Kelly Chandler-Olcott, professor of reading and language arts, shared her thoughts on highlighting student assets over deficits with Education Week. This week’s question was “What can teachers do to help highlight student assets and not their deficits? In other words, what can teachers do to help create that mindset for themselves when they look at students and what can they do to help students develop the same view?”
Chandler-Olcott noted her experience that “most [teacher-readers] begin by identifying deficiencies in grammar, mechanics, and spelling. The more mistakes they perceive in a piece, the less likely they are to focus on other features.” This emphasis on mistakes can get in the way of improving skills for all students.
One way to challenge a deficit mindset around writing is to plan for one-to-one conferences with a structured, strengths-based protocol. I saw the benefits of such an approach most clearly when directing the Robinson Summer Writing Institute, an enrichment program intended to support youths’ transition to high school while building adult capacity to teach writing in diverse, inclusive classrooms. Our instructional priorities in the program included promoting student choice around topics, making genre conventions explicit, and increasing collaborative talk about writer’s craft.