Saving A Framework for Understanding Poverty

by Mr. Sheehy

I don’t generally like book clubs. I suppose if I had a club with people I knew and enjoyed discussing things with I’d change my mind, but generally I have rarely met with folks who enjoy talking about the same things I do, so I find better interaction by reading on my own and writing about it, occasionally, here.

Yet at times I realize reading with others carries great fruit, and it is the question of another person that has saved Ruby Payne’s A Framework for Understanding Poverty for me. The instructor in the class I’m in asked us how we might change our approach to instruction or discipline in light of what we’d read in Payne’s book.

Initially, my reaction was quite negative, as I have felt a tad disappointed with the practical side of Payne’s work. When I started the book everything was so insightful and practical in terms of increasing my understanding of students from poverty that my expectations went up, but when Payne began to mention concrete ways to tweak our instruction, she threw down so much it seemed useless. I wrote about this a bit earlier in the week when I deferred to the authority of parenting books. I had felt overwhelmed perusing lists of intervention techniques, and it peaked when I hit a section on interpreting eye positions. Payne lays out a full range of the kinds of thinking people engage in when their eyes point in particular directions. It would be easy to remember if it were just up, straight ahead, and down, but she includes lefts and rights and two o’clocks and a full gamut of details. I found myself thinking, “Seriously? Am I going to memorize eye positions?”

Jun 07 2007 033 copy

I will not memorize eye positions. It’s not that I doubt Payne’s assertions. I have no argument with them. I just doubt my own attentiveness to such things, as well as the value of that approach over other strategies I could be attempting. How would trying to hold that memory in my head do my students any good? It’s not as if my days are filled with opportunities to talk to my students one-on-one, especially for a length of time that would allow me to evaluate their thinking via the position of their eyes.

Jun 22 2007 040 copy

That’s the negative reaction I fostered as I finished Framework.  Yet, in formulating an answer to my instructor’s question, I realized that I have actually been attempting many of the strategies for instruction that Payne suggests. I just ran across them in other sources. In my world, Cris Tovani (I Read It But I Don’t Get It) beat Payne to the punch, and when it comes to teaching instructional techniques, she did a better job (because Tovani’s point was to teach instructional techniques and Payne’s is to inform us of sociological situations and then to suggest general methods). Thus, I have been emphasizing the teaching of asking questions, of holding thinking while reading, of interacting with texts with the inner voice, and I have done it using things like think-alouds and explicit modeling.

This realization has re-valued Payne’s work for me, because instead of feeling like Payne has presented so much as to be useless, I now feel more like she has endorsed the scholarship of others, like Tovani, and given direction for further study. Having discovered this, I’ll be encouraged to continue my pursuit of those areas of study.

And all this because I am reading in a type of book club. Perhaps I’ll have to think about reading with others more often–who knows what kind of insight hasn’t been kindled because I’ve been all alone?

Thanks for reading.