By Teachers, For Teachers
Many teachers focus a great deal of their time and energy into classroom management. They focus their time on how students should be behaving and what students should be doing. While this is an important component into having an efficient and effective classroom, using teaching strategies that create a learning environment that promotes equality is just as important. Equality is about all students getting a fair and equal education. It is where all students pose ideas, share ideas, and are explicitly welcomed to participate. When educators use teaching strategies to structure their learning environment to welcome and promote student engagement and equality, we can rest assured that students are learning. Here are five specific teaching strategies that promote equality in the classroom. These strategies will help you cultivate a classroom where all students are welcomed to participate equally.
A simple way to ensure that all students are getting an equal chance to participate is to use the cooperative learning strategy Think-Pair-Share. This approach gives all students the opportunity to have an equal chance at participating (even if they don’t want to). This strategy involves having students write their ideas down about a specific topic, pair up with a partner or a neighbor in class and discuss and compare their thoughts, then share their thoughts with the whole class.
Creating a classroom environment that promotes equality means trying out new strategies that require all students to participate, even the ones who do not like to share or speak up. If it was left up to the students to determine who would share and who would not, the naturally extroverted students would surely take over while the introverted students would happily sit quietly. By assigning a student reporter when in small groups, you are providing access to participation for all students, regardless if they like to speak up or not.
This strategy is simple: Randomly call upon a student when doing group work to share their ideas or thoughts for their group. You can do this by using colored coded chips or sticks, a visual characteristic of a person like their hair color or eye color, or even by something like who has the closest birthday. This strategy is easy and tends to get the more introverted students a chance to equally share their thoughts.
Many educators monitor student participation by how many times a student raises their hand or how often they ask questions in class. However, to structure your classroom in a way that encourages equality and participation, you must do a few things. First, when you notice that the same students are always raising their hands, say, “Thank you for your participation, however I would like to hear from some other students in class.” Second, give students a moment to share their thoughts with their neighbor. Sometimes all a shy student needs is the validation of a peer to feel comfortable enough to share their thoughts with the whole class. Last, it is up to you, the educator, to show your students that you demand that all students participate equally.
In order to engage all students equally, you must vary your learning strategies. This means that you must incorporate active strategies that will reach all learners. In order to do this, you must know how your students learn best. Some may prefer to talk with their peers, while others may prefer another way to communicate. The best way to reach all learners and teach equitably is to make sure that individual learners receive different approaches to learning.
Perhaps the most powerful teaching strategy in building an equitable learning environment is to establish a set of classroom norms. This means promoting acceptable behaviors like, “Everyone’s ideas are important,” and “All ideas must be treated respectfully.” Most importantly, students will see if the teacher reinforces these norms so it is essential that the teacher is comfortable with enforcing all such norms of equality.
Teachers have the power to implement and cultivate a classroom of equality: A classroom that is free to share its values and opinions openly and honestly without feeling ridiculed or judged from its peers. The five teaching strategies above are just the tip of the iceberg for fostering a classroom of equality. There are literally hundreds of ways that you can set up your classroom to promote student engagement and participation. What you do and how you do it is ultimately up to you.
Do you have any thoughts or ideas on how to cultivate an equal learning environment? Please share your thoughts and expertise in the comment section below, we would love to hear what you have to say.
Janelle Cox is an education writer who uses her experience and knowledge to provide creative and original writing in the field of education. Janelle holds a Master's of Science in Education from the State University of New York College at Buffalo. She is also the Elementary Education Expert for About.com, as well as a contributing writer to TeachHUB.com and TeachHUB Magazine. You can follow her at Twitter @Empoweringk6ed, or on Facebook at Empowering K6 Educators.