3 Practices to Promote Equity in the Classroom

Showing Students the Power of Words
boy, book, reading @ Pixabay

equity cards in the classroom

I recently had the opportunity to watch a history class in which students presented history projects to rows and rows of attentive classmates. Even though the projects were beautifully planned, I was unable to concentrate on the content of the projects since only the teacher kept asking questions and continuing to call only on female students to give presentations.

Ten minutes later, I walked into a different classroom entirely. Students were presenting their group work to one another as they rotated across the classroom. His teacher had advised his pupils to “try to understand” the topic by participating in discussions. Every person’s voice filled the room.

These two encounters prompted a long-standing question: How can we make our classroom more egalitarian for all students? This is a topic that might fill a whole book. Here are three easy strategies to encourage more student participation in your classroom.

Practice 1: Use equity sticks

Equity sticks can be a powerful and inexpensive way to test your biases at work. You can simply buy a pack of popsicle sticks or index cards or bookmarks and use a Sharpie pen to write the name of one student on each stick. Then, toss them all in a cup or container next to another empty cup to hold the “used” sticks. Every time you lead a class discussion, grab an equity stick and ask the student to share. After they’ve participated, you can toss the stick into the other cup and continue doing so until the class is complete.

Photo credit to Shane Safir

Equity sticks help students stay on their toes, alert, and ready to contribute. This practice fosters participation and attention when used regularly. Stick Pick is an app that accomplishes the same goal.

Practice 2: Track Participation Data

It is also very powerful to collect data about student participation. Create a simple equity tracker with student names

on the left, and a column for each week on the right. Keep it on a clipboard, and as you call on students or anyone to speak, make a note of each tick mark. Add up all of your points for the week and then analyze the data.

Is there a clear leader among the participants?
That is the person who participates the least?
What are the trends of engagement that I’m noticing in terms of ethnicity, gender, and language of origin, for example? Do you have the ability to learn? What is the location of the room??

This information can be utilized to set a participation target for the following week based on the results. “My aim for next week is to welcome children with special needs to my classroom to share at least once per day,” for example.

Practice 3: Experiment with different discussion structures.

The most effective strategy to boost students’ voices is to enhance the number and variety of discussion formats available. A well-designed discussion shifts the speaking ratio and cognitive weight from you to your students, allowing them to participate more actively. There are numerous approaches to organizing student discussion. Here are a few tried and true suggestions.

Think-pair-share: Each student discreetly considers (and, if possible, also reads or writes) a prompt before sharing their thoughts with their partner. After that, the students form groups to discuss their ideas.

Quote Mixer is a tool that allows you to mix and match quotes from various sources.

Each pupil is given a quotation or some other sort of literature to read (this could include an image or graph). Students are invited to circulate the room and form groups of two. After that, they exchange cards and share their responses.

Talking Pennies is a group discussion format in which students have presented a question or collection of questions to discuss in groups of three to five. The same number of pennies is distributed to each pupil. To be able to talk, each participant must first place a penny in the center of each table before proceeding. Before speaking again, a student must wait until all of the other pupils have used their pennies before speaking again.

Although developing an egalitarian classroom can appear to be a daunting task, I find it helpful to consider tiny measures that can make a significant difference in students’ ability to express themselves.