Educational equity has been one of the most critical topics in education for years. Remote learning has only increased the urgency with which schools are assessing how equitable and inclusive their methods are, and how they can ensure every student has equal opportunities to succeed.
In this key way, equity is different from equality: Equity doesn't treat all students the same; it adapts to provide students with the tools they specifically need to learn. As the World Health Organization puts it, social equity seeks to achieve "the absence of avoidable or remediable differences among groups of people."
Northwest Missouri State University's online Master of Science in Education in Curriculum and Instruction program recognizes equity and inclusion as a foundational approach to supporting all students. The degree program's curriculum prepares educational leaders to put equity front and center in their curriculum development process. They'll explore methods for ensuring these curriculum and instruction methods present all students with a chance for success. Here are just three of the approaches that can support equity and inclusion in the classroom:
- Share Diverse Content
Creating an equitable and inclusive classroom requires a flexible approach to curriculum and instruction. Specifically, an educator should present classroom content that is relevant and relatable to all students. This accounts for students' cultural backgrounds, language, family socioeconomic status and more. Educators should present a range of content formats and subjects that connect with different students' identities, experiences and background knowledge.
Understood, an online guide for individuals with learning and thinking differences, suggests educators involve their students in the learning process by asking them to direct their own lessons and learning. This could take the form of an inquiry-based approach in which students ask their own questions or investigate issues that are relevant to their communities. The goal is to draw connections between students' lives and the topics presented in the classroom.
- Encourage a Growth Mindset
Experts encourage educators who want to create an equitable learning environment to approach teaching (and learning) with a growth mindset. A growth mindset is defined in opposition to a deficit or fixed mindset and is characterized by the belief that learning is a process of continual effort and improvement. The intention of a growth mindset is to enable students to see that learning is a process; students are not just "good" or "bad" at subject.
A growth mindset is critical to educational equity because it encourages students to bounce back from mistakes or struggles, rather than interpreting them as failure. ACSD — an organization that empowers educators to achieve excellence in learning, teaching and leading — notes that a growth mindset empowers all students to rise to the challenges of a rigorous curriculum.
- Provide Equal Access to Instruction, Materials and Assistance
Because equity is not the same as equality, educators must remember that some students do not have the same access to learning tools that their peers may have. According to Waterford.org, an education nonprofit group, 60% of the most disadvantaged students live in low-income families or communities. This may give them less access to not just physical tools like books, laptops, calculators or high-speed internet, but also intangible resources like parental help with homework, a quiet place to study or enough nutritional food.
Identifying barriers students may face to learning can spur solutions-oriented discussions about how schools can remove those barriers. Educators may need to make additional efforts to ensure disadvantaged students are provided the same resources as other students in the classroom.
Culturally Responsive Teaching
Culturally responsive teaching is a framework that recognizes students' unique backgrounds as assets for learning. Learning is the process of making connections, and a student's life experience shapes what those connections are. But too often, educators overlook the perspectives that English language learners and students of color bring to the classroom, seeing them as deficits rather than assets.
Culturally responsive teaching reflects and draws on students' unique identities and communicates a belief in the value of those identities. It signals that students' lived experiences can be catalysts for learning, no matter what those experiences are.
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