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Teaching Tools: Ditching The Deficit Model

Teaching Tools: Ditching The Deficit Model

4 March, 2016

Children are more than one test, once a year, in one sitting.

It appears as if many schools and districts have lapsed into a deep state of amnesia of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs — a possible lingering hangover from NCLB. So here’s a radical statement: When assessing and teaching children, the time has more than come for education to embrace the whole child. This approach calls for schools and educators to curtail the deficit model and replace it with the abundance model.

The abundance model

First, unveil the jewels inside each child. Make a list of those jewels (skills, talents and interests). Meet the child where he/she is academically, socially, and emotionally then use those jewels through personalized instruction to help that student grow.

Let’s sidetrack for a moment to a school attracted by the pressures of standardized testing. Here’s the heavy-handed deficit model they institutionalized: All students were issued ID cards that showed their standardized testing ranks by color. For instance, if you had a black card, the highest test scorers, you received special campus privileges. If you had a white card, the lowest scorers, you received no privileges and even stood in a separate cafeteria lunch line.

Yep, this really happened. Aside from the scary labeling and civil rights infringement part, the students at this school were solely seen as standardized test takers — a flat, non-dimensional view of learners. Eventually, parents spoke up, state officials stepped in, and the school made national news.

Building on Strengths and Interests

Teachers must evaluate where students are academically, and this involves their literacy and behavioral development as well as content knowledge. And the most effective method to serve and support those identified areas of need is to use research-based best practices to help students develop and catch up when they are missing information and/or skills.

But what if from there, we used their talents, their abundance of abilities and skills — those jewels — to meet those needs?

So, as mentioned before, we must first uncover those hidden interests, talents and skills.

The following are some suggested strategies and activities to do just that:

  1. Goal Setting.Ask students to list what they are good at, what they’d like to be better at, and what they can teach others to do. Add a writing activity where students set personal and academic goals, emphasizing how the skills and talents they already possess will help them grow and accomplish these goals.
  2. What I Know Well.Invite students to teach or share something they are good at with the class like origami, dance steps, a self-defense move, basic guitar chords, cartooning, Photoshop.
  3. My Learning Inventory.Ask students to list all the ways how they learn best:by doing, by reading, by drawing, by seeing, by creating…. Also, have them list the things that have made their learning memorable like “a good book,” “a nice teacher,” “a fun assignment”. Ask them to also include things that may interfere with their learning such as “if something is too hard”.
  4. Artifact from My Life.Students select something precious to them, an item that has value (personal not monetary). Make a homework where the students bring the item to class (a photo, an award, baby shoes). They can write about it and then share in small groups why the item is so special.
  5. Takeaways.Remember that self-reflection is crucial to the learning process. Provide students with a chance to name and celebrate their own “takeaways” — all that they have gained from a specific learning experience