Opinion Blog

Ask a Psychologist

Helping Students Thrive Now

Angela Duckworth and other behavioral-science experts offer advice to teachers based on scientific research. To submit questions, use this form or #helpstudentsthrive. Read more from this blog.

Teaching Opinion

3 Steps Teachers Can Take to Value Students’ Marginalized Identities

How to adjust lesson plans to draw on students’ strengths
By David M. Silverman — August 17, 2022 3 min read
What can I do to support students from lower-income backgrounds?
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

What can I do to support students from lower-income backgrounds?

Imagine that you come from a family of dancers. You grew up learning a variety of dance styles, memorizing their intricate steps, and even choreographing your own routines. You want to share your talents with the world, but there’s an issue. The rest of your society says that dancing isn’t important—that singing is the mark of a true artist. Even if you also happen to have a beautiful voice, imagine what it’s like to have your dancing skills go unrecognized. Imagine everything society is missing out on by not valuing your talents.

This challenge is one that many students who are currently marginalized, such as students from lower-income families, face in school. While studies have shown that students often gain valuable skills and perspectives from their marginalized identities and experiences, schools typically aren’t well set up to recognize and reward these strengths. As we evaluate students based on more traditionally valued skills, we overlook a diverse array of important strengths, such as adaptability, empathy, and being able to work with others to solve real-world problems. As a result, students may be led to feel as though the things that they’ve learned from their marginalized backgrounds are irrelevant to their experiences in school—or even that their backgrounds are an obstacle to their success.

What can we do about it? Research shows that teachers are especially well-positioned to challenge these inequitable norms. They can support the motivation, well-being, and persistence of students from lower-income backgrounds by explicitly recognizing these students’ backgrounds as assets rather than barriers to their success. While creating such strength-based classrooms requires an ongoing commitment to challenging previous ways of thinking, my colleagues and I have developed three recommendations to help get you started as you create courses and lessons that authentically value the unique strengths of students who are often marginalized.

Step 1: Listen to students. The best way to begin to understand students and their strengths is to hear from them directly! Try administering a beginning-of-the-year survey to learn more about their interests and experiences. You can ask students to share something about themselves that other people need to know in order to really understand them. You can also directly encourage them to share a unique skill or perspective that they have but often don’t get to demonstrate in school. To help foster mutual relationships and comfort with students, it’s a good idea to share your own answers to the survey questions before asking them to respond.

Step 2: Evaluate your curriculum. Carefully examine whether your course designs and assignments provide space for a diverse range of student strengths, interests, and perspectives. Where are there opportunities to ensure that marginalized students feel welcomed and valued? Are you incorporating readings from a diverse array of voices? Do you use class examples that may be relevant to the lives and interests of your students? It can be hard to critically evaluate your own courses, so we recommend completing this step with a colleague or two.

Step 3: Design—and redesign. Whether you adapt old materials or develop new ones, this will always be an iterative process. When you try out different approaches, get student input on your materials. Even asking at the end of a class period what students learned about themselves or the topic you covered gives you an opportunity to see what’s working and what can be improved. It’s also helpful to reflect on which students were particularly engaged during a given class period, then think about how you can expand that engagement to other students.

Since her students highlighted their collaborative and problem-solving strengths, for example, a science teacher had them work together to apply course concepts to support community gardening efforts. When she gave students feedback on their work, she also asked for their input on the assignment. She subsequently revised it so that students had more chances to learn about real-world topics they were passionate about, such as climate change.

This work can be hard at first and requires deliberate and ongoing reflection. However, teachers report that once they start challenging traditional ways of “doing school,” they uncover hundreds of opportunities to celebrate students and deepen learning in their classrooms.

The opinions expressed in Ask a Psychologist: Helping Students Thrive Now are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Recruitment & Retention Webinar
Be the Change: Strategies to Make Year-Round Hiring Happen
Learn how to leverage actionable insights to diversify your recruiting efforts and successfully deploy a year-round recruiting plan.
Content provided by Frontline
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Critical Ways Leaders Can Build a Culture of Belonging and Achievement
Explore innovative practices for using technology to build an environment of belonging and achievement for all staff and students.
Content provided by DreamBox Learning
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Professional Development Webinar
Strategies for Improving Student Outcomes with Teacher-Student Relationships
Explore strategies for strengthening teacher-student relationships and hear how districts are putting these methods into practice to support positive student outcomes.
Content provided by Panorama Education

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Teaching Opinion From Reading Instruction to Teacher Leadership: 1,000 Educators Share Their Advice
For more than a decade, Larry Ferlazzo has been curating intelligence from colleagues and K-12 experts. Read what they have to say.
1 min read
Images shows colorful speech bubbles that say "Q," "&," and "A."
iStock/Getty
Teaching Opinion The Danger With Giving Students Feedback
Feedback works best when it's just one step in a learning process, writes Alfie Kohn.
Alfie Kohn
5 min read
Illustration of teacher and students walking away from a spotlight shinning on an empty school desk and chair
J.R. Bee for Education Week
Teaching Opinion Collaborate With Your Colleagues. You'll Prosper and So Will Your Students
Teachers can learn a lot from their peers and all the other staff members in their school.
4 min read
A team of people work together to build a block structure.
Imam Fathoni/iStock<br/>
Teaching Opinion Looking for Ways to Organize Your Classroom? Try Out These Tips
Be sure to set up your classroom so that it helps students learn and you save time.
3 min read
Opinion 23Henig planning future 1206435418
Anastasia Usenko/iStock/Getty<br/>