Equitable Classroom Practices



Hosted by: Aaron Schips

In this podcast, we will explore some quick ways you can improve classroom equity. As the leader of your classroom, you can affect change by recognizing everybody deserves an equal shot at representation, interaction, and access to class content.

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Hi, this is Aaron Schips, an Instructional Designer at CETL with another episode of the Cerebro Series. Today we will be exploring some quick ways you can improve classroom equity. Did you know that the first step to recognizing that classrooms can be inequitable is by admitting there is a problem? According to Jessica Harris, equity improvements starts with “the leader recognizing their responsibility to give everybody equal opportunity.” As the leader of your classroom, you can affect change by recognizing everybody deserves an equal shot at representation, interaction, and access to class content. Even if the idea of revamping your class to ensure equitability seems daunting, you can still use strategies that take less than five minutes to make small equitable changes for your students.  

https://www.science.org/content/article/how-begin-building-culture-diversity-equity-and-inclusion-your-research-group 

 A trouble spot for many professors is setting due dates for assignments. When I was in college, many of my professors had strict deadlines set for papers. Papers were usually when class started, and late assignments were not accepted. This typically led to me staying up late the night before trying to complete my work, which was certainly not healthy. For many students, college is stressful and anxiety-inducing. Being faced with rigid due dates that can make or break a grade can amplify that anxiety and cause real problems.  

There is an argument that for cases like mine a student should be better at time management. However, for many students that work multiple jobs, are new to college, or just simply struggle with time management, rigid deadlines can break their classroom experience. Worse still, professors can find themselves in a situation where their due date policy makes it difficult for them to make deadline exceptions to students who may need them.  

Instead of adhering to a strict policy, Professor Howard Aldrich suggests making your due date policy more ambiguous.  Here’s an excerpt from his blog where he talks about why he does this:  

“On the first day of class, students often ask me, what are your penalties for late assignments? I tell them I don’t expect late assignments, as all the due dates for assignments are in the syllabus they’ve just been handed. In that case, why would any assignments be late? I find this logic impeccable, but some aren’t satisfied with this answer and persist in questioning me. All I will say is that if they find themselves having difficulty, prior to an assignment being due, they need to talk with me and I will try to help them. I never speculate about what I might do with the late assignment, preferring to deal with each of them on its own merits.” 

When students approach Professor Aldrich about turning in a late assignment, he works with them to determine why their assignment was late, and then has them set a time for when they think they will be able to get it in. He considers this to be a more collaborative approach, and because of this states that he rarely gets late assignments.  

https://howardaldrich.org/2015/07/assignments-better-late-than-never/ 

Another opportunity for a more inclusive classroom could be your use of non-gendered words. I remember working at a small private school in Vermont where the teachers insisted on calling everybody folks. Coming right out of college I didn’t really understand the reasoning, so I asked one of the teachers. She told me that some students had come to her and said they didn’t like it when she said “guys” to address a group. They felt like it grouped everyone in as boys, which made them feel left out. These were K-6 students, and I was floored that they were able to vocalize something like that to a teacher.  Something that I took for granted that had such an impact on young students really stuck with me over the years.  

Using non-gendered words like “folks”, “everybody”, or “this person” can make an inclusive impact for some students. If you find yourself saying things like “these guys” or “this guy”, it’s a nice touch to correct yourself in class so students can see you are sensitive to this topic. Additionally, transparency about gender affirmations can be helpful for students as well. Let students choose their own gender pronouns at the beginning of class, and model your pronouns in front of them.   

https://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/teaching-beyond-the-gender-binary-in-the-university-classroom/#common 

One final practice you could consider implementing in your class is random calling. Sometimes students feel like when professors ask for volunteers, they always hear the same voices. This could be for a number of reasons: students are scared to volunteer, haven’t prepared for the lesson, or feel like their professor isn’t interested in hearing their voice. Random calling ensures that every student, regardless of gender, race, or other identifying factor, has a chance to be heard.  

According to one teacher, “I know, like everybody else, that there are a limited number of people who will volunteer and that limited number of people is not representative of the people in my classroom. And so, I [use random call] for equity of voices in the classroom.” 

It’s understandable that using random calling could increase student anxiety, and lead to a poor classroom environment. However, teachers have found that if you explain why you use random calling, tell students when you will be using it before class, and allow students to discuss the question before random calling begins, anxiety can decrease.  Most important of all is to ensure you are treating students respectfully when you call on them. Getting called on in front of class can be stressful for a student, so how you handle their response can go influence how random calling is perceived in class.  

https://www.lifescied.org/doi/10.1187/cbe.19-07-0130 

While revising your whole class to be more equitable can sound intimidating, there are small changes you can make that can make a big difference in how inclusive your class is. Random calling, non-gendered words, and tweaking your late assignment policy can all have a big impact on students. Make sure to visit the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning website for other helpful tips that can make a difference in your classroom.  

Thanks for joining me, Aaron Schips, as I explored small changes you can make to create an equitable classroom.  Be sure to check out another insightful tidbit at The Cerebro Series.