Assets-Based Pedagogy (ABP)
This teaching method views students’ different characteristics and background experiences as positive assets that can be leveraged to assist their learning. It is contrasted with the far-less-effective “deficits” approach.
The lists below contrast deficits- and assets-based views of different students. Sometimes, an assets view reframes a characteristic in terms of its benefits. Other times, an assets view focuses on strengths rather than drawing attention to weaknesses.
- “She has a lot of energy” rather than “she’s hyperactive.”
- “He’s on the way to becoming bilingual” rather than “he doesn’t speak English well.”
- “His extended family members all live together” rather than “his parents can’t afford their own house.”
Focusing on Strengths
- Focusing on a child’s enthusiasm for learning rather than on her memory problems.
- Pointing out the part of a student’s answer that is correct rather than dwelling on the part that is incorrect.
- Recognizing a student’s talent for sharing ideas through images rather than requiring him or her always to share ideas through words.
It’s important for all educators to replace the deficits approach with an assets approach. Focusing on deficits causes harm to children by lowering our expectations for them. Focusing on assets—on what children can do—provides a starting point for holding high expectations.
Of course, the deficits approach is hard to get rid of because it’s been part of how schools do things for so many years. To push back against it, we need to make intentional and repeated use of an assets-based approach.
ABP and Reading: An Exercise for Paraprofessionals
Think about the assets that some of your students bring to the table for reading instruction. What are these assets? List them.
Then pick two students whose reading deficits appear to be “front and center.” How can you reframe these apparent deficits as assets? List some other strengths that these two students possess.
If you work with a team of educators, you might use this Tool for the Field as the basis for a small-group discussion. In the classroom, make sure to list each student’s assets before describing problems or deficits. When talking to parents, focus on their children’s strengths before discussing their learning gaps or weaknesses.