Equity in the Classroom

Equity in the classroom can be defined as emphasizing what students need in the classroom. In other words, this refers to the principle that all students are offered equal educational opportunities that encompasses all students individual learning styles. Earlier this week, I was tasked with the assignment to dissect the case study at Southwest High School and whether or not equity is being attained. With that being said, at Southwest High School students who do not pass math in 8th grade must start by taking Pre-Algebra. This course uses curriculum that is mostly computational review in order to prepare students for the rigorous Algebra course. Students must score an 80% on the skill assessment in order to enter the Algebra course.

After doing some research, it is evident to me that an equity issue is present in this case study. First and foremost, whether or not the math in 8th grade was taught in a way that encompasses individual learning styles and highlights areas in which the students need improvement. The method implemented at Southwest High School set their students up to fail before they even have a chance to succeed. The equity issue presented in Southwest High School is evident in the schools description of the Pre-Algebra class: “This course uses curriculum that is mostly computational review in order to prepare students for the rigorous Algebra course”. This description is insensitive to students who struggle with 8th grade math. Set aside from students finding difficulty in the material, the description makes it seem as if the students are expected to find the computational review easy. In addition, students that find 8th grade math and the computational review difficult, may be inflicted with anxiety and become disheartened when the description highlights the following Algebra course will be rigorous. Consequently, it almost sounds as if the students are expected to find the course difficult before they have even taken it. It is important that students are aware of the benchmark that needs to be met in order to continue with their education, but when Southwest High School states that the students need to meet the requirement of 80% in order to advance onto the Algebra course might create unnecessary pressure before they have even taken the test.

Southwest High Schools lack of equity reminds me of a time when I was in high school and my Algebra teacher didn’t enact equity in the classroom and personally hindered my advancement in math. Prior to that class, math is a subject that I have always found interesting but found myself struggling to understand the material immediately. Nevertheless, I was still getting good grades but had to put in the extra work. With that being said, I was always asking my teacher questions to improve my understanding. Consequently, one day during worktime my teacher asked me to meet her outside of the classroom. It was to my surprise that she suggested that I go into a different math class for students’ who struggle with math called ‘Math Star’ because I asked ‘too much questions’ and she ‘didn’t know how to answer my questions’. Reflecting on that experience, I know that her heart was in the right place, but it doesn’t take away the emotions that I was inflicted with at that moment in time. Set aside from the fact that I felt like a burden, this experience created a new found distrust in my teachers going forward. As a result, instead of asking questions when I was confused, I elected to stay quiet and try and figure it out myself. Consequently, my grade started to drop.

As a future educator, I know that I will be faced with different challenges similar to this experience; however, one thing that I will always strive for is being there for all my students and creating an equitable environment that promotes questions and learning at a comfortable level. With that being said, I decided to research strategies that endorses equity in the classroom. This led me to the article on edutopia by Shane Safir, 6 Steps Towards Equity, this article
is a very helpful tool and sheds light to the fact that equity is hard to embrace in the
classroom; however, it can be achieved in time through time. The points that I
will be highlighting are methods I will conduct in my future classroom.

1.     Know Every Student – The more a teacher knows about their students, the more they can build trust and differentiate instruction in a way that is tailored to individual strengths and struggles. Hence, promoting trust and comfortableness.

2.     Become a warm demander – Teachers need to convince students of their potential and brilliance. With that being said, I will carry out this in my classroom by holding students to high expectations. This will instill confidence in students and their capability.

3.     Practice lean-in assessment – No standardized test will provide teachers with quality data on students understanding of the material. Lean- in assessment will help diagnose students’ learning needs. With that being said, I will implement this in the classroom by carrying a clipboard around while students are working, and take careful notes on what I observe. Additionally, students should be assessed by the teachers in whether or not the teacher thinks the student is capable and ready to move onto the next subject. Standardized and benchmark testing can be overwhelming and set students up to fail before they have even taken the test. For example, students may be so stressed out during the test that their thinking and logic may be hindered, when in actuality they are intelligent on the subject.

4.     Flex your routines – More often than not, curveballs can happen. Teachers need to be willing to set aside well-laid plans in individualize instruction. I will enact this in my classroom by never allowing my students to see my discomfort in the classroom. My confidence in the situation will ultimately rub off onto my students.

5.     Make it safe to fail – In an equitable classroom, there is no need to struggle and failure. In actuality, struggle and failure should be normalized in the classroom and even celebrated at times. This will promoted in my future classroom by having my students meet in groups once a week and share something they struggled with and what they learned in the process. This strategy can help students understand and discover the subject in a new sense.

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“This is Easy”: How Simple Language Can Discourage Students

During our class discussion this week about equity and access, I was particularly interested in the idea of setting specified group norms for the classroom. In looking more into creating norms in the classroom, I found an article from NCTM’s journal Teaching Children Mathematics titled “‘This is easy’: The little phrase that causes big problems.” This article discusses how the comment “this is easy” from a student in the classroom immediately discourages other students who may have been struggling with the problem. To combat this, the teacher and students discussed what the students meant when they said the phrase. The two most common reasons were that students either saw the problem as something familiar they had already encountered or that they had an idea of how to solve the problem. The teacher encouraged students to use more precise language to explain more about how they viewed the problems. After this change, students began to see how everyone has varying abilities and that different tasks may be more difficult for other people. Students also began to acknowledge how saying the phrase “this is easy” affected others and began to encourage other students who were struggling.

While the situation described in the article takes place in a second-grade classroom, these ideas can still be applied to secondary classrooms. As we discussed in class, it is important for students of all ages to all have an opportunity to attempt a problem. Similar to the “no hands, just minds” technique, ridding classrooms of the phrase “this is easy” creates an environment where students don’t feel as much pressure from their other classmates or that they can just sit back and rely on the “smart” students to get the answer first. I believe that this idea would work well paired with collaborative learning. After a discussion with students about how easiness is relative for everyone, they will be more likely to help other students in their group who are struggling with the problem.  

I was surprised by this article and the ideas that were discussed. It seems like such a simple and obvious idea, but it had never occurred to me how damaging this phrase can be. In my mind, when math students are claiming that something is easy, it is most likely because they’re excited to understand a new concept or problem and they don’t necessarily intend the phrase to be harmful. Regardless, it is important to discuss with students how the language they use can discourage other students. Additionally, it’s important that teachers be aware of what they deem “easy” in front of their students. When I first began tutoring, I found myself saying “Oh! This is easy” to students when they asked a question, when instead, what I really meant was “I understand why you’re stuck” or “I understand what the question is asking and know how to help you.” Now looking back, I see how that was disheartening to the students I was helping. From now on, I’ll focus on getting both myself and students to use more specific language to express what their opinions are on approaching a problem.

Link to the article referenced:

https://www.nctm.org/Publications/Teaching-Children-Mathematics/Blog/%E2%80%9CThis-is-easy%E2%80%9D_-The-little-phrase-that-causes-big-problems/

Relationship Equity in the Classroom

Throughout middle school and high school, students go through highs and lows with their peer and teacher relationships. Overall their self esteem is low, so creating a

welcoming and positive classroom can go a long way. As teachers, we need to help everyone feel welcomed and willing to participate. We need to help all of our students feel open to talking with the other members of the class and in front of the class. This openness comes from a caring classroom setting. Teachers that show that they care about each one of their students help everyone feel like a part of the class community.

One of the biggest ways to create relationship equity with all of your students according to Seven Strategies for Building Positive Classroom is a positive attitude. It is one of the hardest things to keep throughout the entire school year, but it is the most important. As teachers, we constantly need to be adapting to situations. In the classroom, we should be able to spin anything into a positive scenario. Whether it is correcting someone who got an answer wrong or praising someone who got one right, working with a welcoming, happy attitude gives students a community in which they feel understood.

The most difficult part of positivity is being fair with it. It is hard to give all students the same amount of positivity because they are all different. Similarly, it is hard to have relationship equity with so many different students because each student has a different view of their relationships.

As we go into the teaching world, there is a lot more we have to do then just smile at the students. I think an important part of creating positive peer/teacher relationships is talking about life together. I know that I plan to learn a lot about my students by asking them questions. I want to meet with my students, individually, once a month to discuss how they are doing both in class and out of class. It is important for teachers to be able to teach, obviously, but if we put no effort into being someone the students feel comfortable talking with, we failed.

Another big part into creating a positive classroom is to help create positive peer relationships. The students need to feel welcomed, heard, and understood by their classmates. As teachers, we need to help facilitate these relationships. One big way is through collaborative work. In math classes, group work is very important to helping create positive relationships. It helps the quieter students be heard and allows the advanced students and the struggling  students work together. The more ways in which we help the students work together, the more our students feel welcomed in our classroom.

Overall, relationship equity is a big thing we need to learn about to be successful teachers. It comes in a couple different ways. The two biggest ways are through a positive attitude and through collaborative work with peers. As teachers we need to facilitate and create positive relationships in the classroom.

The Power Behind High Expectations

While discussing the question of “What can I do to help make math accessible to all students?,” there were many answers that were good. However, the one that stuck out to me the most was having clear, high expectations for each student. Personally, this was my main support throughout high school and even college. There was always someone pushing me to do my best and even aim for a little above that. I was fortunate to have my parents and sister as part of these people, however, I know that not all students are able to have this kind of support. As a teacher and role model, it is important to show your students you care about them and their success, not only in school but in life as a whole. From a previous course, I heard about a man named Daniel Kish.

Since then, I have done further research on this man and his interesting life. I have watched a ted talk, listened to podcasts, and read many articles. Daniel Kish was a man born with ‘retinal cancer.’ Throughout his childhood, Daniel was not given special treatment by his mother, family, teachers, or peers. This was not done out of hostility, but instead on purpose. In doing this, he was forced to learn how to adapt to his surroundings with the abilities he does have. He began to use sound to “see” his surroundings; this is known as echolocation. Kish would make a clicking noise with his tongue and listen for the sound waves to bounce back to him, making him aware of the surrounding space. Had he been given special treatment such as a personal assistant or a wheelchair that wouldn’t allow him to run into anything, Daniel would not have acquired the skills he has today.

This situation can be compared to many common cases we will face as teachers such as students of another race, financial status, or popularity level. No matter the background of the students, they should all be given high expectations that they are able to rise and work towards. I know that if I had not been given such high expectations to strive for, I would have fallen short of my capability. In order to execute this in your classroom, here are some common rules to keep in your mind:

  1. Avoid labeling your students, even if it is just categorizing them in your head.
  2. Learn about their career path goal and discuss it as though they will make it happen. Avoid using “if” statements.
  3. Hold them to expectations and discuss with them what happened if they fall short and how they might fix it next time.

Along with these three things to keep in mind, I think the most important thing for a teacher to do is truly believe that ALL students are capable of learning and succeeding with your highest expectations for them.

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Increasing Student Participation

Student discussion and input can greatly impact learning in a positive way. The issue is that there are always students who are more vocal and have higher status. A few student will throw their hand up every time a question is asked to the class. Meanwhile, there are students who are constantly concerned that their question or answer is wrong. A major question we have to answer is: How do we get all our students to provide their input?

The article I read, “Increasing Student Participation” from The Teaching Center, which is part of the University of Washington in St. Louis. The article gave several ideas, but the ones I found noteworthy, along with some of my own ideas, are the following:

  • Set up ideal physical setup for discussion
  • Set expectations
  • Establish environment of caring and respect
  • Have class schedule set up for time for discussion
  • Respond positively to student ideas

Set Up Ideal Physical Set-Up

According to the article, there are many things that a teacher can do for the class to prepare them to participate in discussions. One thing is just the way the classroom is set up. The article suggests creating a U shape with the desks, which helps, since the students are facing each other and not just the teacher.

Set Expectations

Also, set expectations for how much each student should participate. If the intent is to have every student contribute, let them know that every one of them has to contribute. One option is to have participation be part of the grade, but if we do our job as educators, getting students to contribute to a discussion should not have to be something that we have to force them to do, but eventually something that they will do on their own with our support.

Establish Environment of Caring and Respect

One idea that the article did not address but I’d like to is establishing an environment of respect and caring. If we as teachers make it clear that every student’s input is valued, no matter their status in the class, then students will respect what other students are saying and not degrade them for it. As a result, students will not be afraid to speak their minds as much as they would otherwise.

Have Class Schedule Set Up for Time for Discussion

One way to promote discussion in a classroom is by allowing plenty of time for it in the proper way. If a teacher only asks for questions and students’ thoughts at the end of a lecture, they may not remember what they thought throughout the lecture. On the other hand, if a teacher stops after every fifteen minutes of a lesson and asks a question to the students and asks for their questions and comments, the students may better remember what they just learned. Also, asking a question and taking responses immediately is not always the most effective way for students to formulate ideas and give a response. Giving students 10-15 seconds to think allows everyone to come up with an idea before anyone else responds. Mixing up discussion methods can make it so every student can give a response. Moving from partner groups to small groups to large groups to a whole class discussion can make it so every student feels comfortable sharing at some level.

Respond Positively to Student Ideas

For students that lack confidence, pointing out their good ideas is very important. Even if their answer is not totally correct, pointing out what is correct or paraphrasing so it is correct can give them a confidence boost and think of their response as valuable. As stated in the last section, having students submit responses online or in some other private way and responding positively to that will give them the confidence to participate more in partner groups, where positive feedback will give them the confidence to participate in small groups, and so on.

The article “Increasing Student Participation” gave some intriguing ideas for how to get more students involved in discussions. I think that this is a very important subject to bring up, because all through my education, there were always people who would contribute every day and people that wouldn’t contribute at all. Sharing ideas can be a great learning experience for everyone. Hopefully we can use these ideas to have all our students contribute in meaningful ways.

http://teachingcenter.wustl.edu/resources/teaching-methods/participation/increasing-student-participation/

Equity in Education: The Relationship Between Race, Class, and Gender in Mathematics for Diverse Learners

Equity in Education

Reading about a particular case study for class caught my interest. It was the case study in which a particular school was placing the majority of non-white students in below grade level courses, while just over one-tenth of white students were placed in these same classes. I was curious to learn what could possibly make such a disparity occur. I found the article “Equity in Education: The Relationship Between Race, Class, and Gender in Mathematics for Diverse Learners,” which was written Debra Rohn from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte for The Urban Education Collaborative. The article addresses how race, class, and gender affect learning outcomes and gives some theories on how to fix it.

The first topic discussed is “race and mathematics.” There is huge differences in average test scores between African Americans and Whites and Hispanic Americans and Whites, to put it plainly. This could be the result of direct discrimination, such as placing students of other cultures in classes below grade level just because the teachers do not expect them to do well based on their race. The article seems to suggest, though, that the more likely scenario is the expectations put on minorities by society as a whole. They are likely not expected to do well, and they realize this. The article suggests that many of them probably give up on their math abilities, since mathematics is widely viewed as a “White subject” in America. The article makes the claim that even when African Americans succeed in mathematics, some would describe themselves as “acting White.” Now, at first, this may seem to be more about equality than equity, but the solution that I gathered from the article is to give extra psychological help, of sorts, to children that are minorities. In an equitable classroom environment, students would be taught that a student’s race does not take them out of the running for a career in mathematics. One major issue is that the students are believing that they cannot pursue success in mathematics simply because of their race, and in an equitable classroom, they would be taught to think otherwise.

The second topic of discussion is “class and mathematics.” This has less to do with the idea that someone is behind someone else and more to do with the idea that students from lower socioeconomic status are set behind. When a child is raised by a single mother who may not have even graduated from high school, that mother is probably going to work long hours, which leads to her not being able to be with her children as much as parents from higher socioeconomic status. This leads to less development for the children of the lower socioeconomic status family, since they had less chance to communicate and do learning activities such as reading. This does put them behind from the beginning. A solution to this is for teachers to quickly realize this, and, rather than put them on a lower track for the whole education career, give them added supports and multiple modalities to work with.

The third topic was “gender and mathematics,” which focused on how many people think that men are naturally better at mathematics. There have been studies that show that this is not the case. As with race, the differences in test scores most likely comes from them thinking that they are less able to do mathematics, so they give up on being as successful as they could be. Also similarly to race, the solution is to eliminate these ideas in our classrooms, so that everyone gets a clean slate and can pursue whatever career choice they would like.

My view of this is that the solutions to all of these are to either reinforce positive thinking so that everyone believes that they can learn mathematics or help those that are behind so they can catch up to everyone else. Of course, one shouldn’t assume that a person that is African American or a woman isn’t at a disadvantage, because they could be someone who has a difficult past. Even if a classroom was all white males, we as teachers should know what past they come from, so we can potentially help them come out of it with hope of a better future. I can use this information to help my students overcome racism and sexism to pursue their dreams. I can use this information to help students who come from difficult beginnings get to a place where they can learn more information easily. The point is, teachers should learn as much about their students as possible, and cater to that. That is the point of equity. That is how it can be used with race, class, and gender.

Promoting Equity in Mathematics

From the little bit that we talked about equity in class, I realized that I did not know exactly what this word meant or how it applied in schools. I thought that equity was creating same lessons and teachings and giving all students the same opportunity; however, after reading Carly’s blog, I understood that it is way more than that, so I set out to find an article to better inform me about what equity was and how to promote it in our classrooms. The article I found was

Promoting Equity in Mathematics: One Teacher’s Journey

Alan Tennison
        The first thing in this article that stood out to me was the definition of educational equity as “the concept that all students, regardless of their personal characteristics, backgrounds, or physical challenges, must have opportunities to learn mathematics. Equity does not mean that every student should receive identical instruction” (page 28).  It was nice to see a definition laid out for me so that I could actually learn what equity is.
        One huge problem that schools have today is that they place students into classrooms based on how the teachers perceive their abilities. This is hard because there is no right or wrong way to do it and students get placed into the wrong groups because they are not test takers or they are very quiet or other outside factors that do not deal with their intelligence level. Then these students are in these “low-track classrooms” where the curriculum is easier, the teachers are less experienced and the other students in the classroom are less-engaged. This creates a great divide among students in the low-track and the high-track and the low-track students have little to no hope of ever catching up with the high-track students.
        The overwhelming issue that this article talked about was that once students are tracked into lower achieving classes, the expectations go way down and the material seems useless to the students. Personally, it makes sense. If I was a student that the school deemed “low-achieving” and I was put into a math class where I had to re-learn the material that I did not master well enough the prior years, it would be a lot easier to give up and not try as hard.
        The author then discusses how he tried to change this by ending tracking in his school and making it so that all students had the same expectations. The result of this was that the students attitudes changed and they cared more about mathematics. He began to use problem-based learning that incorporated many different math concepts and students could now make connections as to when they would ever use the topics in real life. The percent of students enrolled in a math course their fourth year increased from 10% to 60% and the average math ACT increased from 16.9 to 19.9. As we are all math people, we know that numbers do not lie.
        In my opinion, I think it is important to create classrooms with students all along the spectrum in terms of “perceived mathematics ability” as every student has something to learn form one another. Pairing a student who completely gets a topic with a student that is lost helps them both. The confident student explains the topic to the other and this helps him/her understand their thinking and helps him/her remember how to do the problem. The student that does not understand gets the information explained from someone who has also just learned the material, so they are able to better explain the material student to student.