class, so their ability to understand, respond and be ready to learn is lower.

There are a few reasons that explain the lack of an early stimulus. Families of students from poverty and low education neighborhood usually don’t have access to preschool programs. Limited time due to work responsibilities and limited resources don’t allow these parents to provided learning activities at home such as reading to them, educational toys, access to books, taking them to the library(Woolfolk, A. 2016), computers, trips, and after-school activities.

Parents

Parents consistent support and involvement in their child’s education are fundamental to their academic well-being. Unfortunately, children who come from low-income households do not have parents who can give them that support either because in many cases these parents do not value education or because they work in excess and do not have the necessary time.

Parents are role models and their education level also has an effect on their children, although due to the specific way of talking, playing, interacting, and reading with young children (Smith, as cited by Lacour & Tissington, 2011) the mother’s level of education has a higher impact than the father’s.

Build a stress-free classroom

A consistent environment in the classroom gives students a sense of safety. Knowing that they can count on their teachers and that their teachers believe in them contributes to an environment of trust and could close the poverty achievement gap(Lacour & Tissington, 2011). Students need to be motivated and believe that change is possible. For this purpose, teachers can develop lesson plans to specifically work with stress, anxiety, resilience, and grit (Levy L. 2014). To cope with stress, teachers can teach time management and provide flexibility. Recognize effort and encourage students to take risks and to persevere.

Building vocabulary

As previously mentioned, many students from low-income homes have not been exposed to enriching and educational activities, so when they come to school the lack of language exposure is evident. Building vocabulary is fundamental to support reading and writing activities. Kieffer (2013) suggests that vocabulary can be developed using real-world examples and creating mental models or abstract ideas. Vocabulary words needs to be practiced many times to be fully comprehended and students should be able to connect these new words to words that the student knows(Phillips, Foote, and Harper as cited by Cipura, 2012).

Instructional Strategies

Low-income students can benefit from effective instructional strategies such as tutoring and small group instruction, feedback and progress monitoring, and cooperative learning (Ferlazzo, L. 2017). Tutoring and small group instruction provide additional support in areas of specific struggles. Their effectiveness consists of their one-on-one or small group intervention with a teacher or volunteer. Feedback and progress monitoring provide specific information on the student’s progress (Ferlazzo, L. 2017). Working in pairs or cooperative learning is a way for students to work by pairing up with a peer or to work in small groups.

Conclusion

Students of poverty have the same potential to be successful in school as any other. The difference is in the setbacks that they have to overcome to achieve success. Effective educators can bridge the achievement gap, by understanding the causes, promoting support and activities that respond to their needs. Teachers can’t have control over what happens outside of school, but they can control what happens at school and do everything possible to make it a place of transformation.

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