Deficit Thinking Results in Bio-Medical Interventions

Posted on March 1, 2017. Filed under: Anti Oppressive Ed, cultural, eci814, educational, Kindergarten, Masters, teaching and learning |

Reading through this week’s chapters was a sobering reminder that I’m not as de-pathologizing as I would like to be.  The explanations on the biomedical approach to literacy is literally how I have done my job in grade one for these past 6 years. The DRA mentioned in chapter 3 is the exact tool that we use in our division for scoring children’s reading. As I was reading their explanations of how it is used, the stories were all too familiar to me.

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Screen shot from our online reading program called Raz-Kids which is a resource created to help kids achieve grade level.

The tool itself can be neutral and just another way we assess students, but the categorization, labelling, and decision making that is based on these results is troubling. In my experience, this can become the only tool that we use to gage student’s literacy. It becomes the be all and end all and we work towards hitting that numbered goal rather than looking at the child’s literacy strengths and literacy needs from an asset based approach.  Because the division only looks at these ORR levels, it unfortunately drives teachers like me to work to get students to “grade level.” Don’t get me wrong, reading at grade level is an important thing, as there are statistics that show if children aren’t reading at grade level by grade 3, they have a higher risk of dropping out of school. BUT- listen to the language I just used in that sentence. It is all deficit based language.

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Ways to see who is not reaching the skills required.

How would things change if I came at reading, writing, and basic literacy from a completely asset point of view? What if we built off of the children’s strengths culturally, linguistically, socially? How would my literacy instruction change if I cared less about a number and more about individual student growth? Would I spend less time testing and more time observing the student strengths and trying to work from those?  How do we move past the standardized test when that IS the test that schools/divisions/governments base achievement on?

I just asked 5 questions that are somewhat rhetorical because unfortunately I cannot leave the system that I teach in. I now need to decide how to work within that system. I can’t just complain about the system if I do not offer suggestions on how to problem solve these issues. That said, here are three things I am going to try to do when I get back into the classroom after my mat leave is over:

  1. Use cultural language/print more effectively.  I want English AND the other languages children speak in my classroom represented within my classroom. This will be done through labelling the classroom, but also through homemade books and artifacts co-created by students and their parents. Many parents/siblings will be more than willing to help bring a bit of themselves and their culture and language into our classroom. Rather than a teddy bear journal that gets sent home over the weekend, maybe a journal that encourages new vocabulary from all of the homes of the children could be sent home.
  2. Use more than a phonics based approach to teach reading. This is hard for me as I feel like I have done a “good job” of using reading strategies, phonics, and structures of English to help students learn to read English… BUT I know that I need a bigger representation of language in my classroom. When I taught Kindergarten, I used to use the children’s names to help them see the English language structures. For example, if Mikayla was the helper of the day, we would talk about how the “ay” in her name says a long a sound. This would be similar to the ‘ay’ in day, say, pray, spray etc. This might work for names that follow English “rules.” But what will I do when someone’s name does not fit? How can I honour a child’s name that was originally made for a language other than English? How can I use this as a chance to honour, represent and draw attention to that child’s culture, heritage and home language? Even further, how do I look at this experience for children and depathologize in my own practice?
  3. I will actively use more than the DRA or other standardized tests for decision making within my classroom. I think the chapters were pretty clear that most educational institutions are using the biomedical approach for decision making, understanding knowledge production,  and policy creation in regards to children.  There is not much I can do about that, except push back and show that I will not use those means to make decisions within my own classroom. I will show that students have value beyond the tests and constraints the “system” has put on them, and I will do everything I can to make informed decisions using the personal knowledge I have gained about my students through dialogues with them and their families. “The children of Elmwood received literacy instruction based on a single theory. When one theory is exclusively employed, only the goals of that theory can be achieved” (Early Childhood Curricula and the De-Pathologizing of Childhood, Ianacci and Heydon, p. 83). I will strive in every way possible to use more than a single approach to literacy for my future students.

What do you think? What are other ways we can teach literacy from an asset based approach? Am I off base? An idealist? Or is this something we need to strive for in our schools?

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