Let's talk about it! Both assets and deficits have a huge impact on the learning experience. This is the reason both asset-based instruction, and deficit-based instruction have found their way into classroom lesson plans nationwide. Of course, both techniques require teachers to truly KNOW their students' weaknesses, strengths, and more. Who are your students outside of the school walls? What do they love? Where did they come from? What do they fear? All of which are questions that are required with this particular approach. Consequently, teachers benefit a great deal from having quick and intentional conversations with their students. By doing so, you are not only fulfilling the need for students to communicate and articulate their reality but you are also learning more details about who they are. These are important aspects of both asset and deficit-based instruction and they are also what fuels both modes of instruction towards student mastery.
However, the identifying factor in assets-based instruction is that it seeks to unlock students' potential by focusing on their assets. Experts state that asset-based instruction, as opposed to deficit-based instruction, seeks to create lifelong learners who are confident in their abilities to master new tasks and skills. It is instruction based on the idea that we value what our students bring to the classroom. Interestingly enough, a lot of its concepts parallel our blog about culturally responsive teaching! Being intentional when recognizing students' history and knowledge can help students use all that they have to offer as a stepping stone for future learning. When teachers use what they know about students, they help them grow and progress in language and content. Students are then valued for what they bring to the classroom and not characterized by their deficits or what they lack. This blog will talk about assets-based instruction, and how you can take the necessary steps toward empowering your classroom!
Using Cultural Knowledge
An asset-based model enables teachers to acknowledge, respect, and integrate the knowledge that parents possess and have shared with their children since birth. Significant cultural distinctions such as language and customs are included in this information. The students in the classroom represent a variety of different backgrounds, experiences, and cultures. For this reason exactly, through the asset-based model, teachers are encouraged to incorporate these assets in everyday instruction, making the classroom experience more authentic, relevant, and engaging to the child.
This approach sets the stage for increasing the child's academic potential. An article from Teaching Tolerance states, “As educators, it's our job to stimulate the intellectual development of children, and, in this era, it's simply not enough to operate on the axis of color-blindness.” To truly reach students on an internal level we must be culturally and linguistically responsive to the soil they grow from to understand how they learn and what you can use to help them grow in their current situation. This means going further than recognizing holidays and traditions, it is understanding language, norms, traditions, and symbols — “both tangible and intangible” according to The American College Education. These all play a role in what we call culture, and as an educator, it’s crucial that you develop a baseline understanding of these elements to truly reach, and effectively educate your classroom.
Building an Assets-Based Mindset within your School
Focus on positive community engagement rather than limits and boundaries! Most of the time marginalized populations are approached with a deficit model, on the contrary, assets-based models recognize the passions, unique strengths, and interests of the students. Collectively, students have much to offer! An article on Lexia described a situation where teachers and administrators from a lower economic elementary school had requested a nature trail be created on school grounds for the benefit of students but were told there were no funds to create it. Instead of accepting the lack of funds as a boundary, the school leaders were challenged to think beyond a “negative mindset” and push forward with plans to make the nature trail happen. Fostering hope and discarding limitations is always an option!
With the asset-based mindset, educators are always tasked with putting a positive thinking process in motion. Researcher Marie Venter created an “asset learner map” for students that identifies key areas of strength in students that teachers could build upon. These key areas also included that outside of school, such as family relationships. The mapping process includes developing an awareness of “personal characteristics and skills” as a means of recognizing “gifts” that, once identified, can be applied to creatively handle problems according to Lexia.
In addition, asset models could be expanded to apply to students of all ability levels, regardless of their families' or income status. Ultimately, classrooms and instruction should be designed with enough flexibility to invite students into not only a particular lesson but also a model of long-lasting success.
The 6 Advantages of Asset-Based Instruction
According to Classcraft, here are 6 advantages of asset-based instruction! Check them out and see how you can apply them in your classroom:
- Focuses on strengths - With assets-based learning, this is a priority! As we stated before, learning about your students helps them structure the lesson plan around their strengths. Using assessment can be useful to identify individual and classroom-based strengths. This allows you to approach instruction in a way that is intentional and thoughtful.
- It's culturally responsive - To produce results on diverse teams in the real world, students have to learn to work in diverse teams in the classroom. Making the classroom more culturally responsive allows every student to feel included and welcome. Relating the material to students' lives can help make them feel included in the lesson. Check out this resource on taking an inclusive approach! For instance, helping students become more fluent in their native language can help them better understand English, or other languages. This is building on the strengths of what they currently know versus focusing on what knowledge they lack.
- Help get to know students - As stated before, this way of instruction is built upon what you know about your students! Having frequent conversations with your student matters! While doing so, you will have the opportunity to know both the assets and deficits in your students. In turn, this also creates an atmosphere of trust and care within the classroom.
- Promotes classroom engagement/Draws on student interests - Learning about student interests is the benefit of getting to know your students better. Matching the assignment to incorporate the interests of the students can be very beneficial to them taking ownership of their learning process. Not to mention, this also promotes classroom engagement which increases the students' ability to learn and retain the learning.
- Helps create student-centered classrooms - Do not underestimate the power of a student-centered classroom! Giving up a little bit of control of the classroom can be for the benefit of the students. Creating an atmosphere where students feel that they are empowered to learn, collaborate, and create, produces the best results. With a little guidance, you will be surprised at what they can do!
- Connects to prior knowledge - We have stated several times in our blogs about the power of connecting new concepts to existing information. Meaning is created in learning when students have the ability to connect prior knowledge! Although teachers have their objectives to meet, we can not guarantee that students take from learning exactly what is intended every time. We can only create an atmosphere where they have made equally important and meaningful connections.
There are no limits to how you can build on student knowledge using their strengths! You can find awesome resources on the links provided to learn more about asset-based instruction and how it can benefit your classroom.
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