Taking an Asset Approach to Reading Instruction

Hi Everyone,

During my early years as an adult educator, I made many mistakes.  Instead of appreciating the strengths my students brought to class, I saw them as problems to be fixed.  The LINCS course ELL U: Teaching Emerging Readers so beautifully expands on the best way to view our students:

“Seeing students, even beginning readers, as having assets offers a more humane and fruitful way of thinking. Once educators learn about their [English Language Learner] students' migration journeys, cultures, job skills, and parenting skills, educators can build respect for students, despite having vastly different life experiences. In educational literature, this line of inquiry is referred to as funds of knowledge.”

I was reminded of the asset-based learning approach during a recent conversation with Webb’s Depth of Knowledge guru Erik Francis.  He said, “We must believe that every student can demonstrate mastery of the standards we teach.”  He suggested starting each lesson by showing students the standard you plan to teach and asking them what they knew and what they needed help learning.  With this approach, the class could use the knowledge students already have. 

How do you take an asset-based approach when teaching the students you serve language arts skills?

By the way, the Teaching Emerging Readers course and 12 other LINCS online self-directed courses will be retired soon, so take them while you can!

Thanks for your responses,

Steve Schmidt, Moderator

LINCS Reading and Writing Community


I do support tutoring so I'm generally working individually w/ a student in the context of a Task That Needs To Be Done... so I always start with "what are your thoughts?"  ... and inspired by oh, online communities and books like _Lower_ED_, decided that -- unlike when I was teaching middle and high school and Students Like TO Distract -- I *should* bring "life in general" into the conversation, to learn about and honor the whole student before me.  

Thanks for sharing your thoughts Susan!

Learning about our students makes it easier to relate instruction to them.  I am becoming more convinced that using analogies to what students already know is the "secret sauce" to teaching.  If students can relate new information to their existing knowledge, they will learn better.  New brain connections do not grow in isolation.  Instead, they grow and develop on existing connections.  

Steve Schmidt, Moderator

LINCS Reading and Writing Community

Hi Steve,

This is not quite where you are headed with this discussion, however your "assets" discussion is very relevant to a book club I am currently facilitating based on the book, Teaching to Strengths.  This book focuses on supporting students living with trauma, violence, and chronic stress.  So, the thoughts and strategies presented are broader than Language Arts.  In the text, the authors state that there are four essentials of an asset-based relationship with students:  Students must 1) feel safe, 2) experience a sense of belonging, 3) feel competent, and 4) feel valued.  Additionally, we must focus on all the strengths our students bring to the classroom, both academic and social-emotional.

Students must experience these four essential components to enable them to achieve academic success.  Once we can provide these four components for our students, we can focus on specific academics and standards.  I love your quote by Eric Francis, and when we begin a class by informing our students of what we are doing (based upon a standard) and focusing on the strengths students bring to a lesson our students have a greater chance of being successful.

Thanks for the opportunity to share!  Happy Thanksgiving!

I appreciate you sharing these thoughts Jeri!

The four essentials of an asset-based relationship you describe cover the student as a whole.  We cannot think of teaching language arts to a student in isolation.  We must consider both the academic and social-emotional components as you mention.

I read an interesting article earlier today which expands on the asset approach with English Language Learners.  It also discussed four components:

  • Use Culturally Responsive Materials - "Resources that will resonate with students and connect to their backgrounds" while giving students choices in what they read
  • Use Strategic Scaffolding - Providing students with appropriate support as they build their skills
  • Make Professional Development a Priority - "All educators [must] understand how to lay the foundation for success"
  • Celebrate Our Students - "Our English language learners are filled with potential. Educators have the awesome opportunity to help them reach it."

What other ways can we take an asset approach with our students?

Thanks for your input,

Steve Schmidt, Moderator

LINCS Reading and Writing Community