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Book Review: The Pedagogy of Real Talk

THE PEDAGOGY OF REAL TALK: Engaging, Teaching, and Connecting With Students At-Promise. Paul Hernandez. (2022, Second Edition, Kindle Edition)

The Pedagogy of Real Talk presents a passionate call to action for educators (K-12 through higher education) and other professionals to adopt an alternative pedagogy in how we work with challenging students. The passion conveyed throughout the book stems from the lived experiences of the author, Dr. Paul Hernandez, who was once considered to be a challenging student and who went from detesting school to attaining a PhD. Throughout this book, Hernandez makes the case that to increase the success of students he calls “at-promise” (rather than at-risk) by enabling them to graduate high school or college can have profound effects not only for the individual students but also for society in general. However, to reach students who may see school as an obstacle rather than as an opportunity, educators must first develop meaningful connections and trust. Accordingly, this book offers educators applicable approaches for building meaningful relationships with students within the educational system. 

This newly released book is an updated and expanded second edition of the author’s earlier bestseller book. In this second edition, Hernandez “provides both a theoretical framework and practical guidance on a teaching strategy that centers the relationship between educators and students as a determining factor for student success”. He explains the need for teaching with transparency, authenticity, creativity, and grit; as well as how educators can embrace these concepts in employing Pedagogy of Real Talk (PRT) strategies successfully in their classrooms/learning environments, with the ultimate goal of realizing higher student achievement, student engagement, and graduation rates along with fewer discipline problems.

The book is organized into three parts—Foundations, Implementation, and Taking PRT to Scale, as follows.

  • In Part I, Foundations, Hernandez explains why he uses the strengths-based label of “students at-promise” rather than the deficit-based label of “students at-risk” to describe students who struggle in school and are at risk of dropping out. Then, he explores the theoretical foundations of PRT as a teaching approach, the core concepts that underlie the pedagogy, as well as its applicability for implementation in any classroom and with any subject matter. 

He also explains the importance of establishing an environment of open communication, being an active listener, and what he considers to be the essential characteristics that are needed to effectively implement PRT teaching approaches (i.e., vulnerability, empathy, growth mindset, creativity, and grit), including how these play explicit and important roles in PRT as a whole. 

Part I concludes with a review of demographic shifts that contribute to the widening “opportunity gap” occurring in the USA in academic achievement between white and underrepresented students, and how PRT is fundamentally built to address the success of all students and develop their sense of belonging. In this regard, Hernandez uses case study examples involving students of color to illustrate the adaptability and impact of PRT in addressing diverse student needs.

  • In Part II, Implementation, Hernandez addresses details pertaining to the implementation of PRT, beginning with the implementation of “dialogue” which, he explains, is an integral component embedded throughout PRT as an approach for: (a) developing connections with students, (b) the structuring of classes, (c) building clarity of understanding in relation to the class materials, the educator and expectations of students, (d) the effective use of redundancy in teaching practice, (e) demonstrating enthusiasm with students, (f) determining an appropriate pace, and (g) maximizing engagement through story telling. 

In addition, Hernandez discusses the characteristics of flexibility, adaptability, and effort and their importance to student success. He concludes Part II with the application of the most powerful component, Real Talk discussions, from two dimensions: (a) as a useful teaching/learning tool and, (b) in the creation and implementation of alternative lessons that are relevant to students’ world views and generate their interest.

  • In Part III, Taking PRT to Scale, Hernandez suggests a potential structure that educators can use when training others in PRT as a means for scaling and sustaining the approach within a school/organization. The training structure he promotes is derived from the structure he uses in the PRT Institute for developing “best practitioners”, whereby educators apply the work through their own unique experiences, combine it with what they learn from their students, and then take what they learn and integrate it into their daily teaching practices. In this section, the author provides a condensed version of the first year’s training design from the PRT Institute for use as a guide in creating a PRT Institute at an institution/organization, along with a step-by-step process and examples for creating Real Talk sessions, and similarly for applying the fundamental concepts of PRT in developing alternative lessons. 

Part III concludes with a call to action for educators of any student-at-promise population to adopt PRT to help the students’ success. He reinforces that the ability to relate to students is a skill that is not easily taught; but rather requires commitment to daily sustained practice.  A series of appendices are provided that include short examples of the application of Real Talk and Alternative Lessons in diverse contexts.

The Pedagogy of Real Talk is a book focused on strategies for student success that are relevant to all levels of education (K-12 and postsecondary), as well as in the delivery of student success services. The author emphasizes that PRT can be used in its entirety, in part, or in conjunction with other approaches.

From the perspective of this reviewer, readers should be aware that this book does not offer a panacea for student success. While the author promotes PRT as being “relevant for students at-promise and all students’ success”, he does so largely on the basis of his own experience, reflective practices and lessons learned; rather than on the basis of rigorous research that demonstrates the efficacy of the framework and its application for a diversity of students in various contexts. Notwithstanding that cautionary note, the author does present many valuable insights on strategies for connecting with and engaging students who tend to be among the most challenging and vulnerable to dropping out. The case for change is compelling, and the theoretical framework, concepts and strategies offered are grounded in generally accepted student success theories and practices. 


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