That’s, like, soooo unfair!
Artifact: Equality versus Equity Picture
Standards of Practice
- Standard A: Commitment to Students & Learning
- Standard B: Professional Knowledge & Learning
- Standard C: Professional Practice
- Standard D: Leadership in Learning Communities
- Standard E: Ongoing Professional Learning
- Theme 1: Secondary School Program
- Theme 2: Law & Ethics
- Theme 3: Special Education
- Theme 4: Class Management and Effective Learning Environments
- Theme 5: Assessment & Evaluation
- Theme 6: Equity, Diversity & Social Justice
Competency Number: 2 – Teachers are dedicated in their efforts to teach and support pupil learning and achievement
It has taken me quite a lot of time and reflection to finally understand there is a significant difference between things being fair, equal and equitable. The terms are often used interchangeably so I feel confident that I was not alone in this confusion. Before beginning teacher’s college, I believed that to be fair everything must be exactly the same for all students, otherwise some may find themselves at an advantage over others. It was only recently that I realized how wrong that thinking was.
During my practicum, I was teaching a grade 9 open class whereby I had to create assignments and quizzes that would assess the learning of students with vast differences in abilities and interest in schooling. This particular class had 21 boys, many of whom had Individual Education Plans, and 6 girls that were generally intimidated by the amount of testosterone in the room. For the first time in my teaching career, I was challenged to come up with assessment tools and strategies that were “fair” to all and that would allow all of my students to succeed despite their differences in capabilities. The Ontario College of Teachers Foundation of Professional Practices, states that “teachers are dedicated in their efforts to teach and support pupil learning and achievement.” Therefore, my challenge was to devise fun and engaging lessons that stimulated all learners in the class. By committing to students and their individual learning needs, I was able to address the program themes dealing with the equity, diversity and social justice challenge that I faced in my classroom.
My artifact is a striking image that really helped me to focus and understand the true difference between making things equal for all students, rather than making learning opportunities equitable. This picture helped me to deal with student complaints about assignments being “unfair.”
Initially when I went to my practicum school for orientation, I was told “Don’t worry, we wouldn’t make you teach that class” as they were unruly and their needs were so diverse. However, when I returned for the first day of practicum, we decided that due to logistics it would be better for me to teach that class. A bit nervous, but ready for the challenge, my first step was to get to know the individual needs of each of the students. I took it upon myself to get to know the students’ names quickly and to get to know their personal motivators and interests. I was asked to plan a unit teaching Microsoft Publisher and my challenge became, how do I get students that are completely uninterested in school to be as motivated as students that are keen to do well?
As I started to plan the unit, I realized that if I had students recreate flyers and brochures, as had been done in the past, I would surely lose their attention and desire to learn. How could I engage them in learning when they had no interest in learning for fear of looking nerdy or uncool? Instead of following the previously used model, I decided to have students create their own business and informed them that it could be any business they liked as long as it was school appropriate. With their business in mind, they would then create a business card, opening day flyer and informative brochure. For the first time, I noticed that the students that typically were on their phones, disruptive and disengaged, were paying attention and really making an effort to make their work look unique and stand out. Since they got to choose a business related to something in which they were personally interested, they worked hard and miraculously the discipline issues in class began to dissipate.
Since I had some students that were not able to process information and complete work at the same speed as others, I had minimum and maximum requirements for the various submissions. For example, the brochure could have a minimum of 3 panels and a maximum of 6. The students that were quick to finish or highly motivated inevitably went on to make 6 panels, while the rest decided to stick with 3 or 4. I was asked, “will we get higher marks if we make 6?” That’s a good question I (surprisingly) hadn’t anticipated; should I be rewarding students that produce more work? This is where the image above struck me. No, you would not get extra marks for doing more panels, it was a choice that the students would have to make. How was it fair that someone that did half the work of another student got similar grades? It was a challenging concept to explain to the overachievers, however I made it clear that some people need more time and that it would be in fact unfair to mark everyone based on the exact same criteria. Accommodations are made to level the playing field, not to advantage those that are already high functioning. Instead of singling out students that were lower functioning, I simply made the rules apply to all.
In order to allow students to truly succeed with this assignment, I had them hand in all of their work in stages and gave them a lot of formative feedback. All students were then allowed the opportunity to implement the feedback before receiving their final summative grade. One student said, “But that’s not fair, then everyone will get a good grade.” Well that was precisely the point. To be truly equitable, I decided that students should be allowed to make mistakes and have the opportunity to fix them before being judged on the final product. That is where true learning happens. Furthermore, it was the most equitable method I could think of to help students succeed. Those that needed extra help and time at lunch to implement the feedback received it, and those who on the right track didn’t need to take advantage of the extra time. The confirmation that this was the right way to approach things came when I had a student say, “Mrs. E, this is the highest mark I have ever gotten.” He was so proud of himself, not only because of his mark but because I had asked him for a copy of his work for future use. It reinforced for me that I need to reach out to all students and their diverse needs in order to give them all an equal opportunity to succeed.
My challenge moving forward will be to always find ways to engage students regardless of their academic capabilities. Instead of creating individual accommodations for students, I can implement the mandatory requirements of their Individual Education Plans and find a way to do the same for all students. I plan to read Differentiation In Practice: A Resource Guide For Differentiating Curriculum, Grades 9-12 by Tomlinson and Strickland in order to better understand ways to differentiate instruction in order to create equitable classes that address diversity and social injustice. This resource will be useful for me as a new teacher to familiarize myself with teaching strategies that will help keep all students motivated and to create assignments and activities that allow for everyone to have the opportunity to succeed.
I also intend to consult with other more seasoned teachers, in order to get their input and share ideas regarding their methods of creating equitable learning environments for all students. I think other teachers are some of the best resources that we as new teachers should tap into. Teaching will be a constant process of reflecting and learning, therefore it will be my personal goal to make time to constantly adjust and improve my units to ensure the success of all students with the help of other teachers and further readings.