Resource: How poverty impacts student engagement

Jensen book cover
Jensen book cover

Eric Jensen has written recently about the negative impacts of poverty on student engagement, and thus on student success. He identifies 7 key differences between students in poverty and those in middle-class families, and offers suggestions for teachers for how to mitigate these differences.

We challenge you to read this article and then think about how it compares to your own experiences. While Jensen says all of these claims are backed up by research, he doesn't provide evidence in this article (he refers readers to his recent book). How much do these factors show up in your own classroom? To what extent do you think Jensen's critics are correct to attack his "deficit" thinking related to students in poverty?

The summary of the article is:
Poverty is an uncomfortable word. Teachers are often unsure what to expect from kids from low-income households and what to do differently as a result. Well-known author and educator Eric Jensen points to seven differences that show up in school between low- and middle-income children. By understanding what they are and how to address them, teachers can help mitigate those differences. Difference 1—health and nutrition—covers the emotional, physical, and mental health supports that students need. Difference 2—vocabulary—makes it clear that without a growing vocabulary, kids are hesitant to take classroom risks. Difference 3—effort and energy—shows readers that kids won't invest much if the odds of success are low. Difference 4—hope and mind-set—accounts for the fact that when belief is lacking or hope is low, effort plummets. With difference 5—cognition—students may back off difficult tasks if they don't think they 'have it.' Difference 6—relationships—shows how impaired relational skills create discipline issues. And finally, difference 7—stress—speaks of the toxic effects on learning of anxiety and chronic stress. Teachers can help students succeed by understanding these seven differences and addressing them with purposeful teaching.