As a teacher, how do you address the diverse needs of all students?
Equity in the classroom, or supporting the outcomes of students of all backgrounds and abilities, is essential to a productive learning environment.
However, promoting equity is complex. When teachers prioritize the needs of white students, boys/men, or the non-disabled, they create barriers for students of color, girls/women, and studies with disabilities. This presents yet another challenge for educators trying to help their students succeed.
So how do you create an equitable classroom where all students can thrive? Consider a Master of Arts in Teaching program, and check out these seven tips:
1. Reflect on your own beliefs
Before you can create a more equitable learning environment in the classroom, consider your own beliefs.
Teachers, like anyone else, may not be aware of the biases that exist in their training and upbringing. Data shows that girls receive less and lower-quality feedback than boys in class. Meanwhile, students of color report that they sometimes feel excluded from classroom interaction.
Even the most well-intentioned educators may have blindspots. White teachers may not understand the challenges of historically marginalized students due to a lack of preparation in their training. It’s also possible that they attribute lack of success to deficiencies that they associate with students of color.
Understanding your own positionality, or the circumstances that create your identity in terms of race, gender and ability, can help you become more conscious of issues related to racial equity and gender equity, and help you support students in your class.
2. Reduce race and gender barriers to learning
While it might not be obvious, you may be unintentionally excluding students of color and female students in your classroom. Here’s how you can avoid it:
Don’t ask students of color to be “experts” on their race
Asking students of color for their point of view is important in class discussions, but don’t assume that they are authorities on their race. Race is one part of their social identity. They may also feel pressure to discuss a topic that’s perceived to be related to their race, when in fact they don’t have an opinion.
Diversify your curriculum
To the extent that you can control your curriculum, expose students to a spectrum of multicultural and female experts, writers and artists. You’ll more accurately represent the different contributors to your class’ subject, and potentially establish a cultural connection for your students.
Hold every student to high expectations
Students of color report being held to lower expectations than white students. Meanwhile female students hear more comments about their appearance than their academic skills.
By setting a high bar for achievement for all students, you encourage them to engage with your class, and avoid any stereotypes of what they’re capable of accomplishing.
Avoid assumptions about students’ backgrounds
It may be tempting to assume that your students share similar life experiences. However, this can be problematic since everyone’s circumstances are different. In particular, schools with large student populations may represent a greater variety of racial and economic backgrounds, as well as students with undefined gender identities.
3. Establish an inclusive environment early
Clarify early in the term (perhaps in your first class) that you want to create an inclusive space for students. Discussions should represent a variety of views, and students should feel comfortable expressing themselves.
It’s also important to let them know that name-calling, personal attacks, and hostile interactions won’t be tolerated. If students disagree, they must respond to each other with respect. Indeed, mutual respect yields more open and productive conversations.
By establishing rules early in the course, students should understand their role in creating an inclusive classroom.
4. Be dynamic with classroom space
You can foster inclusion in the classroom through how you engage your students, starting with your use of space.
Class formation can send signals about authority and equitable engagement. Do you always stand in front of the classroom to address rows of students? Consider classroom set-ups that emphasize interaction, such as group seating. Also, consider where you position yourself. Moving among students may de-emphasize the teacher-student hierarchy, and stimulate more discussion.
Similarly, try varying your activities. Whether it’s group, paired or individual work, when you arrange students in different formations, you may increase their engagement with each other, and the class material.
5. Accommodate learning styles and disabilities
Learning styles vary from student to student, differ between males and females, and vary for people with disabilities. To create equity in the classroom for everyone, here are a few methods to try:
- Variance - Present the same information in different ways for visual, aural and verbal learners
- Use a variety of media (e.g., audiobooks, movies)
- Include transcripts for multimedia materials
- Provide supplemental materials to the lesson plan (e.g., glossaries, illustrations)
- Make technology accessible (e.g., give students the ability to increase text size or adjust brightness)
- For presentations, use dyslexia-friendly fonts
- Read test instructions aloud, even if they appear in print
6. Be mindful of how you use technology
Many teachers use technology as an integral part of the classroom. While it can be a useful way to engage students and appeal to a variety of learning styles, consider its impact on those with physical disabilities.
Screen readers can assist students by opening resources, but other digital tools may actually hinder their ability to perform actions such as clicking, dragging and dropping that are not compliant with accessibility standards.
Review Web Content Accessibility Guidelines to ensure that your technology tools are in compliance, and are accessible to physically disabled students.
7. Be aware of religious holidays
When planning your course, remember to account for religious holidays and observances. Students may need to miss class on certain days and make up assignments, quizzes or exams.
At the beginning of the term, it’s a good idea to announce that you have tried to avoid conflicts with major religious holidays when planning the course. However, if students have a conflict, they should let you know as soon as possible.
USC Rossier resources
For more information on improving equity in the classroom, visit our Tools for Inclusive Teaching page.
Ready to elevate your teaching career? Check out our Master of Arts in Teaching program.
If you’re a teacher who wants to advance your career in education, see the Leading Instructional Change concentration of our Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership (EDL) program.
Want to connect with someone about your options?