Can you imagine how many hours a week a teacher spends on preparing lessons? The actual time depends on various factors, such as the amount of pre-existing materials, the level of the teacher’s experience, and the heterogeneity of the students’ group. In case the teacher has no significant experience and is without any pre-existing materials, planning a lesson can take as much as, or even more than the lesson lasts itself. Additionally, if there are disadvantaged students in the class, teachers might find themselves in a very difficult situation: how to handle diversity, group work and keep students engaged?
In this blog post, we have collected a couple of tips for educators and teachers who want to or have to develop learning materials for disadvantaged children. In order to have a broad understanding on this topic, we interviewed educators from the civil society who have daily experience in teaching disadvantaged students and who develop their learning materials as well. One of our interviewees was the founder and expert leader of an afterschool program called DigiTanoda aiming to develop the digital skills and online safety for disadvantaged children by interactive educational activities. The oher interviewees were the educators of Motiváció Műhely , which aims to provide skill development and study support for disadvantaged Roma and non-Roma children. The ideas below originate from the experiences of our interviewees.
Generally, every teacher and educator searches for materials ready to use because this is the fastest and easiest way to prepare for a lesson. However, as one of our interviewee pointed out, if your group is diverse regarding the social-cultural background and there are disadvantaged students as well, there is only one thing for sure: there is no educational material you can simply copy-paste into your curriculum. And this takes us to the first point. If you develop learning materials for disadvantaged students, make sure to get to know them first before you want to teach them anything. There are plenty of warm-up, icebreaker, getting to know each other activities to use for this purpose. Playing icebreakers and energizers is always a good idea, even between different tasks, phases or whenever your students get tired. Join in the game if you can and have fun with them! It can deepen your connection and make the learning process more effective. While doing the activities, listen to your students and understand their personality. What kind of tasks would they enjoy and what would they hate? What are they good at and what are their weaknesses? These are important to understand because if you want to engage and keep disadvantaged students motivated, you have to make them believe in themselves first, so give them tasks which they are able to do and feel successful at. While getting to know their background, skills, and competencies well, you will be able to give them not only individualized lessons, but feedback as well. Instead of simply saying “well done”, you can for example explain in what ways he or she developed compared to the previous lesson. It is important to challenge disadvantaged students as well, but first make them believe in themselves!
If you managed to do that, take a step forward and make your students collaborate. All of our interviewees implement collaborative learning as much as possible because it is a great way to break down stereotypes, to advance intercultural dialogue and can keep disadvantaged students motivated too. Before starting it though, teachers must lay down the rules of collaboration. The best way is to do it with your students: start brainstorming on the main rules of collaborative learning and write them down on a paper visible to all. Before beginning collaborative learning, you must remember the first rule: individualize the tasks! In collaborative learning, you can assign tasks according to the skills of the students, but if you do not bear in mind their strengths and weaknesses, the learning process can reverse. If one of them loves to express himself in front of others, let him prepare and do a presentation. If someone is rather an introvert and prefers to spend time alone, let him do the background work. Individualizing tasks in collaborative learning is not difficult at all, and if you do it well, positive results in learning will be quickly visible.
Besides the above-mentioned tips, there is only one more important area to think about: the content and the look of your educational materials. This was also a highly stressed, important point that all of our interviewees mentioned. Whether it is online or offline education, learning materials for disadvantaged students have to be visually very attractive and fun. Even if there is a long text you want to explain, make it attractive with charts, pictures, cartoons, or jokes. You can transfer theoretical knowledge to disadvantaged students as well but make the content interesting for them and create the look child-friendly. Moreover, the materials should always involve them. Frontal teaching will quickly make them bored and disengaged. Instead, make them search for materials, create a presentation, discuss about a subject, organize a debate, or anything you feel would make them active. Experiential learning is fast, sustainable, and enjoyable for disadvantaged students as well.
Above the mentioned points, there is one additional remark not to forget when teaching disadvantaged students. In case you are developing materials only for online learning, make sure they are available and user-friendly on phones as well because disadvantaged students are more confident in using phones than laptops or tablets. If you are teaching in person, but using online learning materials, please make sure to insert digital breaks in your class! In these breaks, motivate your students to get out and run around - which is a great way to refresh the brain.
Developing learning materials for disadvantaged students and implementing them in action might need more effort from teachers, but it will get easier with time and experience. By using these techniques above, disadvantaged students you teach will be engaged in your class and will gain more skills than in an average education setting. They will gain negotiation and communication skills, will learn how to learn, and get to know themselves better. Generally, heterogeneous student groups become more tolerant, empathic and will be able to communicate well. These skills and attitudes are essential for them to live a meaningful and prosperous life.
In case you want to read further materials on integrated education and innovative methods, have a look at the following articles:
Fejes József Balázs, Lencse Máté and Szűcs Norbert (2016, eds.): Mire jó a tanoda? A TanodaPlatform keretében összegyűjtött innovációk, kutatások, történetek. Motiváció Oktatási Egyesület, Szeged. Available at: https://motivaciomuhely.hu/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Mire-j%C3%B3-a-tanoda_webfinal.pdf
Szilvia Németh, Zoltán Hermann, Dániel Horn, András Kádár, Attila Papp Z., and Ágnes Székely (2019): Guidelines for Abolishing Segregated Education of Roma Pupils. Available at: https://ofi.oh.gov.hu/tudastar/esely-egyuttnevelesre/szilvia-nemeth-zoltan
Dr S. Themelis and B. Foster (2013): Education for Roma: the potential of inclusive, curriculum-based innovation to improve learning outcomes. Available at: https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000225955