(Part 1 of 2)
by Valentina Gonzalez
There is a clear difference between equal and equitable: equal means we all get the same thing; equitable means we all get what we need. In education, equitable instruction is essential to the success of the students, the teachers, and the community as a whole. It’s not enough that learning is equal. We know that our students have diverse backgrounds and different starting points. We also recognize that they come to us with varied needs. If we teach with a one-size-fits-all mindset, then we will miss the mark.
As we head into fall, I challenge you to begin with a clear vision for the 2019/2020 school year. Here are twenty ways that you can start to approach instruction through an equitable lens.
1. Get to know students individually: (I see you)
That permanent record folder will only get you so far. Yes, it’s good information. But the best information will come from the kids themselves. Talk to students at a one-on-one level. Find out about their lives, their passions, their struggles. Let them know that you are invested in their growth. In her book, Being the Change, author Sara Ahmed writes that we should consider how we see our kids. Would you be able to describe your students the way they define themselves? What information about themselves are kids trusting you with?
2. Recognize your own biases: (I see me)
We all carry biases. They aren’t always pretty, but we have them. It is important to begin by recognizing what our biases are and how they affect instruction. Sometimes we may try to look past students’ ethnicities or cultures to “see them as just people.” However, our students’ ethnicities and cultures are essential to who they are, and we need to value that despite our biases. Ignoring biases and stereotypes only perpetuates them, but by looking at a cultural proficiency continuum and doing some self-reflection, we can identify where we are and how to grow. Here’s a link to one of my favorite Cultural Proficiency continuums. I’ve used this as a way to self-reflect and discuss with colleagues.
3. Amplify student voice: (I hear you)
Creating classrooms and campuses where students hold the spotlight can change everything. Students have stories. They have lives, experiences, knowledge, and connections to the things they’re learning. By giving them a platform and space in our classrooms to vocalize regularly, we empower them. We send them a message that they matter. In turn, they become more receptive. Think of yourself or personal experiences. When we feel heard, we tend to listen more, and we become more receptive and agreeable.
4. Bring in books that represent students: (There you are)
If we want students to feel that they belong and that they matter, if we want them to read for pleasure and for growth, then we have to help them connect with texts. When kids read, they either enjoy it so much that they do it on their own for pleasure or they read because it’s an assignment. Chances are, reading for pleasure grows out of a connection students have made with books they’ve read. It reminds me of meeting people. When we meet someone new, we often seek out connections with them. And as soon as we discover one, a smile comes over our faces. We dig deeper into the connection we’ve made.
Reading is like meeting a new person. But what if I never find a connection? What if I don’t find characters that look and sound like me? What if characters don’t eat the foods I eat or speak my language? What if they haven’t gone through the experiences that I have? I have nothing to dig deeper into. I lose interest.
5. Include students’ experiences in the curriculum: (I value you)
Studies have found that incorporating material that is familiar to English learners facilitates ELs’ literacy development (Goldenberg, 2013). When we read or learn about something we are familiar with, we tend to comprehend it better. In education, we can use familiarity as a stepping stone. If students know a lot about an experience or a topic, giving them space to explore it more, write about it, and share it can enhance progress. The world is offering us a curriculum, and we can use it as leverage to promote language, literacy, and academic success.
6. Randomize calling on students: (It’s your turn)
If kids think class is a question-and-answer “game,” they quickly pick up on how to “play” it. I remember a class in high school where the game was prevalent. We all knew the rules. Our teacher asked two students questions: Student A, who she knew would know the answer or Student B, who was off task. I’m sure calling on Student A validated her teaching. And calling on Student B was her way of managing classroom behavior or attempting to ensure participation. I was somewhere in between Student A and B most of the time. I was afraid of this type of teacher. My affective filter was up very high. I certainly didn’t want to be humiliated, but I wasn’t always sure that I had the right answer. If she called on me and I got it wrong, she might claim that I was off task when I truly was not.
By using a randomization strategy, we can avoid the question-and-answer “game” that doesn’t support thinking or learning and that alienates many students. Fisher, Frey & Rothenberg (2008) assert that “English learners in many classrooms are asked fewer questions or no questions at all.” I’ve seen and used many different ways to randomize when calling on students. Here are a few:
- Index cards with students’ names on them
- Popsicle sticks with students’ names on them
- Numbered Heads Together (Kagan, 2016)
- Class Dojo
- Name Spinner
- Random Student Generator for Google Classroom
7. Offer think time/wait time: (I respect your time)
When students are learning language and content simultaneously, it helps to make space during instruction for thinking. By providing extra time for students to think after we pose a question, we allow them to process—and translate if needed. Giving them wait time prior to calling on anyone or directing students to share with a partner allows them to formulate an answer in English. The terms “think time” and “wait time” are often used interchangeably; however, “wait time” is from the teacher’s perspective. After posing a question, the teacher waits before calling on students. “Think time,” on the other hand, is from the students’ perspective. This is what students do during the wait time after the question is posed.
When we skip wait time, we rob many students of an opportunity for deeper thinking, not only English learners but also students who need additional processing time. One of the best instructional techniques for naturally embedding think time is QSSSA. Read more about wait time here.
8. Provide Adapted Texts: (One-size does not fit all)
Providing students with the same content in adapted forms allows for equal access to content. This is especially important for students who are acquiring English or who are reading at different levels. When the linguistic load is decreased, students are more likely to comprehend content.
Imagine getting into your vehicle. What’s the first thing you notice if someone else has been driving it? Probably either that the seat is not adjusted or that the rear view mirror is out of place. So you readjust. Both the seat and the mirror are flexible to meet your needs.
In content area classrooms, adapting texts is similar. We can adjust the text to meet students’ linguistic needs. Some teachers use these websites that offer adapted texts:
9. Create a safe learning environment: (This is our class)
Feeling safe is a primal need. Maslow (1943) was the first but not the last to recognize that security and freedom from fear were basic needs. Students who fear embarrassment have a difficult time tending to academic tasks, and creating an atmosphere of warmth and acceptance is key to lowering students’ anxiety. English learners, who may be embarrassed by an accent or scared that they will respond incorrectly, rarely offer responses. Building community in a classroom takes time and effort. All students need to buy into the ideas that we are all unique and that our differences make us special. This takes the very skillful work of a teacher’s intentional planning. You can find tips for creating this type of classroom community in Pathways to Greatness for ELL Newcomers by Dr. Michelle Yzquierdo.
10. Offer choice in reading: (What are you interested in?)
Allowing students to build their reading muscles with texts that they enjoy can enhance their love of reading while strengthening their comprehension. Classroom libraries that are inviting and rich with choice attract students in a way that a required text can not. Sure, there’s a time and place for text that we all have to read for a purpose, but for the most part, offering students the flexibility to select the books they want to read will help to foster a love of reading.
Several years ago, I had a student who had not yet discovered a love of reading. But what she did love was cats. She talked about them all the time. Every day I could count on her to come in and tell me a story about a kitten her neighbor had or a cat she saw on TV. So I decided to strategically place several cat and kitten books in clear sight on our class library shelf. There were picture books, nonfiction books, comic books, and even a few audio/text sets. She quickly discovered them and whipped through them all. Before I knew it, she was asking me for more. (And on another note, her parents ended up buying her a kitten because of the passion she displayed in reading, writing, and speaking about cats!)
I’ve heard teachers say, “They have to read texts that are required. So it’s better that they get used to it.” I understand that. But if we equip them with a love of reading first, then when it’s time to read what is required, they will be prepared.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of this edition, where we’ll continue the list of techniques to create a clear vision for equitable instruction.