kitchen table math, the sequel: Ruby Payne: Nine strategies help raise the achievement of students living in poverty

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Ruby Payne: Nine strategies help raise the achievement of students living in poverty

Educational Leadership, April 2008, | Volume 65 | Number 7
Poverty and Learning Pages 48-52

Students from families with little formal education often learn rules about how to speak, behave, and acquire knowledge that conflict with how learning happens in school. They also often come to school with less background knowledge and fewer family supports. Formal schooling, therefore, may present challenges to students living in poverty. Teachers need to recognize these challenges and help students overcome them. In my work consulting with schools that serve a large population of students living in poverty, I have found nine interventions particularly helpful in raising achievement for low-income students.

1. Build Relationships of Respect
2. Make Beginning Learning Relational (Collaborative)
3. Teach Students to Speak in Formal Register ("academic language")
4. Assess Each Student's Resources
5. Teach the Hidden Rules of School
6. Monitor Progress and Plan Interventions
7. Translate the Concrete into the Abstract
8. Teach Students How to Ask Questions
9. Forge Relationships with Parents

More detail:
(a) the following has been misread by more than one commenter. As I understand Payne's work, the point of the "Assess Each Student's Resources" strategy is for the teacher to
examine, not assume, the extent of the student's resources in each of the eight domains. Let us take the "physical health" domain--a teacher may assume that the child's vision is excellent, because the child doesn't wear glasses, when in fact, the child's vision is poor and has never been evaluated.

(b) the "spiritual domain". Not to my preferences. However, let us take a non-trivial example: in the United States, a high-school student who had never even heard of Adam and Eve, the Garden of Eden, Cain and Abel, Abraham and his son, Moses, or any of the New Testament stories will struggle in both history and literature classes.

4. Assess Each Student's Resources

School success, as it's currently defined, requires a huge amount of resources that schools don't necessarily provide. Teachers need to be aware that many students identified as "at risk" lack these outside resources. Interventions that require students to draw on resources they do not possess will not work. For example, many students in households characterized by generational poverty have a very limited support system. If such a student isn't completing homework, telling that student's parent, who is working two jobs, to make sure the student does his or her homework isn't going to be effective. But if the school provides a time and place before school, after school, or during lunch for the student to complete homework, that intervention will be more successful.

  • Financial: Money to purchase goods and services.
  • Emotional: The ability to control emotional responses, particularly to negative situations, without engaging in self-destructive behavior. This internal resource shows itself through stamina, perseverance, and good decision making.
  • Mental: The mental abilities and acquired skills (such as reading, writing, and computing) needed for daily life.
  • Spiritual: Some belief in a divine purpose and guidance.
  • Physical: Good physical health and mobility.
  • Support systems: Friends, family, and resource people who are available in times of need.
  • Relationships and role models: Frequent contact with adults who are appropriate role models, who nurture the child, and who do not engage in self-destructive behavior.
  • Knowledge of unspoken rules: Knowing the unspoken norms and habits of a group.
5. Teach the Hidden Rules of School

People need to know different rules and behaviors to survive in different environments. The actions and attitudes that help a student learn and thrive in a low-income community often clash with those that help one get ahead in school. For example, when adult family members have little formal schooling, the student's environment may be unpredictable. Having reactive skills might be particularly important. These skills may be counterproductive in school, where a learner must plan ahead, rather than react, to succeed. If laughter is often used to lessen conflict in a student's community, that student may laugh when being disciplined. Such behavior is considered disrespectful in school and may anger teachers and administrators....

The simple way to deal with this clash of norms is to teach students two sets of rules. I frequently say to students

You don't use the same set of rules in basketball that you use in football. It's the same with school and other parts of your life. The rules in school are different from the rules out of school. So let's make a list of the rules in school so we're sure we know them.

8. Teach Students How to Ask Questions

When you have asked a student what part of a lesson he or she didn't understand, have you heard the reply, "All of it"? This response may indicate that the student has trouble formulating a specific question.

Questions are a principal tool to gain access to information, and knowing how to ask questions yields a huge payoff in achievement (Marzano, 2007). In their research on reading, Palincsar and Brown (1984) found that students who couldn't ask good questions had many academic struggles.

To teach students how to ask questions, I assign pairs of students to read a text and compose multiple-choice questions about it. I give them sentence stems, such as "When ___________ happened, why did __________ do ___________?" Students develop questions using the stems, then come up with four answers to each question, only one of which they consider correct and one of which has to be funny.

I highly recommend that you read the whole article. Of course, the Nine Strategies are also useful in all classrooms.

update - Catherine here, parachuting into Liz' post. (I hope she won't mind.)

Just thought I'd put in a link to the Times article on Payne along with a link to my follow-up on oral cultures and direct questions.


Anonymous said...

I find it vaguely insulting that "belief in a divine purpose and guidance" is considered an essential resource for school success. My children (atheists and agnostics) have always done quite well in school and all other areas of their lives without belief in divine purpose or guidance.

LynnG said...

A child should feel they have value and that life is purposeful. They should believe that they are not just wasting their time attending school. School should have something to offer other than mandatory attendance.

I find the whole section on student resources offensive.

Public schools (in CT) are well-financed and should be fully capable of meeting a student's need for "acquired" skills. Why is this in the "student resource" category? Students need good physical health and mobility?

Sounds like they are writing off a lot of handicapped kids with that "physical" resource stuff.

There's a lot of fodder for excuse making if a child doesn't succeed -- blame the parents, blame disabilities, blame the money.

I should probably read the article before I jump to these conclusions, because I like the "modeling" described in the paragraph on question asking.

Still, excuse-making and blame shifting are such hallmarks of public schools, it can be hard to get past those statements and objectively evaluate the rest of the article.

Anonymous said...

Ruby Payne's book is interesting too, especially if your child is in a district that draws a significant percentage of students from a low-income area. Her observations have been helpful to my middle schooler as he comes to understand his classmates' seemingly irrational behavior.

Anonymous said...

3. Teach Students to Speak in Formal Register ("academic language")

Does he just mean standard English?

Catherine Johnson said...

Just coming to this after a day in the emergency room. (Good news! I did not, yesterday morning, suffer a brain steam stroke. yee gods. The possibility of Ed having to deal with THREE people with neurological disabilities ---- )

I'm having synchronicity because as I was whiling away my time awaiting CT-scans & MRIs I took a look at Arthur Whimbey's "Intelligence Can Be Taught" (the sections having to do with kids living in poverty) & I remembered exactly why there are no atheists in foxholes.

SteveH said...

Why did the author have to put in the spiritual stuff?

Most of the interventions are common sense. It makes me wonder why it takes a consultant to make this point.

Number 4 bothers me a lot.

"4. Assess Each Student's Resources"

How many outside resources are needed to learn to read? How many outside resources are needed to learn the times table? Kids in poverty are not stupid. People look at the problem in a top-down fashion and it looks complex, so they come up with all sorts of interventions and fixes. They really should look at the bottom; bad results on very simple tests, and figure out why schools can't get the job done in 6+ hours a day. Forget homework. Forget home life. Why can't they get the complete job done at school?

Look at KIPP schools.

The goal is not to find interventions that will reduce problems in bad schools. The goal is to fix the bad schools. These interventions reinforce the idea that education is some sort of complex process rather than hard work. If kids can't get high expectations and no excuses at home, they better get it at school, and the school has to make sure that learning gets done. It's not complex. It's hard work.

SteveH said...

"Good news!"

Wow! Completly good news, I hope.

Catherine Johnson said...

oh gosh, I'm fine

Thanks for asking!

This was a case of a little knowledge being a dangerous thing.

I got out of bed yesterday morning & experienced a sudden & near-complete inability to walk a straight line. I hit the left side of the door jamb, then came close to blacking out, then found myself veering off to the clothes-closet on my left instead of to the water-closet on my right, which was my intended destination.

Of course, I know enough about the brain to be aware that a problem occurring exclusively on one side of the body is a bad sign, that a small stroke may be a signal that a big one is t/k, and that with strokes time is of the essence. So I went to the emergency room.

Turns out I have something called lbyrinthitis, which occurs frequently in the spring.

Unfortunately, the ER doctor, who intially seemed to think I probably just had something funky going on with my inner ear, changed tone after talking to the neurologist on the telephone. All of a sudden he was talking about a stroke affecting the cerebellum.

Well, again, I have just enough knowledge of the brain to know that "cerebellum" is a word you don't want to hear in connection with "stroke," so pretty soon I had visions of locked-in syndrome running through my mind.

Later in the day, the neurologist, after telling me I definitely had not a stroke, said she'd been very worried I'd suffered a brain stem stroke.

The turning point came when I talked to my sister-in-law, a nurse practitioner. She diagnosed me over the phone. "You have labyrinthitis, my dear."

She's amazing.

After I talked to her, I told the ER nurse that my sister-in-law had just diagnosed me, and she said, "You should always talk to nurse-practitioner."

Then she said she'd worked in ERs for 8 years, and she knew as soon as I walked in that I hadn't had a stroke. Why? Because I "looked too healthy."

I got her to explain to me exactly what she'd expect to see in a person who's had a minor stroke. So now I know! Or I think I know -- I could just as easily have picked up a new smattering of non-expert knowledge that will get me in trouble down the line in some other situation.

Communication was a problem, too.

Just before I left for the hospital, my symptoms suddenly jumped to my right side, though in milder form.

I thought that had to be a good sign -- that had to mean something viral or some "weird inner ear thing." But I didn't know enough to reason it out, and, at the hospital, I couldn't get anyone to explain it to me in a way I could understand. The doctor was from Romania, and although he tried to explain to me about signals crossing & criss-crossing the cerebellum, he couldn't put it in a form I could understand. All I got from what he was saying was that, apparently, the fact that my symptoms had briefly jumped sides didn't automatically rule out minor stroke as a diagnosis.

I either needed to have lots more knowledge or lots less.

What a day.

Catherine Johnson said...

That's labyrinthitis.

Catherine Johnson said...

Of course now, today, I'm drawing all the wrong conclusions.

At the hospital I was thinking, 'I have to straighten up and fly right. Daily exercise, good diet, no more stress....'

Then, when I got my reprieve, I could feel myself shifting into Bill Clinton mode: Hah! Got away with it again!

By 6 pm I was home eating Häagen-Dazs ice cream out of the carton and cooking up new schemes of all kinds.

Apparently I plan to die with my boots on.

Catherine Johnson said...

Speaking of boots, it's 12:35 pm & I am going to put on my tennis shoes & take Jimmy & Andrew & the dogs for a walk.

Catherine Johnson said...

Well that was quick.

Once around the pond & Andrew was lobbying for home.

Liz Ditz said...


I am glad you are fine. I had a bad bout of vertigo four or five years ago, and it is no fun.

More on Ruby Payne: She is a woman, who lectures nationally on the academic effect of "generational poverty" and what skills and ideas teachers need to effectively reach and teach low-SES children.

Her fundamental t work is not without criticism (a good start is this article by Anita Perna Bohn.

Lynng: You seem to be assuming that this article was written about CT schools. I believe the article was meant as a national resource for teachers in primarily low-SES districts.

Molly & Steveh: On Ruby Payne and the resource Spiritual: Some belief in a divine purpose and guidance. It made me blink, too.

On the "Assessing Student Resources" idea in general: implicit in the article was the idea that teachers should check their assumptions about their students' resources--what is available to the student outside of school, and what is required of the student outside of school.

Myrtle Hocklemeier: 3. Teach Students to Speak in Formal Register ("academic language"): Does he just mean standard English?

No, the concept of register is more than just standard English.

Article exerpt

Dutch linguist Martin Joos (1972) found that every language in the world includes five registers, or levels of formality: frozen, formal, consultative, casual, and intimate (see fig. 1, p. 51). Both school and work operate at the consultative level (which mixes formal and casual speech) and the formal level (which uses precise word choice and syntax). All people use the casual and intimate registers with friends, but students from families with little formal education may default to these registers. Researchers have found that the more generations a person lives in poverty, the less formal the register that person uses, with the exception of people from a strong religious background, who frequently encounter formal religious texts (Montana-Harmon, 1991). Hart and Risley's (1995) study of 42 families indicated that children living in families receiving welfare heard approximately 10 million words by age three, whereas children in families in which parents were classified as professional heard approximately 30 million words in the same period. Teachers conduct most tests through formal register, which puts poor students at a disadvantage. Teachers should address this issue openly and help students learn to communicate through consultative and formal registers. Some students may object that formal register is "white talk"; we tell them it's "money talk."

The concept of register in linguistics is fascinating, and rather richer than Payne represents it. A good, quick introduction is the wikipedia article.

Steveh:, you asked How many outside resources are needed to learn to read? More than you imagine. Let us just look at the differences in receptive vocabulary. For a trivial example, if you have never heard the word "cow" or seen even an image of a cow...well, it won't make it easier to learn to decode that word, now will it?

I strongly recommend the videos from Children of the Code for a sophisticated and nuanced understanding of the reading process.

Anonymous said...

Well, Catherine, you just gave us a fright. Thanks for following up.

The Trib did a rather big article on Cindy McCain (which was rather shocking, actually. This is Obama country), but it was the stroke she had at age 49 that got my attention. I remember hearing about it a few years ago, but I just thought she was old or something. I didn't realize she was just 49.


Tracy W said...

Students need good physical health and mobility?

Sounds like they are writing off a lot of handicapped kids with that "physical" resource stuff.

Well if a kid spends a lot of their time in hospitals and doctors' waiting rooms, they're at a disadvantage in terms of getting an education.

And even with less severe problems, being in physical discomfort makes learning harder (I suddenly got really bad hayfever when I went to university, I think it was the change in climate. It was very distracting until I found a medication that worked.)

Mobility I think means the ability to get around somehow. On the school level, can you get to classes on foot, on crutches, on a wheelchair? On a city level, do you have access to a car, or to a decent bus or rail system?

Anonymous said...

I agree that students need knowledge of the major world religions for both history and literature classes. But there is a big difference between understanding biblical references and "belief in a divine purpose and guidance" as was stated in this document. One involves cultural literacy and the other faith.

Anonymous said...

Faith that life is worth living. Faith that something better than dead on the streets awaits.

That's what a "belief in a divine purpose and guidance" offers people who are living in poverty-something more than utter nihilism.

You may think that upper-class-white-kids' nihilism is what I mean--the kind of ennui where I read a bunch of Sartre while stoned and wonder what life is for while blowing off God, but that's not what poverty's nihilism looks like.

Poverty's nihilism is so utter and complete you don't make it out of the ghetto to see the ocean at sunset, or snowfall on a mountain. You don't get to believe that you grow up to have anything better than you have right now. You have no idea how to have a dream. And without that "guidance", you don't get anyone telling you that you have self worth.

For most of the 6 billion people on the planet, belief in a Divine Power is the source of investment of meaning in their lives, because it tells them they are worthwhile, in and of themselves.

All of you may of somehow gotten that sense that you have inherent value out of a life without a Divine Creator, but kids in poverty aren't getting that, for all the same reasons that they are deprived on all these other levels.

SteveH said...

"I strongly recommend the videos from Children of the Code for a sophisticated and nuanced understanding of the reading process."

Thanks, but I've seen this long ago. I don't like making things out to be more difficult than they really are for most kids. Schools hide behind this complexity meme when they have enough time during the day to get the job done, even if it's with non-optimum techniques.

palisadesk said...

I found Ruby Payne’s Framework book and articles to be worthy of discussion and very thought provoking, but also to be taken with a large dose of sodium chloride. Two egregious errors that infuse her work are overgeneralizing and reifying abstractions. She speaks of “children in poverty” and “people in poverty” as if poverty is a singular entity with clearly defined boundaries and a shared ecosystem. This is simply not the case.

There’s a big difference between, say, multi-generational urban poverty and the poverty of new immigrant families. There’s a big difference between rural poverty and urban poverty – even a big difference between the way the rural poor in agricultural communities see the world, and the way the non-urban poor in mountainous or northern communities view things. “Poverty” looks different in these varying situations, too.

Her over-simplistic characterization of a “culture of poverty” can be insidious. She has some important insights, but her overgeneralizing weakens their power and does indeed lead to the kind of stereotyping she deplores.

The viewpoints she represents as characteristic of "poverty" are amalgams at best. Even in an urban, low-income school community, we see “subcultures” where there is a strong future-time orientation, an emphasis on effort and achievement, minimal reliance on physical force to settle disagreements, etc. Different cultures exist within the larger group which Payne characterizes as “people in poverty.” Poverty is not a place, and it is (thankfully) often a temporary condition for families.

I had many insights while reading her book, and so am disappointed I can’t heartily recommend it because it goes well beyond available data and tends to perpetuate generalizations about groups of people. Her point about resources available to kids is extremely well-taken, however. I was in one school where the classrooms had no books, pencils, paper – nothing. The library was a joke (nothing new since 1954). Sure, we could teach kids how to read by writing words on the (battered and cracked) chalkboard, and photocopying stories from the public library, but really, nothing the teacher could do would compensate for the fact that there was NO way for the students to practice the skills taught and their environment – including their school environment – militated against it. There are schools like this in every large metropolitan area, I’m willing to bet. Schools where rats scurry around and buckets catch rainwater from leaking ceilings.

It doesn’t need to be an either/or situation – the precision teaching motto, “do both” is good advice here. We should endeavor both to provide the needed supports outside of school (medical care, decent housing, recreational opportunities etc.) for children and also concentrate on what we offer them in school in terms of solid instruction that will help them determine their own destiny. As things stand, schooling tends to widen the gap, rather than narrow it. We have not really come to grips with this.

Catherine Johnson said...

The book I keep meaning to read is Roll, Jordan, Roll by Eugene Genovese. It's a study of slavery in the South, and I think a large part of the subject is the role religion played in the lives of slaves. Ed says it's brilliant.

Catherine Johnson said...

I am glad you are fine. I had a bad bout of vertigo four or five years ago, and it is no fun.

Thank you!

It was WILD.

Good grief.

Catherine Johnson said...

I have to run -- back in a bit.

I haven't read Payne's article or book (I have her book, I think), but I did read the TIMES article a while back & emerged feeling fond of Payne.

What I loved about her in particular was the fact that she was a middle class person who, through serendipity, had "moved into" both lower class culture (white poverty, iirc) and, later on, upper class culture.

In her book, I think, she has a little litmus test for: "Are you middle class?"

I passed with flying colors!

Catherine Johnson said...

I had many insights while reading her book, and so am disappointed I can’t heartily recommend it because it goes well beyond available data and tends to perpetuate generalizations about groups of people.

Although, as I say, I haven't read the book, that was my sense after reading the TIMES article. I was interested enough in Payne to order the book; I didn't expect it to be something I would heartily recommend!

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