Is Equality in the Classroom Always Fair?

October 9, 2018

There is a common misconception that simply treating all students equally can promote fair and just prospects for each student in the classroom. However, fair is not always equal, and equal is not always fair.
What’s the difference?
Equality: Is about treating everyone the same, regardless of differences such as race, gender, academic and physical abilities, past experience, and socio-economic status.
Equity: Emphasizes “fairness” by recognizing the individual needs of students, giving each of them access to equal opportunities, as well as the tools they need to thrive.

The absurdity depicted in this cartoon illustrates the problem with mere equality: you cannot expect an elephant or a fish to climb a tree better than the monkey or cheetah.
Equity-minded educators recognize the different learning styles and individual needs of their students to ensure each of them get an equal opportunity to learn and succeed.

So, how can teachers provide more equitable instruction?

1. Get personal. Get to know your students’ strengths and weaknesses, their hobbies and interests, and even their family and home environment. This insight will help you plan for the diversity within your classroom and provide a more engaging learning environment for all students.

2. Diversify your lesson plans. It is not necessary for every student to do the exact same things all at the same time, all the time. Each student is different and sometimes breaking away from routine lessons and giving leeway to individual approaches can lead to more equitable learning outcomes.

3. Embrace failure. Many students feel shame or hide behind bravado when faced with failure. Teachers must make it clear for students that failure is an opportunity to learn. Consider allowing students to revise their work based on your feedback whenever possible.

4. Open up space for participation. Tracking student participation helps you identify those facing difficulties. Introducing more visible thinking routines allows all students to express their ideas, and hold everyone accountable to respect and build on the ideas of others.

5. Assess the CAN, not the CANNOT. Use diverse methods of assessment. Giving students many ways to demonstrate what they know and CAN do gives you a more valid picture of their learning, as well as more opportunities to provide individualized feedback.

Remember, in education, we cannot have equality without ensuring equity! Both are critical to establishing a pedagogy that promotes a more balanced education for all students.

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