Topic 3

The Impact of Student Self Image on Achievement and Motivation


A portion of the following material was reprinted, with permission, from From Rage to Hope: Strategies for Reclaiming Black & Hispanic Students. Copyright 1991 by the National Education Service, 304 West Kirkwood Avenue, Bloomington, Indiana, 47404, 800-733-6786,

A portion of the following material was reprinted, with permission, from Teaching in the Diverse Classroom: Learner-Centered Activities That Work. Copyright 1993 by the National Education Service, 304 West Kirkwood Avenue, Bloomington, Indiana, 47404, 800-733-6786,


The Social Self-Image

The social self-image is very often the self-image of the home, the self-image of the playground, the self-image of the streets, the basketball court, the football field, etc. The social self-image can be described in relation to others who are a part of the social environment. The social self-image determines most often how individuals feel about their interaction with others. It is reflected in how individuals carry themselves, how they speak, how they adorn themselves, how they react in social settings, and how they develop social skills.

There are three primary influences in the development of the social self-image in Black and Hispanic students: the home and family, the peer group, and other social systems.

Role of the home and family in shaping the social self-image. Parents, siblings, and other family members have much to do with how a child internalizes feelings of love and acceptance. Social skills, personality, and character are shaped in the formative years before school by the family. Similarly, a child's perception of his or her physical attraction and non-academic abilities are molded in these early years as a result of the influences of those within the family circle.

Children who have strong bonds with members of their "family unit"—regardless of family size, income, or status—are likely to see themselves in the most positive light. On the other hand, children who experience aloofness, excessive criticism, and lack of love within the family circle are likely to fault themselves. Even sibling rivalry can be damaging to the development of a strong social self-image in some children.

Role of the peer group in shaping the social self-image. Black and Hispanic youth are like all humans; they require acceptance. They are likely to be especially loyal to those who show an acceptance of shortcomings, an appreciation of their strengths, and an approval of their unique talents and abilities. Alvin Poussaint, a renowned Black psychologist, found that Black children have strong needs for achievement and approval. Very often, these needs are satisfied in peer groups where rapport is established and bonds are made. In a comparative study of self-perceptions among Black girls and boys depended on non-academic factors such as social ability and peer acceptance. The self-image of Black boys depended on non-academic factors such as social ability and peer acceptance. The self-image of Black girls, in comparison, was related more strongly to academic achievement.

It is through the acceptance of the peer group that many youth develop behavioral norms. The way many Black youth talk, walk, dress, dance, play competitive sports, rap, and even "play the dozens" (Note) with one another reflects the extent to which they have internalized their self-worth and "place" within their peer group subculture. How they see themselves in the context of peer relations is very important to their social development. When peers provide appreciation and approval, they often become the primary support unit.

Role of the other social systems in shaping the social self-image. Within the Black community, there are significant social systems, such as the Black church, boys/girls clubs, and structured and unstructured recreation centers. Many Black youth who are given significant roles to play in the Black church (e.g., through membership in church organizations and participation in skits, plays, and other church events) develop strong bonds and a positive social self-image. Similarly, Hispanic youth who bond with adult community figures through organized recreational and social activities where their self-worth is proclaimed, and also likely to develop strong social self-images.

Many Black and Hispanic youth benefit greatly from these community, peer, and family bonds when the relationships are positive. Even when the relationships lead to negative behavior (as in violent gangs), the strong social self-image is likely to be left intact as the desire for appreciation, loyalty, and support is nurtured.


The Academic Self-Image

As powerful as the social self-image is, it alone does not indicate the likelihood for future success in a high-tech society. Nor does it determine the extent to which youth are likely to be motivated to achieve success in "mainstream America." It is the academic self-image that dictates how well children will fare in a society where survival will require higher-order thinking skills and other academic competencies. It is not unusual for some children to display a positive social self-image within their own families and communities and a negative academic self-image of these youth.

The key ingredient for improving the academic self-image of all youth is "accomplishment." An academic environment that offers encouragement, praise and the opportunity for accomplishment will promote the development of a positive self-image. Children who are without significant opportunities for in-school success are likely to feel frustrated and inept. However, since the need for accomplishment (of any kind) is so great, many students who are denied in-school success will seek accomplishment outside of school—even if it is through illegal or unacceptable behavior.

The academic self-image is unlikely to be enhanced when teachers provide an academic experience that is defeating and discouraging. Levin found that teachers who have negative attitudes toward their students contribute to the massive educational failure of Black children. Yet, an attempt by teachers to build on the positive social strengths of Black and Hispanic youth can actually serve to enhance the academic self-image. Martin found the focus by teachers on student strengths made them feel more confident thereby enhancing a positive self-image. Teachers can augment the academic self-image by identifying and developing some of the unique cultural and social strengths Black and Hispanic youth bring to the classroom. An understanding of how the social self-image can be used to bolster the academic self-image is critical.

Because the academic self-image of Black and Hispanic students is vital to their academic success, teachers must work hard to ensure that these students have positive experiences in school. Black youth may be taught at home to appreciate certain skills that are not always valued in classrooms and that do not reflect the school's norms. These include nonverbal communication, dance and rhythmic movements, learning through cooperation, and verbal interplay during instruction. They may also acquire social "survival" strategies similar to behavior of other in their communities and culture (e.g., the "hip" walking styles, expressive movements, or the use of "Black English"). This duality between the culture of the school and the culture of the family and community can account for much of the discrepancy between academic and social self-concept.

The indicators and characteristics of low academic self-image presented in Table I have been observed by many teachers and school officials. What is needed most, however, is an understanding of why these characteristics exist. The list below will provide more insight.

  1. Children who fail to complete work... often have either a fear of failure ("I won't get a passing grade anyway") or a fear of success. They consequently lack the desire to do well - usually because the need for approval will still go unmet. Some children simply lack interest in the subject areas.
  2. Children who are hostile, disruptive, delinquent, and/or defiant in speech in the presence of teachers... actually have a "fear" of other people. Their hostility is part of a warped rationale – "do unto others before they get the chance to do unto you." These children have been mistreated and emotionally abused. They are often hostile as a means of protecting themselves from additional hurt. All too often, the "hurt" is exacerbated in the classroom that doesn't allow for an emphasis on strengths, or teachers who have negative expectations.
  3. Children who daydream or show a poor attention span... are not motivated to succeed and in many cases are disinterested in what is being taught. They either think they are going to fail – even if they do pay attention – or are not inspired (by teachers, peers, or parents) to succeed. Some smaller children may be unaware of the importance of school and the need to pay attention.
  4. Children who have little or no eye contact... may be socialized to feel direct eye contact is a sign of disrespect – particularly is the speaker is an adult. However, if no such cultural socialization is evident, little or no eye contact usually indicates a fear of people. Very often the child may not look adults in the eye because he sees "dislike" for him in the other person's eyes. When there is no real love, direct eye contact makes it more obvious. Many Black youth who are especially proficient in non-verbal communication will detect – or think they've detected – bias in their teacher's eyes, making eye contact with that teacher even more painful.
  5. Child who frequently use excuses to justify poor performance are afraid of what others (teachers) think of them... These children often need a crutch to justify what they fear most—failure. They have been made to feel inferior but are still fighting against what they perceive to be a teacher's negative impressions. In making excuses, they are actually trying to hold on to some semblance of dignity. This is merely an endeavor to save face, or to assuage their feelings of inadequacy.
  6. Children who are afraid to try and who give up too easily... generally have a fear of failure. They have already determined that the best way to prevent the pain of not doing well is to abstain from making the attempt. All too often, student confidence has not been built in one area of "strength" and the result is an unwillingness to try. Children who have a sense of purpose, who feel motivated, and who know others believe in them will eventually lose this characteristic. By the same token, children who "give up too easily"—who don't persist—also have a fear of failure. They lack the confidence to keep going because they really don't feel they will meet with success.
  7. Children with repeated and deliberate tardiness or absences... may have such a "fear of failure" or a "fear of people" that they will do anything to avoid being in a situation where embarrassment, pain, or failure is imminent. Cutting class or ditching school is one way to avoid the pain of being in unbearable situations. Some children are absent or tardy for reasons beyond their control; this analysis is not applicable to those youth who don't intentionally have poor attendance. Some children are tardy because of other extenuating circumstances. For example, an older child may be responsible for getting a younger sibling to class on time the bell rings. Remember, also, that children are people too, and like most people, find it hard to be some place "on time" when their "souls" really don't want to be there at all.


Lack of Pluralistic Curricula

The call for a holistic and comprehensive change in curricula is not new. In calling for a "total re-conceptualization of our views of American history and culture and of the ways they are taught and learned, "Gay stressed that cultural pluralism must become an accepted canon of American education.

In a 1977 study by the National Endowment of the Humanities, deficiencies in the knowledge of history and literature were found to be most pronounced among Black and Hispanic youth. Schools were found to be fostering "class bias and elitism" by failing to offer adequate instruction in history and literature to those youth most at risk. This study concluded that when youth were denied their history, they were unlikely to realize their full potential. As Cicero wrote, "to know nothing of what happened before you were born is to remain forever a child."

The need for a more pluralistic curriculum has spawned the implementation of the African-Centered (or Afro-centric) curriculum in some urban school districts. The intent of the African-Centered curriculum is to enhance the dignity, pride, self-respect, and motivation of Black youth by enhancing their heritage and cultural differences. The following are real examples of rules, and behavioral and procedural norms, which tend to perpetuate institutional racism- even when a multicultural or African centered curriculum exists.

Whether a school system chooses an African-Centered curriculum or a curricular model rooted in multiculturalism, it must do more than teach history. The school program must also reflect changes in attitudes, teaching strategies, assessment procedures, value orientation, and the substance of what is taught. It is important to seek pluralism in the curriculum through efforts to determine

What is being taught is important. All too often the school curriculum focuses on information that is totally irrelevant to the status or survival of Black and Hispanic youth. The curriculum must be revised to foster an appreciation of all of the positive components of the students' racial or cultural group as well as the most accurate portrayal of history from the perspective of that particular racial or cultural group.

Education for what? When forced to answer this question, educators must make certain they are not just imparting the skills and knowledge needed by students to just "make do" in society. Black and Hispanic students must be convinced that they are being groomed and prepared for careers that will bring them professional gratification and financial security. It is important, therefore, that education make certain that students are not put in vocational/technical or low-level tracks that only prepare them for menial labor or dead-end jobs.

Who is educating Black and Hispanic students? Fewer numbers of Blacks and Hispanics are seeking to become teachers. More effort must be put into the recruitment of Black and Hispanic teachers, and male teachers in particular. The pool of Black and Hispanic male teachers is expected to dwindle below 5% by the year 2000. Black and Hispanic youth are likely to be more responsive to teachers of their race and culture. However, White teachers who are capable of embracing multiple teaching strategies, pluralistic classroom environments, and multicultural course materials can have a positive impact on the achievement of their Black and Hispanic students.

How the instruction is provided is central to understanding who internalizes the knowledge imparted. Instructional strategies and teaching styles must tap the full range of student potential. This is discussed in more detail in the following section.


Making Teaching and Learning Styles More Congruent

Students who find their culture and learning styles reflected in both the substance and the organization of the instructional program are more likely to be motivated and less likely to be disruptive. They're more likely to benefit from their learning experience. In her book, Black Children: Their Roots, Culture and Learning Styles, Janice Hale-Benson suggests that formal education has not worked for many Black youth because it has not employed the teaching styles that correspond with the students' learning styles. Benson observes that Black youth have barely mastered the norms of their own culture when they are confronted with teaching styles that are incompatible with their accepted learning patterns.

When this incongruity between teaching and learning styles exists, Black children become less motivated and more likely to question their self-worth. When Black youth find learning difficult, many often blame themselves and develop animosity toward the educational environment. Many Hispanic students react similarly.

Before teachers can understand and appreciate the learning styles preferred by students, it is important to understand the role that culture plays in shaping learning styles. Culture shapes cognitive development, children's approach to academic tasks, and their behavior in traditional academic settings. Cultural conflict can occur when children have not had experiences that provide them with the kind of information that is used and valued in school.

To reach all children, educators must expand their repertoire of instructional strategies to encompass the various approaches children use to learn. In writing about Black children's learning styles, Hale-Benson suggests that many Black youth employ people-oriented, relational, and field dependent/sensitive approaches to learning rather than the analytical style favored in most school structures. The obvious must be stressed, however. All Black and Hispanic children do not use the same learning style.

People-oriented learning is a learning style derived from African heritage. Because many Black youth learn in their pre-school years through extensive social interaction, some Black youth may have more difficulty then White students in settings where learning takes place primarily through the use of educational hardware, technology, books, listening stations, learning centers, television, programmed instruction, learning kits, and other objects. Because of the differences in culture some Black youth can benefit from intensive personal interaction with teachers who provide rapport, nonverbal support, and affection.

Research also indicates that a high percentage of Black and Hispanic children are "field-dependent." The field-dependent or field-sensitive learner tends to be aware of the social and personal relevance of the learning experience. It matters to these youngsters that the materials and concepts are related to their own experience and are neither abstract nor isolated. Field-dependent learners prefer student-centered, more personal environments. The field-dependent learner prefers small-group activities and thrives when allowed opportunities to exchange information with peers. Field-independent learners, on the other hand, are more interested in concepts for their own sake. These students function very successfully in self-instructed learning; enjoy learning isolated information; and like to work in independent, teacher-centered, impersonal environments.

Children who are field-dependent prefer to work together for the benefit of the group in an atmosphere where the pace or learning is set by the momentum of the group rather than by imposed time constraints. These youth find it difficult to function in field-independent environments, where achievement results from individual and often competitive efforts.

Given what we know about the impact of learning style on student performance, educators who are serious about enhancing the achievement and motivation of Black and Hispanic youth must be willing to use a variety of activities to stimulate interest and facilitate student growth. Research on learning styles indicates that, for these students, active learning is more effective than passive drill and practice exercises. Similarly, Black and Hispanic youth are likely to respond favorably to think-pair-share activities, lively group discussions, cooperative learning, group projects, and telling of stories about personal experiences.

Teachers will also discover that many "active learners" also are encouraged when course content and classroom activities relate to something in their own life experiences. Of real significance, however is the powerful impact of a teacher's genuine and sincere interest in the well being of the student. Personal compliments, praise, enthusiasm, and even hugs often work wonders in keeping Black and Hispanic youth interested and excited about learning.

Good summarized how teachers communicate expectations through the following behaviors toward perceived underachievers.

Most assuredly, teachers can reverse the consequences of low expectations by avoiding these behaviors. Murnane also found that youth will feel more positive about their abilities and self-worth when teachers provide sincere and requisite support and encouragement.


Academic Tracking and Ability Grouping

Considered one of the more blatant forms of institutional racism, tracking is one means of denying youth equal educational opportunities (Hobson v. Hansen, 1971). Therefore, it has been outlawed in some jurisdictions. The failure rate of many Black and Hispanic youth can be attributed in part to "between and within" classroom ability grouping, which fosters development of a "caste system" in school that allows for downward, but not upward, mobility.

Lawler found that when children are tracked they are deprived of the opportunity to develop the skills needed for success in the labor force. Moreover, Lawler found that Black youth respond to tracking by being truant or by withdrawing mentally and emotionally from the learning experience.

The June 1989 report by the Carnegie Council on Adolescent Development, Turning Points, found that 25 percent of 10- to 17-year-olds in the United States are extremely vulnerable to school failure. The report recommended changes in the middle school grades which included smaller, more family-like school environments and an end to tracking students by ability (emphasis is added). The report states:

In theory, this between-class "tracking" reduces the heterogeneity of the classes and enables teachers to adjust instruction to students' knowledge and skills. Greater achievement is then possible for both "low-" and "high-ability" students.

In practice, this kind of tracking has proven to be one of the most divisive and damaging school practices in existence. Time and again, young people placed in lower academic tracks or classes, often during the middle grades, are locked into dull, repetitive instructional programs leading at best to minimum competencies.

Tracking and ability grouping are likely to send subliminal messages to Black and Hispanic youth that White and middle class students are going to have opportunities for a greater range of knowledge and, therefore, opportunities for more lifelong success.

The extensive tracking of Back and Hispanic students in disproportionate numbers was outlined in a 1980 study that showed that 24.1 percent of the public school population was Black and Hispanic but only 13.8 percent of those students were in gifted-and-talented programs. The over-representation of Blacks and Hispanics in lower-ability groups, as well as in vocational and general tracks, also was documented by Harrischefeger and Wiley.

If educators are to enhance the achievement of Black and Hispanic Students, they must eradicate tracking, ability grouping and the negative messages conveyed through these strategies. Oakes saw tracking as a major contributor to "mediocre schooling" and described the following consequences:

Instead of tracking and ability grouping, teachers should make effective use of heterogeneous grouping and cooperative learning strategies. This does not mean that students will merely sit side-by-side at the same table and talk to each other as they do individual assignments. Nor does this approach mean that a group of students will put their names on an assignment that only one student will complete. There are five basic elements of heterogeneous grouping/cooperative learning:

If done correctly, the use of heterogeneous grouping and cooperative learning has the advantage of being more democratic. The content, teaching methods, classroom climate, and teacher-student interaction of heterogeneous classrooms often resemble average and upper track classes. Studies have found that this provision of a common learning experience to students with different backgrounds, interests, cultures, and plans for the future—in small groups—results in high achievement for students at all previous "tracking" levels.


Test Bias

Culturally biased tests should not be used for the placement of Black and Hispanic youth because they do not reflect the true ability of many students. Many tests, such as the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Test, include items that assess moral opinions and other values that reflect social class bias rather than ability. For example, Taylor found that many standard tests reflect communication-related biases such as those presented in Table III. I.Q. tests are considered by many experts as one tool used to deny equal educational opportunities to Black and Hispanic youth. In his study of the impact of I.Q. testing on student placement, Asa Hilliard suggested that educators must find alternatives to I.Q. testing in order to identify giftedness in Black and Hispanic children. In California, Indiana, and some other states, the courts have addressed the issue and concluded that "minorities" should not be placed through the use of biased I.Q. testing and other instruments.

The consequences of inappropriate tests include:

Lawler felt that it was nearly impossible to develop a culture-free test, because no test can incorporate materials and skills that are common to all cultures. However, while teachers must use standardized tests, they can develop other instruments that can enhance student confidence and academic self-image. The use of criterion-referenced tests , that are based on what has actually been taught in school can allow students to show mastery of specific materials. These tests are unlikely to use structural formats (e.g., multiple choice and timed segments).

Teachers can also evaluate students with assessment instruments more likely to measure true ability. These include oral exams (especially when a child has shown difficulty in taking writing tests), class projects, group assignments, and other simulated materials designed to provide more accurate indices of understanding and skill mastery.

Black and Hispanic students must believe, first of all, that academic achievement will improve their status, benefits, and general prosperity. As noted previously, they must have "hope" for better lives. Many unmotivated teachers never really provide that hope because they don't foster a belief in these students that they can succeed academically. As a result, many Black and Hispanic youth see themselves as trapped in a society with limited or nonexistent opportunities for significant and legitimate upward mobility. The current existence of a growing "underclass" of Black and Hispanic youth is an indication that many of these youth see the absence of opportunity for significant change in income, social roles, and social class status. Consequently, they stop seeking academic success or "real" work in mainstream society after leaving school and opt instead for survival through more traditional deviant systems- robbery, burglary, drug scale, larceny, and murder.

There are many things educators can do to rekindle the excitement of Black and Hispanic students. I say "rekindle" because I have yet to hear a kindergartener who was not excited about starting school. Black and Hispanic youth are just like all other children who want so much to please- and to learn. Educators must be willing to learn and grow with their students.

The following tips are provided to help teachers "rekindle" student motivation and academic success and, in the process, derive greater gratification from the teaching profession:

  1. Develop "strong bonds" with diverse students.
  2. Identify and build on the strengths of all students.
  3. Help students overcome fear of failure.
  4. Help students overcome rejection of success.
  5. Set short- and long-term goals with and for your students.
  6. Develop teaching styles that are more congruent with the learning styles preferences of Black and Hispanic students
  7. Use homework and television to your advantage.
  8. Communicate so that your real intentions are understood.
  9. Establish a climate where children receive the ongoing support and encouragement they need to succeed.
  10. Strengthen relationships between the home and school.

A brief discussion of each of these tips follows:


1. Develop "strong bonds" with diverse students.

Any teacher who really loves children can motivate children. However, that love must be unconditional. In too many instances, a teacher's love and appreciation of a student is "condition subsequent," that is, the result of certain behavior and abilities in students. Instead, the teacher's love and appreciation should be "condition precedent." Her love would encourage favorable behavior and enhance abilities in students. When a student detects teacher detachment, disinterest, or social and personal "bonds" are weakened.

In their research on the causes of delinquency, Fagan and Jones determined that it is the wakening of personal and social bonds with adults that leads to negative peer influences. Schools must provide strong external bonds through efforts to improve achievement, efforts to involve youth in activities perceived as important, and efforts to enhance students' belief in their own abilities and self-determination.

Teachers must help students to understand and appreciate the fact that success is very definitely part of Black and Hispanic experience. Rather than foster the belief that achievement is a "White" prerogative, teachers must help Black and Hispanic students to understand and appreciate the standards for excellence set by diverse races and cultures around the world.

If teachers are going to abate the notion among these students that they cannot be successful, that they must choose between an their culture and that of the school, teachers also must take steps to eliminate the effects of the institutional racism. Black and Hispanic youth are more likely to see academic achievement as a "White" prerogative when there is an over-representation of Blacks and Hispanics in special education classes of or lower ability groups. Teachers and administrators must not only eliminate policies and programs that foster such over-representation, they should also:

Most importantly, teachers must help Black and Hispanic students understand that school success will not require a rejection of their home or family culture.


5. Setting Short-and Long-Term Goals

Black and Hispanic students must be convinced that they can be what they choose to be in life. Teachers must help them understand that if they can "conceive it in their hearts and believe it, they can achieve it." As noted previously, these students also must be taught the importance or persistence.

In Table V, there is a "Success Chart" that can be used to help students set short- or long-range goals. This chart should be completed in the presence of the teacher. Students should first identify a goal they want to achieve by the age of 25. Next, students, with the help of the teacher, should list their outstanding qualities and those things that are likely to help them reach their goals. They also should develop specific strategies for achieving this long-term goal. Teachers can help by acknowledging student strengths and by letting the students know their intent is to help them reach their goal. Teachers also can indicate a willingness to help students overcome those weaknesses the students feel might be impeding their progress.




Student Name_______________________________________________

Goal (Something you would like to have, become, or accomplish by the age of 25):



List qualities or characteristics you possess that will help you reach your goal:




List the things that could possibly hurt or limit your efforts to reach your goal:


Strategies for achieving this goal:

  1. ____________________________________________________
  2. ____________________________________________________
  3. ____________________________________________________

NOTE: This same procedure can be used for short-range goals (e.g., Something you'd like to do within the next three weeks). For short-range goals, list specific steps to be taken and include a time frame.

Taken from Kuykendall, C. Improving Black Student Achievement by Enhancing Student Self-Image, Mid Atlantic Equity Center of American University, Washington, D.C. 1989.

In addition to the use of this success chart, teachers can:

Students can also be inspired by the role model they see in their teachers, especially their Black and Hispanic teachers. Far too many teachers are discouraged because they believe their students lack adequate role models in their homes and communities. Rather than concern themselves with the influences outside of the school over which they have no control, teachers can make the most of the time they have with students. Remember, most students spend more time interacting with their "school family" (approximately six hours every day) than they spend interacting with their "home family." A teacher's exemplary behavior and aspirations can have a tremendous influence on students' drive and goal orientation. Finally, teachers and administrators must be willing to reward students who fulfill their goals. Students are motivated by rewards; and when success is rewarded, it is reinforced.

For example, Eastern High School in Washington, D.C., sponsors four "Student of the Month" awards. The winners, top students who have been recommended by teachers, get $15, a certificate, their pictures on a plaque in the school lobby, breakfast with a Kiwanis Club member, and lunch on Capitol Hill with the principal and a school board member. This program is designed to boost the image of students who are doing well, and to make success a cultural norm for the school.

Educators must work very hard to dispel the belief that is doesn't pay to do well academically. Children can be motivated to succeed through inspirational examples. As often as possible, teachers should allow students to discuss local success stories, such as:

Keep students inspired and let them know victory can and will be theirs. They have to believe in their own abilities and the power within themselves in order to reach personal goals.


6. Develop Appropriate Teaching Styles

Many Black and Hispanic students respond favorably to extensive interaction with the teacher and other peers. I strongly encourage hugging, encouraging pats on the back, and other gestures that may involve touching in a supportive and nurturing manner, especially for younger children. The contact should be sincere and supportive, not intrusive. Teachers should also supplement the use of objects (i.e., computers and other learning devices) with person-to-person interaction, proximity, and lots of assurance. In addition, teachers should be sure to:

Maintain a high level of openness and acceptance with Black youth who engage in "stage setting." These are activities deemed important and necessary by some Black youth before engaging in an assignment (e.g., pencil sharpening, rearranging posture, checking paper and writing space, asking for repeat directions, and even checking perceptions with their neighbors). Many teachers are likely to perceive "stage setting" as an attempt to avoid work or disrupt class. However, this is an important activity for many Black youth. Teachers can convey understanding and an acceptance of this need by allowing a few minutes for "stage setting" activities.

Demonstrate higher academic expectations. Teachers must not just tell students they believe in their abilities, they must show them. Convince these students that teachers believe in them and want them to excel by:

Scheduling one-on-one sessions with students to discuss their weekly, monthly, and long-range goals is also helpful. Teachers can monitor progress and provide insight for ongoing improvement. If a heavy class load precludes meeting with each student, meet with a significant portion of students who require more attention.

Use a variety of other teaching strategies. Peer tutoring or coaching helps students on both sides. The phrase "each one teach one" should be a part of the class motto. Make good use of the "Buddy Game" which calls for pairing students who will be "buddy" to one another. Students spend time with their "buddies"—getting homework assignments in their absence, learning and sharing skills, information, and strategies. Encourage "buddies" to each make a list of all the strengths and talents that make their buddies special!

Have a "King" or "Queen" for a day where every child gets to play the part of "Class King" or "Class Queen." (Choose by lottery or alphabetically.) The King or Queen's buddy comes before the class and takes a few minutes to share everything good about his or her buddy. The teacher also shares good things about the honored student.


7. Use Homework and Television to your advantage

Homework should promote cooperation and communication among the teacher, the student, and the parent. It should help the child develop responsibility and independence, master a skill, and understand what has been taught. It should also encourage children to learn new things and keep parents informed about what their children are learning in school.

Given the anticipated benefits of homework, teachers can make it a more powerful experience by:


8. Communicate so that Your Real Intentions Are Understood

Cross-cultural miscommunication in the classroom does exist. Such miscommunication can lead to lower motivation and lower achievement, excessive speech/language therapy placements, perceptions of frequent, if unintentional, social insults from teachers and other students, frequent misunderstandings and misinterpretations from school personnel and other students, perception of negative school climate, and poor performance on tests and assessments.

Teachers can avoid the consequences of cultural miscommunication through use of the following suggestions:


9. Establishing a Good School and Classroom Climate

The climate of the classroom is the key to keeping students excited and motivated. There are climate variables that experts know affect behavior between students and teachers. The "climate" should not only welcome students but also keep them encouraged. In Chapter Six, more specific strategies are offered on creating a climate most conducive to achievement by Black and Hispanic students.

10. Strength Relations Between the Home and School.

Most experts have concluded that the involvement of parents in the education of their children is essential to long-term school success. However, many teachers are asked to encourage parental involvement and support. It should be emphasized that many parents simply do not know what they are "supposed" to be doing to enhance their child's academic self-image. Many have been socialized to believe that education is strictly the teacher's domain and that very little is required of them as parents. Teachers must reach out to parents and guardians and make them feel comfortable about the role they will play as equal partners in the education of their children. More specific strategies on strategies on strengthening this delicate bond will be shared in Chapter Seven.

These tips will work only if teachers believe they can make a difference. Half-hearted, lackluster implementation of any of these strategies will result only in failure. Even when these steps are followed enthusiastically, however, some teachers still may not meet with immediate success. All educators must remember that the same persistence we encourage in students must be used by school officials as well. Once these tips are put into practice, student discipline may be less problematic. The chapters that follow provide additional insight on creating the most conducive environment for good student behavior, student success, and teacher gratification.

While it is true that some disruptive Black and Hispanic students are simply bored or restless, many are responding to or ventilating the rage they feel as a result of their loss of hope and their likely school failure. When schools fail to prepare youth for lifelong success, they are inviting trouble. A truly "hopeless" child is likely to be a real "problem" child as well. To augment the hope Black and Hispanic students need, teachers and schools must avoid institutional policies and programs such as tracking or ability grouping, which send signals of inferiority. Students are commonly placed in special education classes when it is the students' behavior rather than their ability that causes the problems. This practice must be avoided if we are to help these students.

May students are most likely to respond negatively to what they may perceive as unequal or unfair treatment. Selective rule enforcement, where some students are disciplined and other students are "excused" for committing the same infraction must be eradicated altogether.

The self-fulfilling prophecy about behavior still holds true in our schools. It is important that teachers don't communicate preconceived notions about behavioral tendencies or suggest that students are "bas," "uncouth," or more likely to misbehave than other students. If they do, the students are likely to behave accordingly.

The failure to provide students with frequent opportunities for success and accomplishment in the classroom is another contributing factor to poor behavior. Black and Hispanic students have a need to show what they can do, just as other students take pride in showing their work. If students are not given frequent opportunities for success through classroom activities, they are likely to satisfy the need for accomplishment by telling jokes or disrupting class.


External Causes of Poor Student Discipline

External causes of poor student discipline are rooted in family and cultural influences and the negative influence of peers.

While most teachers expect that parents will play a major role in disciplining their child, there are some parents who are unable to instill the values or develop the character requisite for appropriate school behavior. Some of these parents even have "given up" on their own children. Does this mean the schools should give up, too?

Some families actually reward children—or give tacit approval—to behavior that the school might find unacceptable. For example, some youth may come from homes where parents encourage speaking out, telling jokes, questioning rules, fighting back, or laughing out loud. In such instances we cannot blame children for their lack of awareness of the cultural and communication norms which are valued by our educational institutions. We must help them to understand and appreciate behavioral norms without giving the impression that we are demanding "conformity" or that we dislike them because of their behavior. In addition, "parent awareness" conferences can take place between school officials and parents to make certain parents understand acceptable and unacceptable behavior.

Peer groups obviously play a big role in mitigating or enhancing behavioral problems. As noted previously, many youth develop an "us versus them" mentality when they think the school has already rejected them. These students feel that the only support they have comes from peers who see teachers as the "enemy." Schools must break down this alienation or discipline problems will continue. Teachers can influence students and their rebellious peer groups through strategies designed to reflect genuine concern, support, and some understanding.


Strategies for Discipline Problems

There have been numerous suggestions throughout this book for enhancing student self-image and motivation. However, there are many other things teachers can do. Teachers must first check their own attitudes and motivations, incorporate classroom strategies with the greatest likelihood of reducing discipline problems, and use appropriate activities and strategies once poor behavior surfaces.

Checking Your Attitude. While it may be hard to believe, there are actually some teachers who don't like certain children. This dislike not only comes across to that student, but to other students as well. Teachers who find it difficult to like a particular child should seek instead to love the "humanity" in that child. If the teacher cannot "love" the child's humanity, that teacher should question whether or not he or she belongs in this profession.

Marva Collins suggests telling some poorly disciplined children—on a daily basis—what you like about them and seeking to discern what they like about themselves. When students know there is a bond of genuine admiration and appreciation, they are more receptive to suggestions from the teacher regarding behavior which might be changed. Once adequate bonding has occurred, teachers can get students to discuss behavior they would like to change or improve in themselves.

Teachers also should develop the attitudes that there are no "bad children," just "inappropriate behavior." I recall that when I was a young and quite mischievous child, my mother would remind me of her intense love for me, even when she was acknowledging her strong dislike for inappropriate behavior. I continued to do this as a parent and a teacher.

Teachers will be unable to implement strategies and activities which will prevent student misbehavior if they believe:

Using "Preventive Strategies." Once students get the message that their education and lifelong success is the school's priority, they are more likely to respond with favorable and positive behavior. This message is conveyed through the effective use of teaching styles that have a positive impact on student motivation. As they exist now, many schools and classrooms are not structured to facilitate the achievement of many Black and Hispanic students. Classrooms are still predominantly "teacher centered" as opposed to "student centered." Many teachers still engage in behavior which suggests they impersonal, aloof, and uncomfortable with the existence of diverse populations in their schools. Even in some all-Black schools, some Black teachers have been known to behave towards some of their lower-class students in ways that suggest the student is not wanted. As indicated previously, student reaction to perceived indifference is predictably negative.

The following additional suggestions will help teachers to deter students from becoming discipline problems:

Make certain you have taken time with the student to discuss one-on-one the student's lifelong goals and how the experience in your class will help facilitate fulfillment of that lifelong goal. If you have not already used that "Success Chart" presented in Table V, plan to do so immediately with a student who is prone to "acting up."

Plan to build on the non-academic strengths of every student. If a student is overly aggressive, make him a class "leader." Give him or her some kind of responsibility for maintaining and generating the cooperation of other students in class activities. If you have a real "clown" on your hands, give him daily assignment to start or end the class with a humorous act that will also share a positive message. Remember, all children have a special gift or talent. Creative and effective teachers are able to augment student motivation by providing opportunities for each of these "gifted" students to shine. In so doing, these teachers are able to offset the negative actions of children who are seeking recognition in the class.

Provide opportunities for success and accomplishment. Black and Hispanic students are more likely to engage in non-conformist, deviant classroom behavior when they are not given opportunities to succeed at something. Teachers should assign class projects for potentially disruptive youth that not only build on that child's individual and cultural strengths but which will satisfy the need for success. For example, students can be asked to complete an assignment that calls for them to describe their own experiences and contrast them with the experiences of other students. Students might also be given an assignment which calls for them to respond to open-ended questions, such as "what do you think would have happened if. . .." Such an activity will not only provide an opportunity for successful completion, it will also enhance the critical-thinking skills of the student.

Enhance responsibility by giving students a role to play in maintaining a "manageable" classroom. Many students are unmotivated and disruptive because of teacher behavior that stresses adult domination and student obedience. According to research by McClelland, adult domination occurs when adults prescribe what a youth is to do and how it is to be done. McClelland also concluded that adults who stress obedience and conformity in order to develop "polite and manageable" children inadvertently lower achievement motivation.

Teachers can enhance the clarification of positive values and improve responsible behavior in Black and Hispanic students by making them a part of the rule-enforcement process. Teachers can divide students into small work groups and give each group the task of determining, as a group, ten rules that should govern all classroom behaviors. Each group also must agree on appropriate consequences for rule violations. Each small group then presents to the whole class the rules and consequences they developed. It would be helpful if students were provided with newsprint and markers to record their decisions.

Once every group has presented its consensus determination on appropriate rules and the reason why they felt these rules should be enforced, the class votes on the rules and consequences by which they will be governed. One complete list of rules and consequences is then placed in a prominent place in the classroom for everyone to see.

This activity will improve student behavior by giving them a feeling of "ownership" for the structure and operation of the classroom. More importantly, this activity also will enhance the students' sense of responsibility, their acceptance of positive values and behavioral norms, and the cohesion among students in the classroom. Children are more likely to support and encourage other children when they share responsibility.

Show students your respect for them individually and positively. Some teachers resort to behavior that belittles and destroys student bonding and self-confidence when they are confronted with inappropriate student behavior. The disrespect of these teachers for their students is demonstrated through unnecessarily harsh tones, a denial of student requests for assistance, nonverbal body language and unequal enforcement of rules. In most children's programs, it does not take long to see that adults expect to be treated with more respect than they demonstrate.

Establish trusting relationships with students. Marva Collins suggests making friends with students, complimenting them, letting them know how much they were missed when they were absent, and even sitting with them during lunch. Teachers also can take time to discuss with students any real or perceived problems that students may be having at home, in school (with other teachers or students), or in other environments.


What to Do When They Still Misbehave

Even when a teacher feels he has been supportive, respectful, and caring, students may still behave "inappropriately". Teachers should understand that many Black and Hispanic youth often are socialized with attitudes and strategies designed to enhance their survival in a White environment that is more often than not perceived to be hostile. These students are taught to appreciate some skills and behavioral norms that are not always condoned in our classrooms. Some of those skills that may be prized in their respective communities, but not in our schools, include nonverbal communication, dance and rhythmic movements, rapping, learning through cooperative dependence on others, and verbal interplay during instruction.

Teachers must still socialize Black and Hispanic students to live both inside and outside of their own cultural groups. However, teachers risk further alienation when they refuse to understand or appreciate the cultural values, norms, and communication patterns these youth bring to the learning environment.

Even when students behave inappropriately, teachers may be able to use adverse behavior as an opportunity to facilitate student growth and acceptance of corrective behavioral norms. The following tips should help:

Punish the Behavior- Not the Person. It is important that this distinction be made. Teachers must inform students constantly through spoken and written reminders and supportive behavior-that they respect and admire them as individuals. Once students understand that the consequences are inappropriate behavior rather than the students' existence, they are more likely to modify the behavior and to accept the guidance of well-meaning adults.


Discipline Students with a Firm but "Loving Touch."

If there is no love, no genuine concern, no desire to help, the disciplinary act is likely to lead to bitterness and resentment, not maturity. Renowned educator Marva Collins offers the following guideposts for dealing with disruptive students:

Have students write compositions or deliver three-minute speeches on the etymology of gum, rather than punitive lines such as, "I will not chew gum in class."

Continue to reward and compliment them for good behavior and take extra teaching time, either before or after school after school to help students who are slower and more likely to misbehave.

Use Creative Alternatives to Suspension, Detention and Isolation. Many school districts use alternative suspension programs, or "in school" suspension. Quite often, however, even these well-meaning alternatives defeat their purpose. In many in-school suspension programs, students simply go to a room with other "disruptive" students and a "caretaker" adult where they are allowed to do everything other than learn from their behavior.

In such "alternative suspension" programs, students should be asked to prepare papers on the impact of their behavior might make them better people. Most importantly, students should be disciplined in such a way that they do not distance themselves totally from the learning process.

Many times, students who exhibit inappropriate behavior are retained, put out of the class, or put into special education classes. Unless they are given opportunities to assess the impact of their behavior and to analyze reasons for behavioral change, such practices will do more harm than good.

Teachers will always be faced with mischievous and disruptive students. Even when students display a mischievous streak, however, they still deserve opportunities for transformation and academic growth. A good teacher can make certain such opportunities are always a part of the school day.

Finally, teachers must make effective use of climate variables that affect student behavior and student attitudes toward self.



  1. Collins, M. Marva Collins" Way . Los Angeles: Jeremy P. Tarcher, Inc. 1990.
  2. McClelland, D. "Sources of An Achievement" in McClelland, D. and Stelle, R. (editors) Human Motivation. Morristown, NJ: General Learning Press, 1973. Taken from Brendtro, L. Brokenleg ,M. and Van Dochern, S. Reclaiming Youth at Risk. Bloomington, IN: National Service,1990.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Brendtro, L., Brokenleg, M. and Van Bochern, S. Reclaiming Youth At –Risk. Bloomington, IN: National Educational Service,1990.
  5. Collins, M. op. cit.
  6. Ibid.

NOTE: Playing the "dozens" (also called "joinin" or "signifyin") is an art in most Black communities because it requires emotional control, creative thinking, mental agility and quickness, and a sense of humor. It usually involves two males in a verbal "showdown" where both take turns in making negative and derogatory statements—which most often are not intended to show disrespect—about each together or some member of the other person's family—often the mother (example: "Your mother is so fat that when she jumped in the air, she got stuck"). The "dozens" is usually played before an audience of peers, who laugh and express some indication of who they think is "winning". Even though there are rare instances where the two players may resort to fighting, most see it as a playful "duel" where they can show off a skill and avoid physical contact. Even when youth are aggressive and loud when playing the "dozens", teachers should understand it does not necessarily mean they are preparing for a fight. Certainly, students should not be disciplined unfairly for engaging in this ritual. Return to body of text.


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Copyright ©, 2000. Lee R. Clark. All Rights Reserved.
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Last modified 2000-10-27.