Apr 05, 2019 2019-04-05
By Rosie Reid
As teachers, we must check our systems for equity each time we walk into our classrooms. The key word here is “systems,” for without thoughtful practices, even the most well-intentioned among us fall into the old traps of expediency, implicit bias, and tradition. Here are a few practical structures I use as equity checks that take very little time to implement.
The informal classroom, where students don’t raise their hands and everyone engages in a casual conversation, is the antithesis of a systematic and equitable community. A few students do the talking while the majority of the class remain silent, not because they don’t all have ideas but because only those students who have been conditioned to think they have the right to talk in large classroom settings do. When teachers add in hand-raising—something most of us do—it is only marginally better, as the most confident students are the most likely to raise their hands.
I have a multiracial family and I have found that my own African American children are quieter in academic settings than my white children, despite their general boisterous natures at home. Many English learners also do understand the material and could contribute to discussions, but cultural expectations for their participation keep them from jumping in. By using Think (Write) - Pair - Share and calling on non-volunteers, more students will engage. On my best-planned days, I add in participation structures (e.g. Clock Appointments, Numbered Heads Together, Equity Sticks, or Novel Ideas Only.) My students also have a partner whom they greet each day the beginning of class with a high five and their answers to a warm-up question, and they check in with this partner multiple times throughout the day.
Finally, while students are doing a quick turn and talk or reading aloud, I use a blank gradebook roster to tally who has spoken so far that day with the intention of getting to everyone each day. With 50-minute periods, this often doesn’t happen. However, the act of keeping track forces me to notice the participation patterns in the room and to seek out those who have learned to fly under the radar.
Pair or Square?
Every three weeks, I give students a new partner (pair) based on my perceptions of compatibility and academic ability. I try to make partnerships heterogeneous, but within each other’s zones of proximal development. Students also work in assigned fours (squares). Students rarely get to pick their own groupings, as this leads to self-segregation and a classroom hierarchy with confident students flocking together and struggling students left to fend for themselves.
Often the majority of feedback students receive comes with a grade. At that point the assignment is done and the class is moving on, so for struggling students the feedback is too late. The reality of having 150–180 students is not lost on me—we simply don’t have the bandwidth to comment on every draft or class assignment. But if we only have time to comment on one draft, why not make it an early draft when students get credit for completion? Other quick formative assessment strategies to check for understanding are: My Favorite No, Peardeck, 3-2-1 Responses, and Exit Tickets.
I provide students a range of academic language frames for oral and written responses. Heterogeneous classrooms require a range of options with more entry-level frames (e.g., “It is apparent that…”) to higher level frames (e.g., “The article explores the connection between... and… by...”). All students benefit when we model academic language and embed it in our expectations for student response.
Culturally Inclusive Curriculum
What we teach must reflect who we teach. How can all students feel like they matter and that the work they are doing in school matters if they don’t see themselves anywhere in it? As an English teacher, it is perhaps easier to make sure I am teaching male and female authors, authors of color, and authors from the LGBTQ+ community, but this is no less doable in math (e.g., around issues of housing, gentrification, and home ownership by race) or science (e.g., eugenics, Henrietta Lacks).
Professional Equity-Based Learning Communities
Find equity-minded colleagues and have monthly meetings to discuss readings on race, class, gender, achievement, and best practices for reaching marginalized students. We each have equity issues that we are more well-versed on and passionate about, so the extra eyes will broaden our perspectives, help us see our own blind spots, and hold us accountable. Consider trying an inquiry-based approach where the team implements a research-based strategy (e.g., the use of the aforementioned academic language frames or formative assessment strategies) and bring student work to discuss.
Rosie Reid teaches English at Northgate High School in Walnut Creek, CA. She is a National Board Certified Teacher of English/Language Arts and a Bay Area Writing Project Teacher Consultant. She has taught every level of high school English and ELD. Her personal experience as a foster, adoptive, and biological mom of a multiracial family with a range of sexualities and academic abilities has heightened her awareness of issues of equity. Rosie has recently been named 2019 California Teacher of the Year and California's nominee for National Teacher of the Year. Follow her on Twitter @msreidenglish.