For a very long time, we have known that an inequitable environment exists for many learners across the world. It’s no one’s fault per se but a reality, nonetheless. Even with this knowledge in hand, change has been hard to come by. Now many might blame a lack of movement in this area on insufficient resources and differences in income levels of families. While these certainly add to the issue, it is important to focus less and the “yeah buts” that morph into excuses and more on the “what ifs” that represent viable solutions to overcome at least part of the problem.
From a school standpoint, the key to equity is the learning experience that is created for students. Within the walls of a classroom, this is the one thing where there is a certain amount of control. It begins by taking a critical lens to instructional design. If all kids are doing the same thing the same way at the same time, that results in an inequitable experience. While it might seem fair and equal if every student is blanketed with the same direct instruction or have access to a device, it should not be assumed that there is an inherent benefit. There is a great deal of research and evidence out there that tells us people learn differently, and eventually, success relies on a vast spectrum of strategies. Think about your own learning and what you need.
A move to a more personalized approach can begin to pave the way for a more equitable classroom and school culture. It relies on the premise that all kids get what they need, when and where they need it, in order to develop into competent learners. Now, this is not to say that direct instruction and devices don’t have a place in the process. They most certainly do, but they only represent some of many interconnected components that a teacher uses to create an experience grounded in relevant application, appropriate challenge, purposeful use of technology, and targeted support. In addition to these, the most significant advantage of personalization in terms of equity is addressing individual strengths and needs during the school day. It’s about controlling what can be controlled.
There is no one right way to personalize. However, high agency elements such as voice, choice, path, pace, and place can be used to create an equitable learning experience. Don’t overthink things. It could simply consist of concerted efforts to get all students involved during a review of prior learning, checks for understanding, or closure. Another possibility is allowing kids choice when it comes to demonstrating learning or selecting the right tool for completing a task. When looking at larger-scale efforts, virtual courses, academies, and smaller learning communities (SLC’s) can be established that has the potential to incorporate all five high agency elements,
Blended learning represents the most appropriate way to ensure equity through personalization. In Chapter 5 of Disruptive Thinking in Our Classrooms, I provide numerous strategies and classroom examples in alignment with the following models:
- Station rotation: After a short period of direct instruction, the teacher has students move through various activities where they are grouped by data. These stations can consist of targeted instruction, independent work, collaborative tasks, and adaptive learning tools. There is frequent re-grouping based on student progress over the year.
- Choice boards (and other activities): Following a short mini-lesson, students are given an array of scaffolded options where they select only a certain number to complete. One of the most common options is modeled after Tic-Tac-Toe. While the class works, the teacher pulls students based on data for 1:1 support. Differentiation can occur by making available different versions based on ability, which is derived from data.
- Playlists – A short period of instruction sets up a variety of tasks that a teacher curates into a playlist. Unlike a choice board, students must complete all of them in the order that they wish. Differentiation can occur by making slight alterations and providing kids the best version aligned with where they are currently.
- Flipped lessons – With this approach, the teacher provides a short video lesson that addresses the main concepts that are to be learned, which the student completes at his or her pace outside of class. Content, modeling, checks for understanding, practice (guided and independent), and closure are included. During class, the teacher differentiates to meet their respective needs.
In each of the above models (except flipped lessons), a timer is displayed for pacing and transitions. Once the activities have been completed a short formative assessment is given, which should consider of at least three scaffolded questions to ensure efficacy. To achieve greater equity, visuals with embedded tasks should be made available in the learning management system (LMS) for access in class or at home.
You can only control what happens during the time you have with your students. While this isn’t optimal, it does present an opportunity to level the playing field. The path to equity begins and ends with how time is used in their presence to create an experience that meets both their diverse needs and interests in alignment with either the curriculum or standards that you are accountable for as an educator.