Making Students’ Assets Our #1 Teaching Priority
A MiddleWeb Blog
The phrase “assets based” is thrown around quite a bit lately. But what does it truly mean to take on an assets-based teaching mentality? What does that look like in our classrooms and in our lesson plans? How does it sound? How does it impact the young people in our care?
Knowing our students
I mean REALLY knowing them — beyond the permanent record folder. Yes, we need to know their educational history, their grades, their attendance, and their test scores, but there’s so much more.
We need to know THEM. Who they are outside of the walls of our schoolhouse. What do they love? What makes them happy? Sad? What do they go home to? Who do they go home to? Where did they come from? What traditions do they value? What beliefs do they hold true?
One of the best ways to get to know our students is through conversations. My favorite conversations with kids happened during reading or writing conferences. Students typically never realized that I was filling two needs with one deed during our reading or writing conferences. But I was.
I would pull up a chair next to a student and simply have a casual conversation. My conversations were quick, intentional and powerful. I learned about each student both personally and academically. The conversations had an added bonus. They helped us build relationships. My students felt that I truly cared about them.
Valuing what our students bring
When we value what our students bring, we recognize their history and knowledge and use it as a foundation for their future learning. We take what we know about them and leverage it in our classrooms to propel their growth and progress in language and content. We help students understand that what they currently come to us with is helping them get smarter.
Valuing what our students bring can happen naturally, or we might have to work on it. It might need to be an intentional push on our behalf. For example, if we know our students speak another language, learning a few key words or phrases in their native language shows that we value their native language. This also shows the rest of the class that knowing another language is cool, that languages are good, and that diversity is a positive thing.
For students that are at the early stages of language acquisition, providing some home language support values what they know and prepares them for their target language. Our native languages are assets to us when we are acquiring a new language. In fact, I’d argue that native language is the biggest asset.
Our kids need to understand this strength and embrace it! So many of our students don’t realize this and rather try to shed their native language because of embarrassment. This harms them not only personally but academically.
There are many ways to implement native language supports. One is to provide students with bilingual dictionaries or Google translate. Another is to provide students with information and text in their native language. Encouraging and embracing native language support is an essential practice.
Tap into your students’ families. Many of our students come from culturally rich backgrounds that are different from our own. We can capitalize on this by opening our classroom doors and allowing parents to come in and share their expertise. If we invest time in getting to know our students’ families, we will know what types of specialties they have or experiences they can share. Reach out to parents and invite them to come and present to the classroom.
One year, I had a student whose parent was a doctor in her home country. When we began learning about the body systems, I invited the parent to come share with the class. At first, she was reluctant. She feared her accent would not be understood by the students. But I encouraged her and thankfully she came. She brought medical artifacts and books and shared with the class.
My students were so engaged and asked her many questions. For weeks after she left, the students referred back to her visit and what they learned. It was real and relevant. And I could not have taught it the way she did with the real-life experiences she had.
Our students need to be heard, and they crave it. It’s our job and responsibility to amplify their voices in and out of our classrooms. We can give them the power by providing many opportunities to share output. It’s no longer important or valid for us to teach our students a bunch of facts. Facts are easily forgotten and easily Googled. We are here to teach them to think and learn.
When our classrooms are warm, safe environments for students, then they feel welcome to take risks. For many students it isn’t the fear of making a mistake that stops them from sharing, it’s the fear of being embarrassed in front of their peers. This is especially true for kids in the middle grades.
Building a community that empowers voices in the classroom can take on many forms. Building in less teacher talk and more student conversation in lessons supports student voice. One of my favorite ways to do this is through cooperative groups and structured conversations such as QSSSA and Socratic Circles.
In addition to having students share orally in class, we can empower students’ voice by creating opportunities for them to share beyond the classroom walls. Students can share via blogging and other online options. With the use of technology, our students can share their voice with the world.