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Practical Ways to Prevent the Deficit Model

Yesterday, I discussed the deficit model, a specific phenomenon that happens when a person’s challenges, perceived challenges, or characteristics outside the cultural “normative,” are focused on and used to make decisions about the individual.

One example of this is when young adults of diverse cultures are discouraged from taking advanced placement courses, despite their demonstrated ability and motivation. Another example might be when a student who has a learning disability but also has gifted characteristics, is delegated to the “extra support group at all times,no matter what their ability is in the skill being taught.

Today, I want to give some practical suggestions for how to identify deficit model pitfalls and how to combat them.

  1. Students whose family culture is outside the “cultural norms” may need extra consideration to feel safe and included in the classroom space. For example, some children may come from a home culture where quiet respect is highly valued. They may not feel comfortable speaking out in class, especially at first. If you have a child in your class who, for whatever reason, is reserved, find ways to include them in small group dynamics that may feel more comfortable to start out with. After awhile, their comfort level may grow.
  2. Watch for students with asynchronous development, meaning the are advanced in some ways but delayed in others. If a student is reading high above grade level, but struggles to turn in work, make sure that student’s strengths are being addressed and praised. Although, it is critical to address and scaffold support for the child’s difficulties, children who are not placed in learning situations according to their true ability may demonstrate maladaptive behaviors. It is our responsibility as teaching practitioners to make sure we can see behind executive functioning challenges such as turning work in and understand the child’s true ability level.
  3. For language learners, it is essential that an appropriate learning environment is provided to ensure their level of comfort. Students who are acquiring English as a second language often benefit from small group work, where they feel safer to make a language mistake and can participate in what is known as peripheral participation, where they are free to observe other student’s or the teacher who has language mastery.
  4. Allow a student who may be struggling academically to showcase another talent or strength. Children are incredibly adept at understanding unspoken dialogue and doing this communicates that the child’s other skills are also valued as part of the school community.
  5. Most importantly advocate for diversity in gifted education. Advocate for students who are twice exceptional, who may not be able to “make the grade” but could far surpass the straight A students in an IQ test. These children are a precious resource and we absolutely cannot let them fall through the cracks!

When you teach, you touch the future and that is a pretty amazing place to be!

For more ideas, please contact me at deanna@deannawestedt.com I am available to speak to school staff for professional development opportunities in the area of providing equity in the classroom.

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