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Back to the Top Teaching Blog
March 7, 2018

Ensuring Equity: How Coaches and Teachers Help ALL Students

By Meghan Everette
Grades PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5, 6–8, 9–12

    According to Scholastic's Teacher & Principal School Report, both teachers and principals overwhelmingly agree that equity in education should be a national priority. However, the same report indicates 87 percent of educators feel barriers to learning exist and that they are due to factors outside the school environment. Whether stemming from inside or outside of school, "Educators have a responsibility to create an environment in which all children can be successful."

     

    Equity is not equality. Imagine a classroom in which there is a student in a wheelchair, a student who doesn’t speak English, and a student who is extremely advanced in math. Equality says that every student has the same desk, but typical desks don’t accommodate the width and height of a wheelchair. Equity says we provide a variety of seating options that work for all students, including standing desks, bubble chairs, and a space for a wheelchair. Equality says that everyone listens to the same book, but the child who is just learning English won’t understand the text as a native English speaker would. Equity says we provide a book in another language, include a listening station with subtitles, or work with an interpreter. Equality says that every child does the same math lesson at the same time. Equity says we differentiate the curriculum so that even our most advanced students are challenged and supported. "Equity is about providing an environment for all learners that provides both support and challenge academically while attending to all their needs."

    What are the factors blocking equity for students? Some are biological factors that prevent students from access to learning such as mental or physical disabilities. Some are societal factors, such as race and gender, that have long benefited certain groups while leaving others behind. And some factors are organizational, such as no access to Internet, lack of mandated curriculum, or limited facilities.

    No matter the factors contributing to an unfair playing field, teachers have a responsibility to students to provide equitable access to research-based, effective curriculum while meeting the needs of all learners. It is no small task.

    Utah's Board of Education mathematics department and Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS) are working together to ensure teachers and coaches have skills needed to ensure equity for all. Last month, the Utah State Board of Education hosted the Educational Equity and Advocacy Conference where issues such as safe LGBTQ+ environments, transition support for students with disabilities, effective practices for young men of color, and parent engagement for first generation college students were discussed. Coaches and teachers from across the state offered their advice for promoting equality in classrooms for each student.

    Focus on the Standards

    Jet Warr, secondary math specialist in the Iron County School District, asks teachers to focus on the standards when creating and analyzing benchmark assessments. "When all teachers are teaching to the same understanding for all students, there is a more equitable instruction happening. One teacher is not holding students to a different level than another," says Warr. Focusing on standards also reduces implicit bias by focusing on specific skills students should be able to do, rather than making judgement calls on what we believe students may know or should know.

    Create an Entry Point

    Researcher Jo Boaler says math activities with a “low floor, high ceiling” will benefit all students. The idea is to create opportunities for all students to get started with the task, but use a task that can relate to very high-level ideas. You can learn more about the low floor, high ceiling idea on the YouCubed website.

    Recently I used a shape task that starts with students making congruent squares from 24 shapes. Even kindergarten and first-grade students can begin to rearrange pieces to create squares, making this a low-floor task. Older students can identify the fractional part each piece constitutes, and even older students can relate the fractions to decimals. This task has a high ceiling.

    Carole Brown, math specialist in the Davis School District, says we create equity when planning lessons that give all students access to begin with. “When all students can contribute to the first part of the lesson, they are more likely to make connections…. Each student has something to work with,” says Brown.

    Vocabulary

    Academic vocabulary is necessary for all students, but when students are English language learners or have learning disabilities, vocabulary becomes a barrier to entry. According to research, children in high-poverty areas hear up to 30 million fewer words by the time they are 3 years old than affluent counterparts. Susan Dyer, special education teacher in Granite School District, says, “It is important for all students to connect math terms and concepts in order to be successful in math classes. However, for ELL and sped students, I believe this focus is critical.” Simple ways to combat vocabulary attrition include:

    • Pair images with vocabulary words
    • Preview unfamiliar vocabulary, even days ahead of time
    • Learn a few words at a time, instead of an endless list
    • Help students craft student-friendly definitions
    • Use graphic organizers, such as a vocabulary chart organizer

    Acknowledge and Honor Cultural Differences

    This past week I participated in a Courageous Conversations About Diversity and Race workshop from Pacific Educational Group in an effort by our district to become more equitable with regards to race. One of the key takeaways for me was the idea of honoring how others see the world. Instead of having everyone conform to the “one way” we hold class and conduct business, we open our experiences to how other cultures and races might do things differently.

    The example given was watching a movie in class with the expectation that it is a silent activity, while other races and cultures might experience film as a more social activity with discussion throughout. This simple change led to higher achievement and retention following learning from film in the classroom we studied. Simply understanding more about the various cultures in the classroom begins to open our minds to how we can be more equitable for all.

    Lead by Example

    Julie Warburton, a math teacher from Herriman, Utah, says, “Coaches help other teachers ensure equity by example; by showing that all students, even difficult ones, have something special.”  It doesn’t take a coach to inspire others to notice and plan for equity. All it takes is acknowledging that a system of being “fair” isn’t necessarily a system of being “equitable,” and further acknowledging we have long left some students behind because we haven’t adequately adjusted to meet their needs, and finally, making intentional changes that honor all learners, at all levels, regardless of their needs.

    To read more about equity in education from Scholastic, check out:

     

    According to Scholastic's Teacher & Principal School Report, both teachers and principals overwhelmingly agree that equity in education should be a national priority. However, the same report indicates 87 percent of educators feel barriers to learning exist and that they are due to factors outside the school environment. Whether stemming from inside or outside of school, "Educators have a responsibility to create an environment in which all children can be successful."

     

    Equity is not equality. Imagine a classroom in which there is a student in a wheelchair, a student who doesn’t speak English, and a student who is extremely advanced in math. Equality says that every student has the same desk, but typical desks don’t accommodate the width and height of a wheelchair. Equity says we provide a variety of seating options that work for all students, including standing desks, bubble chairs, and a space for a wheelchair. Equality says that everyone listens to the same book, but the child who is just learning English won’t understand the text as a native English speaker would. Equity says we provide a book in another language, include a listening station with subtitles, or work with an interpreter. Equality says that every child does the same math lesson at the same time. Equity says we differentiate the curriculum so that even our most advanced students are challenged and supported. "Equity is about providing an environment for all learners that provides both support and challenge academically while attending to all their needs."

    What are the factors blocking equity for students? Some are biological factors that prevent students from access to learning such as mental or physical disabilities. Some are societal factors, such as race and gender, that have long benefited certain groups while leaving others behind. And some factors are organizational, such as no access to Internet, lack of mandated curriculum, or limited facilities.

    No matter the factors contributing to an unfair playing field, teachers have a responsibility to students to provide equitable access to research-based, effective curriculum while meeting the needs of all learners. It is no small task.

    Utah's Board of Education mathematics department and Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS) are working together to ensure teachers and coaches have skills needed to ensure equity for all. Last month, the Utah State Board of Education hosted the Educational Equity and Advocacy Conference where issues such as safe LGBTQ+ environments, transition support for students with disabilities, effective practices for young men of color, and parent engagement for first generation college students were discussed. Coaches and teachers from across the state offered their advice for promoting equality in classrooms for each student.

    Focus on the Standards

    Jet Warr, secondary math specialist in the Iron County School District, asks teachers to focus on the standards when creating and analyzing benchmark assessments. "When all teachers are teaching to the same understanding for all students, there is a more equitable instruction happening. One teacher is not holding students to a different level than another," says Warr. Focusing on standards also reduces implicit bias by focusing on specific skills students should be able to do, rather than making judgement calls on what we believe students may know or should know.

    Create an Entry Point

    Researcher Jo Boaler says math activities with a “low floor, high ceiling” will benefit all students. The idea is to create opportunities for all students to get started with the task, but use a task that can relate to very high-level ideas. You can learn more about the low floor, high ceiling idea on the YouCubed website.

    Recently I used a shape task that starts with students making congruent squares from 24 shapes. Even kindergarten and first-grade students can begin to rearrange pieces to create squares, making this a low-floor task. Older students can identify the fractional part each piece constitutes, and even older students can relate the fractions to decimals. This task has a high ceiling.

    Carole Brown, math specialist in the Davis School District, says we create equity when planning lessons that give all students access to begin with. “When all students can contribute to the first part of the lesson, they are more likely to make connections…. Each student has something to work with,” says Brown.

    Vocabulary

    Academic vocabulary is necessary for all students, but when students are English language learners or have learning disabilities, vocabulary becomes a barrier to entry. According to research, children in high-poverty areas hear up to 30 million fewer words by the time they are 3 years old than affluent counterparts. Susan Dyer, special education teacher in Granite School District, says, “It is important for all students to connect math terms and concepts in order to be successful in math classes. However, for ELL and sped students, I believe this focus is critical.” Simple ways to combat vocabulary attrition include:

    • Pair images with vocabulary words
    • Preview unfamiliar vocabulary, even days ahead of time
    • Learn a few words at a time, instead of an endless list
    • Help students craft student-friendly definitions
    • Use graphic organizers, such as a vocabulary chart organizer

    Acknowledge and Honor Cultural Differences

    This past week I participated in a Courageous Conversations About Diversity and Race workshop from Pacific Educational Group in an effort by our district to become more equitable with regards to race. One of the key takeaways for me was the idea of honoring how others see the world. Instead of having everyone conform to the “one way” we hold class and conduct business, we open our experiences to how other cultures and races might do things differently.

    The example given was watching a movie in class with the expectation that it is a silent activity, while other races and cultures might experience film as a more social activity with discussion throughout. This simple change led to higher achievement and retention following learning from film in the classroom we studied. Simply understanding more about the various cultures in the classroom begins to open our minds to how we can be more equitable for all.

    Lead by Example

    Julie Warburton, a math teacher from Herriman, Utah, says, “Coaches help other teachers ensure equity by example; by showing that all students, even difficult ones, have something special.”  It doesn’t take a coach to inspire others to notice and plan for equity. All it takes is acknowledging that a system of being “fair” isn’t necessarily a system of being “equitable,” and further acknowledging we have long left some students behind because we haven’t adequately adjusted to meet their needs, and finally, making intentional changes that honor all learners, at all levels, regardless of their needs.

    To read more about equity in education from Scholastic, check out:

     

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