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Reflection Paper


by Meredith Sgambelluri

Spring Arbor University



EDU 694

Teaching Discouraged Learner


Troubled Youth

July 30, 2007


Sgambelluri,
1

W
e all have
preconceived ideas
about what we expect from certain experiences in our
lives.

My expectations for

this “
Teaching the Discouraged Learner


class
was distinctly
different from what

it turned out to be
. I thought the class would be a

teacher help


class
,
offering hints and instructions on

what to do to help the discouraged learner in our classroom.
In
stead I learned something much more valuable. I learned
how to identify
these discouraged
learners,
and
what their world looks like

--

especially in northern Michigan.

As we discussed
the teachings of Bourdieu and Lareau

in the class, and their ideas
abo
ut
the

prevalence of poverty

and the effects of media

and obesity

on our children
,

I was able to look into the faces of my
students and have a clearer understanding of
the sources and level of
their discouragement.

After
viewing
excerpts from

the movie

F
reedom Writers

in class
,
I rented and viewed the movie
in its entirety. As I watched the film,

I was given hope
,

and
motivation to inspire my students.

“The educational system can attain full effectiveness only to the extent that it bears upon
individuals

who have been previously granted a certain familiarity with the world…by their
family upbringing.”

(
Bourdieu, 1977
) Bourdieu’s views can be quite disheartening when you
read his

views on social reproduction.
He believes
that one remains fixed in their p
articular
class.


He calls this concept of being where we feel the most comfortable “habitus.”
I find it
interesting that the word

habit
” is at the root
of this word, because living in
a situation where
we
are comfortable is actually just a habit.

( Bour
dieu, 1977)

It is
Bourdieu’s
perception that a
n individual’s life
experiences give
s

the
m social and
cultural capital
, which provides them with the opportunity
to stay in

the

social

class they
currently exist in
or to move into a different

social

class.
Wh
at I found profound is that
participating in
social and cultural experiences like going to museum, to
a
theatre

performance
,
and
reading good literature
all
play a big part in a
n
individual

choosing to move on to a new

Sgambelluri,
2

social class. Ruby Payne refers to

t
h
ese
as

“the hidden rules of the middle class.” (Payne
,1996)
Many indi
viduals are not
provided with
these types

of experiences

when they are part of the
lower classes.
As I pondered this, a
student from our school that I have worked with named
Craig

came

to mind. Craig has not been
given these
kinds

of social and cultural opportunities,
because of his family’s economic situation.
I feel that in today’s world even families from
middle
-
class America have less and less time to
provide these types
of experie
nces
for
their
children.
That
is why I admire teachers such as Erin Gruewll and Ron Clark



because they
fought to
giv
e

their students these types of opportunities
.
I
can
see how this
kind of effort is
one
thing that will help
a discouraged student
advanc
e
beyond
their current social status.

S
ocial and culture experiences are

only one of the pieces that

discouraged students
individuals

need to
help them
change their habitus. These
struggling
young people also need
moments of inclusion.

Annette Lareau

des
cribes s
ocial inclusive moments as

the coming
together of various forces to provide an advantage to the child in his or her life

trajectory.”

(Lareau and Horvat, 1999)

These
kinds

of moments
are the
things that have a positive impact on
the
student that
help them believe in themselves.
These experiences include
being raised to a
higher reading group, being put in a gifted class, and praise from a parent or teacher. These
types of things can inspire the student to strive
to reach f
a
rther

than they thoug
ht possible.

I have
seen students switch from being discouraged learners to happ
ily

participating learners just
because they have been given a moment of inclusion. Usually it is just something as simple as a
moment of p
raise for doing a job well done, an
d placing them in successful learning situations.

One of my former students
,

a young man named Dylan
,

is

an extremely sensitive young
man. When I would give him encouragement

and provide him with activities where

he
c
ould

be
successful
,
he would
do bette
r on

his school work. If he felt criticized or had moments of

Sgambelluri,
3

exclusion

--

negative experiences

--

he would start acting out dreadfully. He would give up and
feel as if he was
not
capable of doing good work.

He would destroy art projects
, or
and just
scr
ibble and
ruin
his work.

(Lareau and Horvat, 1999)

Parental

involvement is a
significant
piece
a
child’s inclusive and exclusive moments. If
a parent participates in their child’s educational experiences to make sure that they are getting
the best educati
on for them
, they are investing in their child’s social and cultural capital
.
(Lareau
and Horvat, 1999)

An example
of inclusive moments
provided
by parents was exhibited by one
of the families in my classroom this past school year
. The
student’s mother an
d father
were both
supportive

and involved in our classroom
.
Mom often
was
able to participate as a
driver/chaperone
for field trips, volun
teered
teaching art, and
was
active on the school board.

Dad regularly attended evening events, activities, and sch
ool performances.
One of the most
inclusive moments that I saw
the mother
give her
child
was
arranging for all the
fourth graders to
take the MEAP

while it was being offered at the public school
--

something our school
has never
done before.

This mother k
new
that
having her child
tak
e

and do well on the MEAP would
allow her to participate in special programs offered by our local community college
. She took
three days of school time out of her work schedule to
provide
that opportunity

for her child
. The
fo
urth graders both did exceptionally well, and were abl
e to participate in these special
classes at
the c
ommunity
c
ollege

as a result
.

Sadly
,

not all students have parents who are
as
dedicated to their education to
provide
them
with
this social and cultural

capital.

The helpful mom I mentioned above actually proves
Bo
u
rdi
e
u’s point about children in upper classes having better advantages and social and cultural
experiences, because
the child’s father
is a doctor.


This
student
is given every educational

Sgambelluri,
4

op
portunity possible.

Students who live in generational poverty
, however,

often have just the
opposite type of experience.

Students
that
come from families of generational poverty
generally have
the opposite
type of

experiences. They do not have

opportuniti
es for
cultural and social

experiences

that give
them the capital they need in order to move into a better life situation.

In fact,
it is often the case
that disadvantaged
parents hold grudge
s

or
harbor
resentment
s

against the school. These
students
grow

up in
noisy home environments, and

often live with a lot of criticism
,
leaving
their
self esteem

deeply scarred
.

Craig, the boy

previously mentioned
, often comes to school
exhaust
ed because he has to get up at four

in the morning to go to work with his m
other. He
is
often

poorly groomed
, and has few of

his basic needs met. He starts the day
at
a disadvantage
because

of the hardship he experiences at home
.

Craig struggles

all day long just trying to keep
up.

This cause
s

him to be tired and irritable
,

an
d
provokes him to make bad
behavior

choices
.
These types of
situations
further damage his already low
self
-
worth.

He
returns
home
at the end
of the school day discouraged,
only to receive
little or
no help from
his
family in finishing what
he
was not abl
e to
accomplish in school.

School and life become a vicious cycle of failure. Craig
is just
one
example of what these children in generational poverty go through

every day
.

Is there any help for those
mired
in generational poverty? Ruby Payne says that t
here are
five

different things
that
can
enable
a person
to
rise above their circumstances.

These five things
are
:

1)
an education,
2)
a goal or a vision,
3)
a sponsor,
4)
a specific talent or opportunity, and
5)
a desire for a better situation. (Payne, 19
96)

An education is very important for someone to be able to overcome their circumstances.
People who live in cultural poverty speak a more casual language, different than the more formal
language spoken by people who are in
considered
the higher class. A

person can see examples of

Sgambelluri,
5

this type of language
difference
by watching the movie
Freedom Writers
.
C
asual language
contains
more obscenities
, and incomplete sentences like:
What

? Huh! Well
.
.
.
s
o what
? What
you talkin


about?

They often have a difficul
t time being able to form questions in order to get
the answers that they need. This comes from not
hearing
language
used properly
at home, and
from watching too much television. Television is often
the student’s
only connection to the
outside world.

So
metimes television can be a good inf
luence on children
,

because it
provides them with
a glimpse of the outside world that can give them a vision or a goal
. (Payne, 1996)

If these
children
are able to hang on to
their vision and do not lose hope in obtaini
ng their goal
,

they have
a way out of their difficult circumstances.
One example that comes to mind is
the actor and
comedian Sinbad
,
who grew up in the poor area of Benton Harbor,
Michigan. H
is vision helped
him achieve his goal

of becoming a successful
comedian

and actor
. My foster daughter
,

Bert
,

is
another example of
someone who wanted out of her struggling environment
,

set her goal and
then went for it.

Reaching the goal or vision is not always
easy;

because
struggling students often
lose
hope
, espe
cially

without a sponsor or a cheerleader to guide
and encourage
them to achieve their
goal. There are many people who can fulfill this role
in the life of a struggling student
. People
that often serve as encouragers are teachers, coaches, youth leaders,

and pastors. I think of Mrs.
G
ruewell

in the movie
Freedom Writers,

and all the students she helped
by offering them
a
vision and encourag
ing them
to reach their goal. As teachers
,

we need to make sure that we help
give

these dreams wings, and not sto
mp
on them,
especially
if they do not meet our expectations
or do things the way that we would.


Sgambelluri,
6

The next thing that
gives struggling
young people
a boost
is if they have a special talent,
or are given the opportunity to try new things.

(Payne, 1996) There ar
e countless stories of
athletes who have risen up out of the

depths of despair because of their abilities. Other students
find their opportunity

in music or other extra
-
curricular activities
, because someone believes in
them and has the connection
s

or ski
lls
to help them

succeed
.

When they are given opportunities

to go to the theatre,
or
to concerts, and explore things like the Holocaust Museum

or
other
museums
,

it gives them a chance
to succeed because they have earned their own social capital

as
a part o
f the experience
.

These are two things that Ron Clark and Erin Gru
e
well do that give
their students a future and hope.

But a
ll the opportunities,

talent, and encouragement
in the world will not
help these
children of generational poverty if they have no
desir
e for a better situation. (Payne, 1996)

I
saw

this first hand with
our foster daughter,
Bert, because at one point in her life she told me that
she could not change

she

was just
who she was
.

I have also
been confronted with this kind of
attitude
in

othe
r
students and their
families
,

even though
they are offered
help and
encouragement
.
Many times, these students
just
remain hopelessly mired in their situation
,

because that is the only life
style

they know, and
what they think it will take to accompli
sh a
positive change is too frightening an alternative to consider.

We can encourage them by showing
them that there is more to life then their
dismal circumstances
. We need to show them that
success
is a
n experience
that they can achieve.

Encouraging c
hildren in generational poverty is only one of the battles that we have to
face with our
student
s. We also need to help

children

combat
physical
obesity. Obesity is a
growing problem in our fast
-
paced society. We need to teach
young people
healthy
eating

habits
and the importance of physical fitness. The presentations in class brought t
o light the sad

Sgambelluri,
7

statistics of what America
n
’s poor eating
habits are
doing to our young people. The most
alarming
statistic was
the rise in
T
ype 2
D
iabetes. We can use he
alth
and science
lessons
to
show them the importance of healthy
eating habits. We can
help them be physically
active
by
participating in programs like the
Presidential Physical Fitness Award

program
. These are two
things which I plan to implement in my cl
assroom this fall. This is a big issue for me because
one of my former students
,

a young man named Brian, really struggles with these issues. His
obesity ha
s

caused him to have many
other
health

problems, including injuries from falls
.
Obesity can be a
s limiting
a
factor

in education

for children as poverty, because it so directly
affects their self
-
esteem.

Ano
ther
thing

that is hurting our student

s

future,
one that
we
heard about
in the
class
presentations and discussions, is

the
influence of
media.

Not only is the media influencing our
student

s views on things, but their
extended
use of video and computer games
has been
shown

to
affect the way
a child’s
brain function
s
.

Student

s listening skills, vocabulary skills,
phonological awareness, and their

ability to write facts into orderly forms when they speak or
write are all results of students spending to
o

much time with different forms of
fast
-
paced
media.
Students also are having difficulty differ
entiating and identifying
sounds in words, causing t
hem
to have difficulty with spelling and reading fluency. Students are also increasingly having
trouble with reading comprehension, and being able to think analytically
. (Healy, 1990) This is
one of the
biggest challenge
s

that we face.
If children are n
ot able to read they will be unable to
make their way in
the world
no matter what their

societal

class.

The
e
ffect
of the media
shows
itself especially when students are unable to form the questions they need to ask to help them
solve analytical problems.

I have had a significant number of students over the last few
years
that

are unable to even
use
the proper language to ask questions to receive help with a difficult

Sgambelluri,
8

task. Often they will simply say
.


I can’
t,


or just give up and not do the work After
reading the
research and thinking about the students who had this trouble, I
am convinced
that they are all
children who spend a great deal of time with the various forms of media.

Because
parents
are increasingly being pulled away from
their
children

by f
orces in our
fast
-
paced society, they are
not
being
allowing them to monitor their
children’s
eating habits,
media usage, or
being permitted to provide
their children
with
social and cultural experiences.
These responsibilities
are increasingly
fall
ing
to

teachers and
education
al professionals
. That
can be an over
whelming feeling
, especially as we consider
all the
academic
areas
that
need to be
presented to provide a quality educational experience for students today. We, as teachers, may
not be able to
give them all
that they need to overcome their situations,
but we can
help them
become
them aware of the
deleterious
effects that the media and obesity

can have on them. If we
can provide them with
inclusive moments, find ways to
help them acquire
some soc
ial and
cultural experiences
in
the
wider
world around us
,
take the time to be
an
encourager, and give
them the desire to
escape their discouraging
situation
s, then
we will have done more than just
teach our students how to read
, write, and compute
--

we
w
ill
have given them hope

as well.


Sgambelluri,
9

References

Aldridge, J. & Goldman, R.(2007).
Current issues and trends in education.
Boston, MA:
Pearson.


Brown, R. (1973).
Knowledge, education, and cultural change;: Papers in the sociology of
education
. London: Tavis
tock.


Clark, R.(2003).
The essential 55
. New York, NY: Hyperion.


Healy, J (1990).
Endangered minds
. New York, NY: Simon &Schuster.


LaGravenese, Richard [screenplay] & Gruewell, Erin [book]. (2007).
Freedom Writers.
Hollywood, CA. Paramount Pictures


La
reau, A, & Horvat, EM (1999). Moments of Social Inclusion and Exclusion Race, Class, and
cultural capital in family .
Sociology of Education
.
72
, 37
-
53.


Payne, RK (1996).
A framework for understanding poverty
. Highlands, TX: aha!Process, Inc..


Roseberry
-
McKibbin, C (2001). Serving children from the culture of poverty.
The ASHA Leader
online
, Retrieved 7/19/07, from
http://www.asha.org/about/p
ublications/leader
-
online/archives/2001/011106_5.htm?print=1
.


Samuelson, R.J. (April 30,1997). The culture of poverty.
Newsweek, Inc.
, Ret
rieved 7/18/2007,
from
http://washingtonpost.com/wp
-
srv/politics/special/welfare/stories/op043097.htm
.


Tumlisnson, J.K. (2007). The culture of pover
ty.
View Online Magazine
, Retrieved 7/19/2007,
from
http://www.viewonline.com/pages/editorials/poverty.htm