by Valentina Gonzalez
This is part 2 of a 2-part series on creating a clear vision for equitable instruction. Click here for part 1.
In part 1, we shared 10 techniques to consider for enhancing, reflecting on, or changing instruction to make it more equitable. This time, we will continue with 10 more techniques. As you read, think about your current practices and how they compare to the techniques in this list. What can you do to provide learning that reaches all students?
11. Offer choice and opportunities in writing: (Show me what you know)
Writing is a strong tool that equips students with the power to amplify their voices at school and beyond. Students who know how to communicate effectively as writers are one step ahead of their peers. Elyse Eidman-Aadahl, executive director of the National Writing Project, says, “Compared to reading and listening, writing is more active…” As a writer, one has to think, create, process, compose, revise, produce, and much more.
Offering students choices in their writing opportunities increases their ability to become stronger writers. This can mean choice in what they write about, what kind of writing they do, and how they express themselves. For example, a newcomer or student at beginner levels of English proficiency may draw and label or use primary language when writing. Drawing and labeling are also helpful to students with higher language proficiencies as a pre-writing support. Writing should not be limited to language arts classrooms. Providing students opportunities to write in all content areas allows them to express themselves using academic language and vocabulary from each domain, and to write like mathematicians, scientists, historians, musicians, artists, etc.
12. Provide dictionaries: (Level the linguistic field)
Besides helping students with spelling, a good dictionary can help learners understand the meanings of words. Native English speakers and English learners alike benefit from dictionaries. There are many variations of dictionaries available, starting with picture dictionaries for younger students and English learners at beginning levels of language proficiency, to dictionaries that give full meanings or translations. Older students or those with higher levels of English proficiency may benefit from bilingual (or translation) dictionaries. Translation dictionaries can be great tools as students acquire an additional language and learn content simultaneously.
Any student may benefit from a typical dictionary or thesaurus. However, simply making them available may not suffice. Dictionary skills don’t come naturally, so students need direct instruction on why, when, and how to use these resources. And if we expect or hope that students will use dictionaries for assessment, it’s best that we teach them how to use the resources for daily instruction and life. While writing this article, I accessed a thesaurus many times. I’m also reminded of a famous rap star that credits his sixth grade English teacher for his love of language and specifically recalls her dictionary lessons that inspired him.
13. Allow students to show what they know differently: (One Size Does Not Fit All)
Just as our students are all unique, how they learn, the rate at which they learn, and how they show what they know are also unique. It really wasn’t too long ago that classrooms across the United States followed the “One size fits all” approach in delivering instruction. Every student completed the same assignments, and it was even thought unfair if a child received an alternate assignment.
Now, we understand that the assignment or end product is not what is important. What’s important is what we are assessing. If we are assessing how well students understand the causes of the American Revolution, we can see if students “got it” through many means. Some students may write a paragraph, some may create a presentation, others may draw a representation, some may make a brochure, etc.
14. Extend varied entry points for learning: (There is more than one way to access the content)
Think of the grade level content as a destination, like the meeting place for your family reunion. For example, all of your family is gathering in Las Vegas, Nevada. Each family member begins the journey from a different starting point. Some are close enough to Vegas that they will drive. Others are further and may take a bus. One group has decided to take a scenic route and will journey by train. And another group will travel by airplane. Each will reach the destination, but their journeys will be different.
In the classroom, the learning journeys of our students vary as well. Some will need varied modes of transportation to access the grade level curriculum. Offering visuals to support comprehension, videos to enhance processing, and time and space for collaboration or peer conversation may be necessary to ensure all students to reach the destination. Other students will benefit from technology. For instance, allowing students to type or listen to audiobooks on devices enables access to the same goals by different means. Let’s not limit students to one way of learning and thinking.
15. Design the room around your students: (You belong)
Look around your classroom. The walls are speaking. They illustrate what is valued in this space. They express what is important and what is not.
Designing the room around the students means taking their cultures and life experiences into consideration. Are the bulletin boards validating and affirming certain groups more than others? Consider these options for designing walls that embrace students for who they are:
- Include student-created work
- Add art that represents cultures from your classroom
- Label the classroom in English and other languages
- Include family artwork or family photos from your students
16. Use your voice to advocate for all students: (I will stand up for you)
Silence speaks volumes. No matter if you are a first year teacher or you have many years of experience under your belt, you have a voice that can advocate for the equitable instruction of all students. Use your voice to ensure that students are receiving the quality instruction they need and deserve. Speak up at planning meetings when you see that lessons need more differentiation. Say something when you hear a colleague stereotyping students. Don’t be afraid to be a voice for students. Doing what is right is sometimes difficult and often unpopular, but it’s worth it in the end.
17. Value and honor literacy in all languages:
Language is tied ever so tightly to our identities. Each of us comes to the table with our own set of language experiences and language repertoires. As we communicate, take in information, listen, and process, we use our language to help us make sense of it all. Many students are native English speakers from homes that are language rich. Some are native English speakers from homes that dialogue very little. Others are adding English as an additional language from homes where only a language other than English is spoken. And some are adding English as an additional language from homes where many languages, including English, are spoken.
No matter the linguistic circumstances, valuing the literacy students meet us with is key to helping them build their language repertoires. We can show students that what they come to us with is valued by allowing them to access and use their linguistic skills as a bridge to new language. If students speak a language other than English, we can encourage them to share, label, and be proud of their bilingualism.
19. Set high expectations for everyone: (I believe in you)
Our belief in and expectations of our students have an impact on their success. When we set low expectations for students, we limit their achievement. When we set high expectations for students, we pave the way to success. In fact, some studies say that when we believe our students have great abilities, then we provide them with more specific feedback, more praise, more challenging work, warmer smiles, and nicer body language. On the other hand, when we hold low expectations for students, we tend to reduce their learning opportunities.
Being aware of this is the first step to avoiding it. All students need to know that we believe in them and that we have high expectations for their learning. They need to know that we will support their success while holding them accountable to the learning. While the image below says “Four Essential Messages to Send to English Language Learners,” it’s really a message to all students.
19. Foster a growth mindset: (Believe you can)
Teaching students to have confidence in themselves as learners can change the way they approach academics. Author and Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck (2008) asserts that students with positive academic mindsets are more likely to actively participate, engage in academic tasks, and persevere through challenges. Those with negative mindsets give up, misbehave, and believe that failure is final.
Many students who have negative mindsets have developed “learned helplessness.” Students with learned helplessness often believe they have no control of their learning. As learners, they tend to give up quickly when they don’t know an answer or get an answer wrong the first time.
To help students become more positive and active-minded toward academics, consider being vulnerable about your own struggles with learning and achieving or sharing stories of famous people who persevered through failure.
In addition, teaching students to become accountable to the learning in the classroom with strategies they can use in everyday life will also benefit them. Step 1 from 7 Steps to a Language Rich Interactive Classroom (Seidlitz & Perryman 2011) fits in nicely here. This technique empowers students as active learners in the classroom. The teacher introduces this chart to students and explicitly teaches how and why to use each one of the alternatives to “I don’t know.” Later, when students come across a circumstance where they don’t know how to respond, they select an option from the chart. Students learn to become metacognitive about their learning and understanding. They are able to monitor themselves and make adjustments.
20. Reduce the teacher footprint to increase the student footprint: (Talk less, listen more)
Some may argue that this one is difficult. With state and district demands on teachers and students to perform, it’s challenging to open space for students to talk in the classroom. Educators are tasked with “covering” a vast amount of curriculum in a small amount of time. Yet, the problem becomes that the more teachers talk in an effort to cover the curriculum, the more they are literally hiding it, as the term cover can imply. For many students, a teacher talking all day can begin to sound like Charlie Brown’s teacher: “Waa, waa, waa, waa…”
The less teachers talk in the classroom, the more room for students’ voices to become amplified. As we amplify student voice, we create environments where students are active rather than passive in their learning journey. We create classrooms where students are able to negotiate for meaning and process their thinking. We create classrooms where teachers have the ability to formatively assess students and provide timely feedback to catch misconceptions and close any gaps before they grow too large.
Creating a clear vision for equity begins by recognizing that inequity exists in education and that it directly impacts students’ progress in school and beyond. No matter your job-title, you can be a leader. Lead the way by modeling a growth mindset and practicing equitable instruction. Let’s see if we can make 2020 the BEST year ever!
Please share your ideas and experiences with creating equitable instruction.