Chapter 3 in the book, "Teaching with Poverty in Mind," challenges all educators to look differently at the capabilities of our students, especially those living in poverty. Recent research indicates that brain structure and a person's cognitive potential is able to change over time, especially with the right stimulating and engaging experiences.
There are certain enrichment practices that have been shown to directly affect a child's learning potential. As teachers, when we intentionally enrich our classrooms and provide opportunities for students to engage in some of these experiences, we boost their attention, learning and cognition.
Musical experiences have been found to improve performance in core math skills as they enhance verbal memory and overall brain function. It seems that the time invested in learning to play an instrument or fine tune vocal skills also helps develop long-term will and self-discipline--attributes that are more strongly correlated with good grades than IQ itself.
Physical exercise has also been shown to increase the production of new brain cells, according to research. This can lead to mood and memory changes and better attention skills. It's no secret that in education we often remove students from music or PE classes in order to give them additional time to work on basic skills in the areas of reading or math. We apparently need to rethink some of these decisions, though the wisdom of removing students has long been debated. Many educators have advocated for leaving students in these ancillary classes.
The kind of enrichment activities mentioned here affect most the students coming from disadvantaged homes. Students that have good home environments often have the opportunity to converse with adults, visit museums and take part in enriching experiences as part of their involvement with family and community. They can afford to invest in technology and computer games, to play musical instruments and take part in dance or art lessons. Students with impoverished backgrounds often come from families who lack the time and financial resources to make these experiences possible.
As educators we need to be purveyors of hope for students who appear to have low ability and are discouraged or unmotivated. We have the opportunity to see them with fresh eyes as we celebrate with them the change and personal growth that can come with novel and engaging learning experiences.