Equitable Practices in the Classroom, Part II

In part one, we discussed the importance of addressing students using equitable methods. We also looked at ways to increase participation and ensure that all students feel capable of contributing in classroom discussions and group tasks. Equity is an essential piece, not only in how we teach, but also in what we use to teach.

 

Physical classroom set-up:

There are ways in which teachers can choose to organize, decorate, and structure the classroom to promote a more equitable learning environment. From simple aspects such as desk arrangements, to posters and texts selected for the classroom library, all of these decisions can either foster or stifle equity. When arranging desks, it is important that teachers consider the learning goals of the lesson or unit and the avenues with which students can arrive at these objectives. If discourse is an essential piece of the learning goal, desks should be arranged in a “U shape” or circled up to promote small group discussions, collaborative activities, and cooperative learning practices.

 

If drafting, peer review, or teacher feedback is a critical aspect of the objective, then desks should be set up in groups of twos, threes, or fours to create work spaces that allow for pair sharing and teacher conferences. Whatever the goal may be, the key is for teachers to feel free to structure the classroom as needed, even if this means moving seating arrangements regularly. The room should account for dynamic, free-flowing learning; it does not need to be the stereotypical static formation of rows of desks facing forward.

 

Familiar faces:

An equitable classroom is also one in which students feel welcomed by familiar faces and people with similar experiences. While teachers cannot always provide that face of familiarity themselves, they can ensure that the classroom is adorned with posters, student work, displays, bulletin boards, and texts that are racially and ethnically inclusive of all students.

 

Not only do students need to see themselves represented in their learning environment, but they also need to see stories of success and perseverance. When building a classroom library, teachers should be sure to include works of art, poetry, fiction, and biographical texts that demonstrate the strength of the human spirit through obstacles and hardships. When students are able to connect to texts, not only a cultural level, but through a common life experience, they become more engaged and motivated by the important themes of overcoming challenges. These essential messages help students connect to the classroom in a way that they might otherwise feel excluded.

 

Teachers can also build equity by including artifacts from the community in the classroom. If students participate in a club sport, consider hanging the team’s memorabilia or team statistics on a bulletin board. If community members primarily speak another language, consider displaying posters or motivational messages in that language around the room. Similarly, make mention of cultural holidays or other important days that represent students’ backgrounds, families, and religious or cultural roots.

 

When possible, incorporate generational influences that students can connect to during instruction. Music, television, current events, and other pop culture references can support student engagement and build equity concurrently.

 

Value multiple perspectives:

Where discourse is involved, students have the special opportunity to voice, hear, and try on multiple perspectives—a key practice for building critical thinking skills. Exposing the learning environment to new perspectives allows student to question previous assumptions, explore unfamiliar theories or viewpoints, and build an understanding for others’ belief systems.

Teachers can help to promote this level of broad thinking and consideration with purposeful modeling, questioning, and differentiation. For instance, when having a group discussion, teachers should prompt students to consider further viewpoints by purposeful phrasing such as:

 

  • “There are a variety of ways to look at this example.”
  • “There is not just one correct answer here, it is more open-ended depending on interpretation.”
  • “That’s an interesting interpretation. Did anyone else see it differently?”
  • “So-and-so solved the problem this way, but is there another way to solve it?”
  • “Can you think of another reason why the character may have responded this way?”
  • “How might someone else respond differently based on personal beliefs or circumstances?”
  • “One valid point does not negate another valid point.”

Equitable Practices in the Classroom, Part I

Equity is much more than an educational buzzword—it involves the conscious and subconscious decisions and methods that we teachers implement in the classroom every day. Equity is also closely linked to student engagement, performance, achievement, and academic expectations. Because of the serious implications of classrooms that lack culturally responsive teaching, equity has become a major focal point for professional development among educators. Equitable practices are so critical, in fact, that most districts incorporate equity standards in teachers’ evaluations and professional growth systems.

 

With such an emphasis on equity in education, it is important that teachers know how they can foster and promote equitable practices seamlessly into their instruction and classroom procedures. Many of these strategies fall under “best practices”—strategies that most teachers utilize intuitively every day. However, there are additional efforts that can be made to ensure that equity is at the forefront of our teaching and learning.

 

Addressing students:

Teachers should work to welcome and address students by name at the door upon entering class. This helps to build a positive classroom climate and ensures that students know they are each cared for and welcome.

 

Teachers should ask about correct pronunciation and if students have a preferred nickname. Often, students are shy about correcting a teacher’s pronunciation; however, it is important that teachers correctly identify and pronounce students by name to recognize their personal and cultural identities. Over time, when teachers continuously mispronounce a student’s name, it sends an unintentional message that the student’s name is arbitrary, difficult, or complicated. In essence, teachers may be inadvertently “othering” a student by neglecting to correct their pronunciation or drawing attention to the name’s unique qualities.

 

Teachers may also unknowingly address students by name only when they have done something wrong or are being reprimanded. While unintentional, this habit creates a negative rapport among teachers and students. Instead, teachers should consciously address all students by name when recognizing them for positive behaviors as well.

 

Student participation:

Best practices include random calling methods to ensure that all students get the opportunity to share in whole group and small group settings. Calling sticks help teachers to truly randomize student participation. This practice fosters equity in a few different ways: it holds all students accountable for learning, and it also establishes the belief that all opinions are valid and everyone’s perspectives matter. Calling sticks also encourage students to maintain focus and engagement because they never know when they will be asked to participate.

 

Calling sticks and other random calling methods should be used for more than just participation. Teachers can utilize calling methods to encourage students to come up to the board to lead a part of the lesson. Teachers can also use calling sticks to highlight a randomly selected student’s writing, art, poem, math strategy, etc. The key is to allow all students the opportunity to speak, demonstrate learning, ask questions, and receive praise.

 

Participation during group work or collaborative presentations can provide teachers with another opportunity to build equity among learners. Oftentimes, group work and presentations reward the talkative leaders and participatory over-achievers. Instead of allowing groups to determine who will share out or present, randomize the speaking role. Insist that the group member with the most recent birthday, shortest hair, longest bus ride, most siblings, or most colorful clothing share out. This provides the more quiet, reserved, or reticent group members with the low-risk opportunity to share the group’s work.

 

Proximity is another method to ensure equity when addressing students, particularly with student behavior. Teachers may subconsciously move toward students who are misbehaving or disrupting; however, it is just as important to use proximity when students are on task and exhibiting positive behavior. Physical proximity, whether addressing positive or negative behaviors, sends the same message to all students—“I see you; I recognize what you’re doing.” When students are “caught” doing something positive, use physical proximity to send that positive message. This subtle recognition helps to build classroom environment and an encouraging climate for students.

Parent Conferences

Parent conferences are extremely beneficial for students and their academic success. The constructive feedback and collaborative effort that parent conferences offer provide foundations for growth, no matter the student’s previous track record or measures of ability. Like many school districts, November is the month when Montgomery County Public Schools open their doors to parents and guardians for conferences. While any meeting of the minds is beneficial to students, there are methods to optimize the conference so that both parents and teachers walk away with feedback and strategies to best support the learner at home and at school.

For the parents:
➢ Come prepared with specific questions about your child’s academic progress. Questions like, “How is so-and-so doing?” is broad and somewhat generic, which will likely beget a broad response and leave the teacher with little direction with which to steer the conversation. Instead, review recent grades or classwork at home with your child and prepare to discuss specific areas of weakness on recent tasks. This allows the teacher to focus in on specific areas of need and strategies for growth.

➢ Consider asking questions that span beyond academic success. Ask about participation, where your students sit in the classroom, if they are socializing or pairing up during partner or group work, how frequently they ask questions or come in for extra help during lunch, if they arrive to class on time and with necessary materials? Beyond the academic picture, answers to these questions provide parents with an overall view of their child as a learner.

➢ Be ready to listen to constructive feedback about your child’s behavior. Often times, the child you see at home is a slightly (or sometimes vastly) different person from the student, athlete, peer or  persona that your child displays at school. Teachers are good at navigating precarious conversations about behavior, but they also aim to provide genuine feedback. Therefore, some information may be surprising or difficult to hear, but know that they will follow up their concerns with helpful strategies and new approaches to remedy any issues.

➢ Feel free to take notes. These meetings involve a lot of feedback from several different teachers, especially when your child is at the secondary level. It might be difficult to remember the key pointers from each teacher, particularly when your child’s abilities and behaviors vary from subject to subject. Therefore, a quick jot of each teacher’s talking points will ensure that you can refer back to these observations and suggestions when discussing with children at home.

For the teachers:
➢ Aside from current grade sheets, compile a few work samples with your feedback or comments included. Photo copy these samples so that parents have the option to take them home for further discussion with their child. If possible, provide a range of the student’s written responses or essays and include the rubric so that parents have an idea of what the task entailed and where their child may need help.

➢ Lead with positive comments so that the conversation is balanced. It is difficult for parents to hear criticism of their child; they may become overwhelmed or even defensive during a tough conversation. Talk about the student’s unique strengths first if you know that you will need to venture into a more critical conversation regarding his or her struggles.

➢ Prepare to offer strategies and resources that students can use outside of school to improve their areas of need. There are many online resources and apps that can help students with everything from spelling and typing to geometry and study skills—the problem is, parents often need guidance when finding age-appropriate and ability-specific resources that also align with the Common Core State Standards. A quick reference guide will help ease the stress of finding additional supports to use at home.

➢ Ask about the student’s interests, extracurricular activities, weekend obligations, and study habits. Answers to these questions can provide helpful insight into the student’s after-school schedule and ability to juggle social, academic, and home obligations. This also opens the door to discuss time management skills and how to ensure that academics remain a priority.

How-To Stay in the Know: News for Middle Schoolers

With the prevalence of smartphones, middle schoolers have almost constant connectivity and sources of information. Today’s middle schoolers may not be 100 percent enthralled with current events; however, with the current state of affairs for national and global news, it is important that preteens are receiving accurate, appropriate information. As much as we want all kids to be properly informed, they must be careful with what they are watching and the information that they are receiving. Much like the qualms with social media, middle schoolers are equally vulnerable when it comes to today’s current events. Below are important pointers and suggestions for staying up on current events with middle school-aged students.

Be cognizant of the inevitable biases present in news media. Middles school is right around the time that students begin to learn about performing sound research, obtaining evidence, and citing sources.  Whether reading articles, watching national or local news outlets, or simply receiving social media updates and tweets, adolescents need to be aware of the fact that nearly every news story contains some thread of subjectivity or bias. Of course, people in the business of reporting the news go to great lengths to simply report—with total impartiality. However, the human component of news just inevitably does not allow for stories to remain 100 percent neutral at all times. For this reason, students should know how to identify bias in anything they watch or read involving news. Questions to ask include: What is the purpose of relaying this particular story, i.e., who will benefit from knowing or learning about this? Who might this news story be targeting? Is there a recognizable tone in the story or clip?

Know the difference between credibility and unreliability. Again, this is likely a newer concept for middle schoolers. When it comes to news stories, news media is so prevalent these days that accurate stories can easily be spun or altered and quickly posted to a pseudo-reliable news source. Fact-checking is something that middle school students can do in order to double check a source that may seem unreliable. Today’s school libraries and media centers have wonderful resources that help with providing credible sources. Whether primary or secondary sources, schools purchase multiple paid forums, anthologies, and online databases for students to conduct research or investigate specific topics.

Middle schoolers should utilize age-appropriate outlets to ensure that the news is something that they can understand and appreciate. Many issues or headlines are not only disturbing or violent, but confusing as well. Discovery Channel, Channel One, Scholastic, Time Magazine, and CNN all provide student-friendly episodes, articles, and other resources so that current events are academically accessible and appropriate for middle schoolers.

How-To Stay in the Know: News for High Schoolers

With the almost constant connectivity and media availability for today’s adolescents, high schoolers have the option to remain in the know at all times. Especially today, while major national and global news stories are constantly rolled out, students should have no issue staying informed. However, like all technology and social media, students need to be careful with what they are watching and the information that they are receiving. Below are important pointers and suggestions for staying up on current events with high school-aged students.

Be aware of the inevitable biases present in news media. Whether reading articles, watching national or local news outlets, or simply receiving social media updates and tweets, teens need to be aware of the fact that nearly every news story contains some thread of subjectivity or bias. Of course, people in the business of reporting the news go to great lengths to simply report—with total impartiality. However, the human component of news just inevitably does not allow for stories to remain 100 percent neutral at all times. For this reason, students should know how to identify bias in anything they watch or read involving news. Questions to ask include: What is the purpose of relaying this particular story, i.e., who will benefit from knowing or learning about this? Who might this news story be targeting? Is there a recognizable tone in the story or clip?

Know the difference between credibility unreliability. Hopefully, by high school, students have experienced and completed enough research assignments to identify credible sources. However, when it comes to news stories, news media is so prevalent these days that accurate stories can easily be spun or altered and quickly posted to a pseudo-reliable news source. Fact-checking is something that high school students can do in order to double check a source that may seem unreliable. Of course, Wikipedia, every high schoolers favorite resource for “research,” can be helpful, but only if students fact-check the links and sources at the bottom of the Wikipedia pages.

Teens should utilize age-appropriate outlets to ensure that the news is something that they can understand and appreciate. Many issues or headlines are not only disturbing or violent, but confusing as well. Scholastic, Time Magazine, and CNN all provide student-friendly episodes, articles, and other resources so that current events are academically accessible and appropriate for high schoolers.

How-To Stay in the Know: News for Elementary-Age Groups

For elementary students, the topic of news or current events may likely be met with confused faces or outright groans of boredom. I can certainly remember my eyes glazing over when Nightly News occupied the television in my house growing up. And today’s elementary schoolers are no different—they may not be 100 percent enthralled with current events. However, today’s technology means that current events are not only readily available, they are also available to all levels of readers and viewers. For the elementary age group, news events and stories shared with children must be age and reader-appropriate. Below are important pointers and suggestions for staying up on current events with elementary students.

Be sure to preview all news stories, articles, and broadcasts before having students participate. Thankfully, today’s technology and vast number of children’s programs ensure that current events and news articles can be easily assessed for age-appropriate content. Several educational news outlets do this work for us by categorizing material by age group and Lexile range. While it is important that students understand what they are reading, it is equally, if not more important, to be sure that the material is suitable for children. Many issues or headlines are not only disturbing or violent, but confusing as well. Discovery Channel, Channel One, Scholastic, Time Magazine, and CNN all provide student-friendly episodes, articles, and other resources so that current events are academically accessible and appropriate for elementary schoolers.

Keep the news relevant but light. Of course, we want students to be aware of some of the important events happening around them. But, at the same time, we must be sure not to expose them to anything that is too jarring or upsetting. News stories for elementary-age groups should involve topics to which students can relate. Make sure that the information they are getting connects to something in their own lives. This is a great way for students to begin to connect to the outside world, as well as recognize their place in it.

Encourage questions. Questions to ask include: What is the purpose of relaying this particular story, i.e., who will benefit from knowing or learning about this? Who might this news story be targeting? Is there a recognizable tone in the story or clip? How does this story or event affect the people around me? How do I benefit from knowing about this story or current event? Again, these questions prompt students to consider what they have just learned.

Know the difference between credibility and unreliability. Again, this is a new concept for elementary schoolers. When it comes to news stories, news media is so prevalent these days that accurate stories can easily be spun or altered and quickly posted to a pseudo-reliable news source. Fact-checking is something that elementary school students can begin to do in order to double check a source that may seem unreliable. Today’s school libraries and media centers have wonderful resources that help with providing credible sources. Whether primary or secondary sources, schools purchase multiple paid forums, anthologies, and online databases for students to conduct research or investigate specific topics.

Homework Ideas for Teachers to Try

Too often, homework assignments get a bad reputation for being tedious, repetitive, or unnecessarily lengthy. As educators, we aim to provide work that is rigorous, purposeful, and engaging. The last type of task we want to assign is an irrelevant or disconnected assignment used solely as “busy work.” Homework is meant to allow time to practice and reflect on the skills or concepts that we have been teaching in class. Of course, assignments cannot always engage every student on every level. However, a few different strategies can ensure that, as much as possible, students bring home tasks that hold their attention, assess their skills, and promote reflective practices concerning their learning styles.

Provide opportunities for student choice as often as possible

This could mean that students are given the option to choose from a list of assignments, all with the same objectives or learning goals. The idea behind this is simple: the manner in which students exhibit their learning is not what matters. Providing options that boost engagement can often enhance learning. Assignment options can range from a paragraph or collage to a PowerPoint or Adobe Spark page. With a wide range of possibilities, students are able to play to their strengths. A tech-savvy student and an artistically-inclined student can both exhibit knowledge of the content or skill, but produce different representations of their knowledge. This allows students to focus on the same learning goals and participate in the same instruction, while allowing them to differentiate the product that they create.

Permit students to opt-out of homework they have mastered

Along with student choice should be an opportunity to “opt-out” of certain assignments—for instance, a student that aces an algebra practice test may be given the option to opt out of the night’s homework involving the same concepts. This idea supports the notion that busy work not only lends itself to boredom, but also has the potential to lower motivation and determination. If a student has proven mastery of a concept, rote or redundant practice is unnecessary.

Create a weekly or monthly calendar of assignments

This not only helps teachers with their planning, it also assists students with organization and proactivity. The calendar acts as a visual or digital reminder of assignments that are coming down the pike. Be sure to include the date that the task was assigned, as well as the due date. Double check that a week’s worth of assignments is balanced and reasonable—i.e., something that students can realistically accomplish in the timeframe given. Encourage students to cross off tasks as they are completed. Also, allow students to submit work prior to the due date. This way, students that struggle with disorganization or misplacing papers can rid themselves of the assignment before it disappears.

Hold a homework session during lunch

This can be as frequent as needed, but once a week is a good start. Allowing students to have a quiet place to work is a benefit to them and you, as well. By working through an assignment with students, teachers are better able to gauge the effectiveness of their instruction. A lunch session also allows students to ask questions or voice confusion over a particular homework task.

Teacher Hacks to Use at Home Part I: Behavior Management

Teaching is often more than a job or career pathit is something that we educators practice even when we are outside of the classroom.  Much of what we do in class, while content-oriented, is meant to be translated to the real world. From study skills, to organization, to behavior management, teachers have a whole repertoire of strategies that could be of major assistance at home. So parents, what can teachers teach besides their subject area? A lot!

First-year teaching has sometimes been compared to bringing a baby home for the first time. It is terrifying, overwhelming, exhausting, stressful, emotional, and exciting—basically a whirlwind of significant moments strung together. While teaching is not as dramatic as raising a newborn, it is a profession that involves constant giving. So, with regard to giving advice to parents struggling with behavior issues at home, first things first—we know your struggle. We too have had moments (probably many) when it seems as though we may never have a breakthrough with a particularly “feisty” child. But, there are certain keys to remember:

  • You are the adult. When it comes to those knock-down, drag-out tantrums or battles, remember that this is a child that you are dealing with. There is no negotiating unless you open that door. When kids push back, keep your head and say something like, “I’m sorry you are upset, but I gave you my answer. This conversation is over.” This lets them know that you are in charge and that no amount of effort on their behalf is going to change the decision you have made. Once you have made your decision, close the door on negotiating, begging, guilt-tripping, etc. Be sure to stand your ground—the second that you go back on your word, you’ve lost. Explain that no amount of disrespect or anger is going to help their cause, regardless of how much they argue, question or try to manipulate you.
  • Once you have stood your ground, you must try to remain calm and keep cool—even when the child is not. Easier said than done, I know. We teachers know all too well that emotionally engaging in an argument or tiff with a student is never beneficial. Again, you are the adult. The conversation ends when you end it; no need to fuel the fire.
  • Frame every decision so that it is in the best interest of your child. Show your child that you are not making decisions just to assert control or power. They need to understand that parenting is a decision-making role. Yes, they will have plenty of opportunities to make their own choices, but for now, they need guidance from the person who cares about their well-being above everything else. They may not show it, but they will eventually understand your sound reasoning.

Finally, gauge the emotions and recognize triggers for your child. After years in the classroom, teachers are masters at recognizing behavior patterns, trends, and triggers for different personalities and age groups. Of course, you know your child better than anyone. So, take mental note of when he or she begins to exhibit frustration. Isolate the root of the emotional response and act on that—they may be whining about homework, but the frustration may stem from a lack of confidence, knowledge, or patience.

Integrating Technology in the Classroom: High School

The widespread use of technology is a pivotal factor in today’s classrooms. By high school, students are expected to proficiently access information in the digital world. It is truly unbelievable how much digital information is being presented to students in and out of the classroom. For digital instruction to be effective, however, it must be planned for and utilized with specific and deliberate purposes. Technology should be integrated as a means to engage, enrich, and extend learning objectives for students on a regular basis. So, what specific skills should high schoolers attain before graduating? Let’s take a look.

Technology Skills for College and Career Readiness

Typing skills are one of those abilities that many people disregard. While most schools have done away with mandatory typing courses as a graduation requirement, the skill is more valuable than people think. Not only does the one-finger “pecking” appear juvenile or unprofessional, but it is also not efficient. Especially when students head off into the world of higher education, they will need to be able to type with precision and ease for lectures, papers, research, etc. The great news is that technology has greatly improved the methods for building standard typing skills. With games, races, and levels, students are much more engaged and able to easily track their improvement.

Email and technology etiquette is also up there in terms of skills that high schoolers should acquire before graduating. The key here is that, by high school, students have been completely immersed in the informal realm of texting and social media. With all of this connectedness comes the likelihood that high schoolers have gotten comfortable with internet “slang” or informal communication styles. Between the emojis, neglect of appropriate punctuation, and familiarity with an informal tone, students are often ill-prepared to correspond professionally via email. That said, content area courses should be sure to address the need for a formal tone and appropriate formatting when it comes to email in the academic or professional realm.

Research skills offer huge benefits to students, no matter what career goals they may have for the future. The truth is, research is not just limited to college coursework—we perform research every day in our personal lives without even realizing it. Effective research skills ensure that the information collected and created by students will not only hold up, but help to grow their understanding of a concept.

Proofreading and editing is another digitally-based skill that high schoolers would be wise to master. Of course, the crutch of spellcheck has resulted in today’s students being somewhat lazy in terms of editing abilities. The best way to improve proofreading skills is simply to practice it. There are many editing forums and technologies that greatly assist in the process of self-checking and peer editing.

Integrating Technology in the Classroom: Middle School

The use of technology is a pivotal factor in today’s classrooms. Students are expected to proficiently access, analyze, and create using digital tools, even at the middle school level. Information, apps, and tools are everywhere—it is truly unbelievable how much digital information is being presented to students in and out of the classroom. For digital instruction to be effective, however, it must be planned for and utilized with specific and deliberate purposes. Technology for technology’s sake is not beneficial to student learning. Instead, technology should be integrated as a means to engage, enrich, and extend learning objectives for students on a regular basis. So, how can this be accomplished in middle school?

By middle school, students have been introduced to plenty of educational digital forums. Middle school educators must continue to teach students how to be digitally responsible. Parents and teachers are well-aware of the fact that adolescents are connected to all things digital on a grand scale. The unavoidable truth that comes with digital technology use in classrooms is the fact that students become immediately immersed in a world with few boundaries. The impulsive and somewhat self-absorbed mindset that comes with the adolescent years also presents the issue of cyberbullying, which has become a simply newer and easier way to hurt peers. Luckily, schools have made it relatively easy for teachers to monitor what students send, copy, post, or type. In addition, technologies such as Lanschool allow teachers to monitor exactly what each student’s screen looks like, and close it out if need be. Teachers also have the option to screenshot a student’s screen in order to share a concerning incident with parents.

Managing Digital Footprints

Instructing students about their digital footprints is also important in middle school. Not only are students receiving information at rapid rates, but their own digital output is of major concern, as well. A digital footprint is composed of a person’s online actions and behavior. Middle school students must be taught that anything that we post on the web is permanent—digital footprints will never vanish. As many of us know, it is typical of adolescents to dismiss the concept of the far-off future. However, middle school is the opportune time to discuss the likelihood of severe consequences after leaving a negative digital footprint for someone else to stumble across, even years later.

Resources

Having successfully prepared middle schoolers with the knowledge of safety and security in the digital realm, teachers are then able to utilize technologies to enhance learning like never before. Free resources like instagrok.com, Padlet, Powtoons, and Adobe Spark allow students to research and create in a more interactive and creative way. Using Google classroom as the starting point for assignments and lessons incorporating technology, students are able to go out into the digital world and bring back information and material at an alarming rate. The idea of cooperative learning, student choice, technological creativity, and collaborative synthesis are all possible when using forums such as Google classroom to gather students’ ideas and creations.