Where does Ruby Payne fit into teaching.

 

Introduction.

I had the opportunity to listen to Ruby Payne’s seminars twice while living and teaching in Tasmania. Her analysis of classroom actions was, for me, like having a light turn on. There have also been discussion groups of her research in relation to teaching some of the more difficult students.

As stated elsewhere in this website, some of my students have been interesting and difficult at different times. This teacher has rarely had a problem with students when many other teachers were tearing their hair out and even some quitting teaching altogether. Was this luck or something else?

I have the view that patience was a major factor but when the patience ran out the reaction from me was explosive. However, one hour later while driving down town after school I would wave to the problem student as if nothing had happened. I always attributed this to getting over the angst very quickly and never holding a grudge. As my patience developed again it was often time to talk to the student and explain that we are all human and so suffer from emotional stress. I found that by admitting that the problem could have been handled better on my part a grudging respect from the student would ensue.

Many times a student would mention casually that they were hungry so they would be asked about their lunch and did they have breakfast? If the answer was no they were taken straight to the school canteen and the canteen staff (usually a lady) was asked to feed the student and it be billed to my account.

It was years later when reading Ruby Payne’s research that it occurred to me why I had so little trouble with many of the students when so many teachers had ongoing issues.

Ruby Payne

Ruby Payne categorised society into lower, middle class and upper class but not based solely on money. There are wealthy people in lower class societies and there are poor people in wealthy societies. Her research is strongly about the hidden language of lower, middle and upper groups of people and where people put themselves in these groups and the hidden language they use. Certainly in most schools there is a range of students but often the predominance are the middle and lower class groups. The use of lower class in this case is not meant to be derogatory it is how Payne classified them in the seminars that I attended and as mentioned some people in this group are wealthy from a monetary perspective.

Her research is also about how people learn to survive with the resources that are available to them or that they are willing to use. Certainly, the minimal resources associated with poverty pushes people into a particular lifestyle and one of the most important resource available to them is relationships with family and friends. Therefore, to foster and cultivate these relationships is viewed by this group as an important activity.

Where does Ruby Payne fit into teaching.

 

Introduction.

I had the opportunity to listen to Ruby Payne’s seminars twice while living and teaching in Tasmania. Her analysis of classroom actions was, for me, like having a light turn on. There have also been discussion groups of her research in relation to teaching some of the more difficult students.

As stated elsewhere in this website, some of my students have been interesting and difficult at different times. This teacher has rarely had a problem with students when many other teachers were tearing their hair out and even some quitting teaching altogether. Was this luck or something else?

I have the view that patience was a major factor but when the patience ran out the reaction from me was explosive. However, one hour later while driving down town after school I would wave to the problem student as if nothing had happened. I always attributed this to getting over the angst very quickly and never holding a grudge. As my patience developed again it was often time to talk to the student and explain that we are all human and so suffer from emotional stress. I found that by admitting that the problem could have been handled better on my part a grudging respect from the student would ensue.

Many times a student would mention casually that they were hungry so they would be asked about their lunch and did they have breakfast? If the answer was no they were taken straight to the school canteen and the canteen staff (usually a lady) was asked to feed the student and it be billed to my account.

It was years later when reading Ruby Payne’s research that it occurred to me why I had so little trouble with many of the students when so many teachers had ongoing issues.

Ruby Payne

Ruby Payne categorised society into lower, middle class and upper class but not based solely on money. There are wealthy people in lower class societies and there are poor people in wealthy societies. Her research is strongly about the hidden language of lower, middle and upper groups of people and where people put themselves in these groups and the hidden language they use. Certainly in most schools there is a range of students but often the predominance are the middle and lower class groups. The use of lower class in this case is not meant to be derogatory it is how Payne classified them in the seminars that I attended and as mentioned some people in this group are wealthy from a monetary perspective.

Her research is also about how people learn to survive with the resources that are available to them or that they are willing to use. Certainly, the minimal resources associated with poverty pushes people into a particular lifestyle and one of the most important resource available to them is relationships with family and friends. Therefore, to foster and cultivate these relationships is viewed by this group as an important activity.

Relationships

Relationships.

As lower socioeconomic groups consider relationships to be very important, a teacher chastising a student can find themselves facing the students and their friends.

Ruby Payne described the concept of relationships and the differences in this way. A lower socio-economic person will borrow money from a ‘loan shark’ to pay bail to get their son out of a week’s gaol time due to a misdemeanour. A middle class person will leave their child in gaol for the week to contemplate what they should have done and to think about correcting their ways. The upper socio-economic group simply gets the family lawyer in and the son does no gaol time.

In the class room, if a teacher can find some common ground with a student and create a working relationship, the lower socioeconomic students will work hard to foster the relationship, in turn giving the teacher an easier time and more credibility. After all when the teacher lacks credibility in the eyes of the student, everything the teacher says is up for debate.

In one of my classes, a student was being difficult (‘a bit silly’) and one of the other students quietly informed him to stop being a jerk because if ‘Wilky’ doesn’t spin kick your head off I will. The student was well behaved for the rest of the lesson and I did not say a thing other than help him with his work. Fostering working relationships can change the makeup of a class dramatically.

Teachers who have worked with difficult students will agree that one of the most powerful things a teacher can do for a student is to give them choices so they don’t have to leave their own culture behind. Teaching the hidden class languages of emotional, physical, manners, food, relationships and presentation empowers the student to make the choices that can allow them to succeed.

In another of my classes, a student refused to attend school. However, I arranged for the student return to school on a one to one basis in my classroom and have individual classes. During these classes the student did not fall behind with the main stream lesson content as this was what we studied but there were many discussions about the problems he was dealing with in normal classes and we discussed different ways of dealing with those issues. integrated himself full time We also discussed the different languages that are used in a school and how we have to get used to using one language for home another with our friends and another in school. In this case, after about 5 weeks the student was put back into some classes and found things were much easier with his new understanding. A week later he had integrated himself full time back into the class. After going back into the class full time he went from a lower level student to a higher level just due to a greater understanding of the content and people.

Some teachers were critical in saying he was using the situation to be lazy but in reality he certainly did not try and take advantage of the situation and neither did any other student who needed the extra support. Many of these students in later years after leaving school, commented on how it was the only thing that kept them at school and enabled them to succeed. This of course is anecdotal. Yet here is no avoiding the fact that teachers must develop working relationships with their students and to do this they must understand how the different levels of society works.

This needs to be qualified a little, in that teachers are not there to be their friend but to be a significant adult that the student can respect and rely on. Above all teachers need to put their preconceived notions about different levels of society away and concentrate on building working relationships with an understanding of their students.

A Hungry Student.

A Hungry Student.

A very important part of Payne’s research was food. The school that I taught in occasionally ran breakfast clubs to ensure that no students went hungry. From a personal perspective no student of mine need go without food and most of them knew this.

Yet within that school there was the issue of who was responsible for the food. When the students knew they could get food from a teacher if they were very hungry they used this ‘get breakfast at school’ sparingly and tended to accept their own responsibility to eat at home. However, when the breakfast clubs were run the parents had a tendency to say ‘get breakfast at school’. As soon as the school took on the responsibility, in many cases the parents were happy to relinquish their responsibility.

Hungry students are either antsy, lack concentration or are tired. Either way it is not appropriate for learning or for good classroom management. Often the issue has to be resolved if teaching is to continue. The simple reaction is to exit the student from the class or send them home but that can be a negative action that rarely solves the problem. There are more subtle methods of ensuring a student can get food from a ‘friend’ or significant adult.

The way I did it was to have an understanding with the canteen ladies where I would write a note and the student would put some food against my account. In the 25 years of teaching not one student forgot to reimburse me although sometimes it would take a couple of weeks. During that time I never asked the student for money as it was their responsibility.

Presentation.

The presentation of food has a different meaning for different socioeconomic groups. Using Payne’s definition, for lower class groups it is quantity, for middle class it is quality and for upper class it is presentation.

This concept can work across many things as well as food, for example, clothing. Where presentation is perceived to be the equal of quality, schools need to add something in the curriculum so students understand that presentation is not related to quality at all.

I digress a little in that I bought some clothes as a birthday present for my first wife many years ago and thought I was buying quality from an up market shop. My wife looked at them and said ‘you bought them where’ and promptly took them back to the shop for a refund. The material and workmanship was good but the price was well in excess of the overall quality of the products. What would your guess be, lower middle or upper class? Obviously, some understanding of language was missing.

Generational Unemployment.

How often has a teacher, without an understanding of poverty, said to a student ‘that you will not amount to anything if you don’t study this’ or ‘you will never be any good if you don’t settle down’. In many cases they are saying it to a student who has a family life where they have their computer video players and motor bike, the understanding of other choicesfamily has a car and they have a roof over their head yet the father and his grandfather have never had work for more than a month at a time. The student will often think the teacher is stupid for working so hard when they need not work at all. The only thing the teacher can offer the student is an understanding of other choices and where they might lead. They can also offer students examples of a different life experience. All to often teachers start their teaching at what is good for themselves.

To achieve this, teachers need to gain experience in many different areas so they can relate to students on many levels using tools similar to Payne’s hidden class languages. Learn what the generational unemployed are thinking and offer something that the student sees as worthwhile so they approach learning more actively.

Language

Language.

Although the idea of students living in language poverty is not new and much has been written about it, yet we still have to relate to them and teach them. Nowhere is this more obvious than working in an environment of English as a Foreign Language (EFL).

Here it is not money being the issue it is poverty of exposure to the foreign language.

For some students in poverty they are simply not exposed to enough language so their vocabulary is very limited. Not only is their vocabulary limited, so is the manner in which they understand the language. Just learning the words is only half the answer, understanding the hidden language that the words convey is just as important, especially when relating to others.

A little understanding of language and how it is interpreted in the different levels of society can go a long way to facilitating the teaching of a large range of students in the one class.

Another writer in this field is Lisa Delpit (1995). She writes about different easily lose credibilityclass groups and minority groups and their use of language. She quotes an observation of how a teacher can so easily lose credibility.

• TEACHER: Good morning, Tony, how are you?

• TONY: I be’s fine.

• TEACHER: Tony, I said, How are you?

• TONY: (with raised voice) I be’s fine.

• TEACHER: No, Tony, I said how are you?

• TONY: (angrily) I done told you I be’s fine and I ain’t telling you no more!

The student now thinks the teacher is stupid and has to have things explained to them many times so that they understand. The trick here is for the teacher to read the situation better and learn when to relax and when to correct. Certainly, correcting in this example had a negative impact instead of a positive one. This does not mean we don’t teach in as many possible language dialects as we can to maximize the students learning potential. Teachers have to be a little more in tune with our students and teach at optimal times.

Both Delpit and Payne write strongly about understanding our students and their language if we are going to teach them.

Delpit (1995) ran an experiment with pre-service teachers where she forced them to use a dialect to explain why they were taking up teaching. ‘During a follow up discussion, all students invariably speak of the impossibility of attempting to apply rules while trying to formulate and express a thought. Forcing speakers to monitor their language for rules while speaking, typically produces silence.’ In another similar experiment not only did the teachers go silent but many started playing up exactly the same as poorly behaved students. It certainly proves how difficult it is to think and converse in a different dialect and how much stress is on a student whose language is a different dialect to the normal middle class school values. In the EFL situation teachers should have considerable patience and be totally non judgmental when it is not only a dialect but a whole new language.

Manners

Manners.

Here is another issue that can be difficult to deal with. What are good manners in one level of society can be insulting in other levels. Tell a person from a lower class group some inane piece of information in an upper class language and see what reaction you get. Of course, the opposite is relevant in that using lower class automatically sets up a barrierlanguage to an upper class student will not enhance the teacher’s credibility regardless that the communication, content and context are all the same. The incorrect language automatically sets up a barrier to the speaker. Based on the speed with which we make judgements of others, these barriers are to the detriment of work and our society as they may or may not be accurate. These initial judgements, according to my quick scan of the internet, happen in about seven seconds. Although surprisingly accurate, they are not allowing us a clear perception of the critical thinking competence in specific skills or the ability to work under stress in different environments. The use of the incorrect language can cost in different situations. We need to teach the students the different ways of communicating and making them aware of the hidden languages of a class society.

Mobility across societal levels.

The research tells us that it is hard to move from one level to another but to move two levels is almost impossible. The hidden language can become a barrier to teaching and the teacher’s credibility with their students. It is imperative for the teacher to learn the hidden language to maintain their credibility with all of their students.

This lack of social mobility and understanding across two levels of society makes a mockery of the wealthy politicians who continually say ‘I understand what you are saying and will work to fix your problems’. If the politician is trying to cross two social layers it is highly probable they are going to insult the lower class and alienate them, as for understanding the lower classes, for most politicians it is the same as living on two different planets.

Why Bother

Why Bother.

As society has, in general become more mobile, the students and their families can be seen shifting their allegiances depending on their friends’ families and other socioeconomic circumstances. It is not uncommon for teachers to find themselves teaching students from a large range of socio-economic situations. The teacher may not be aware of this diverse range. The research, such as Payne’s and Delpit, will make them far more aware of their students and the language they need to be using. This suggestion is to be more understanding of what the students are going through if they have to move to another societal level with their language.

If we consider Bartlets (2008) comment from Feuerstein’s ‘active modification approach, the past is seen as merely a starting point for improvements in the future’.

Payne raising of the teachers’ awareness of class structure helps teachers to be more aware of more relevant starting points to get many students into relevant education and learning practices.

Payne quotes Feuerstein (1980) work as an example of the abilities of different students.

• If an individual cannot predict, he or she cannot identify cause and effect.

• If an individual cannot identify cause and effect, he or she cannot identify consequence.

• If an individual cannot identify consequence, he or she cannot control impulsivity.

• If an individual cannot control impulsivity, he or she has an inclination to criminal behavior.

If a student cannot plan then that is their starting point for learning regardless of how good other students in the class are at planning and predicting.

After a close look at this list many readers will notice some of these aspects are actually missing from some education systems.

Criticisms of Ruby Payne.

There are several people not in favour of Payne’s research and maybe for good reason at an academic level. Redeaux (2011) writes about lack of peer assessment on Payne’s work as being a major issue but goes on in a vein about Payne making money out of her publishing. This all may be correct, but it appears like possible jealousies about Payne’s good fortune.

Payne’s research uses skin colour when writing and talking of poverty where as in the classroom teachers have to deal with the concept of poverty in relation to educational experiences rather than colour. Poverty covers all colors and races. There has to be extreme care that preconceived notions of colour or race do not come into our teaching practices and for that matter preconceived notions about anything should not be where we start our teaching from.

For the teacher they need to understand and learn how best to communicate with the diverse range of students we work with. Once a teacher can put aside their own preconceived notions put aside their own preconceived notionsof culture manners and education they should be able to start constructing teaching experiences that are of value to all students. Those students categorised as poverty by Payne need to be understood so they can be educated to the maximum of their potential the same as any student in any classroom.

Many of the problems teachers have is they wear their middle class values and language like a badge of honour thus not reaching many of the poverty students. The teacher needs to be the flexible one and not blame all the problems on the student. An understanding of a working relationship needs to evolve and so education becomes more relevant for the student. Ruby Payne’s comments in many cases work well at the grass roots of teaching, so can be given a certain amount of credibility while they continue to work. We can let the academics argue out the pros and cons in the ether, away from the people trying to make education work.

Summing Up

Summing Up.

How does this relate to the active learner?

Often teachers will say the student did …. I growled at the student and then they did that, so I chucked them out of the class. The education has now effectively stopped for that student regardless of their abilities.

It is up to the teacher to ensure the opportunities are there for the student to become an active learner. If we don’t bother to understand our students we will quickly alienate them and stop their desire to learn or even to be part of our normal society. Without this understanding and the teaching to understand the dialects languages and cultures that make up our society, we relegate many students to be fringe dwellers without the knowledge to make choices. The choices are the social area they would like to dwell within and the ability to take advantage of all that society has to offer.

On many occasions there are not enough options or time available to the teacher to follow through with good strategies to deal with this problem. Although a great deal can be done with the classroom presentation and grades curriculum but many teachers do not bother to understand why the student is not an active learner and should learn some basic strategies to help the student.

References

Bartlett, S quoting Feuerstein’s (2008) Unlocking Cognitive Potential. Mentis Final PDF.pdf. [accessed 26/03/2013] http://www.sagepub.com/upm-data/24974_Mentis_Chapter_1.pdf

Delpit, Lisa. (1995). Other Peoples Children – Cultural Conflict in the Classroom. The New Press. [accessed 08-04-2013]. http://www.d.umn.edu/~hrallis/courses/1100sp04/readings/1100pdfs/Delpit%20-Lang%20in%20Clsmr.pdf

Feuerstein, Reuven, et al. (1980). Instrumental Enrichment: An Intervention Program for Cognitive Modifiability. Glenview, IL: Scott, Foresman and Co.. [accessed 30/03/2013] http://www.michigan.gov/documents/mde/Understanding_and_Working_with_Students_and_Adults_from_Poverty_360998_7.pdf

Redeaux, Monique. (2011) The Culture of Poverty Reloaded. The Monthly Review. 2011, Volume 63, Issue 03 (July-August) / [accessed 30/03/2013]. http://monthlyreview.org/2011/07/01/the-culture-of-poverty-reloaded

Brett Wilkin 08-04-2013

 

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