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Inclusion Column

Equity vs. Equality. What is fair to us?

By Georgina Garza

What do “fairness” and “success” really mean when we know that everyone is so different? Equality is giving everyone the same thing. Equity is giving everyone what they need to be successful.

For some, equality may seem as the fair thing to do, but it can only work if everyone starts from the same place and needs the same things. Equity, on the other hand, tries to give each student access to the resources they need to learn and thrive.

When everyone is different, equality isn’t enough. Not everyone starts at the same place, and not everyone has the same needs. As we’ve seen, today’s classrooms are made up of diverse learners. This means that students enter school with different abilities, traditions, preferences, experiences, learning styles, families, and personalities. Albert Einstein once challenged us to reflect: should we assess a fish’s success by its ability to climb a tree?

Since everyone is different and we embrace these characteristics as unique to an individual, we must also redefine our expectations for fairness as something tied to these individual differences. For example, when we have to go to a certain destination, the routes we take to get there and the time it takes us to arrive may vary, but eventually we reach the same destination. With this in mind, we need to consider that one lesson does not fit all and as teachers, we must plan strategically in order to reach abilities and needs of diverse learners in our classrooms.

It's difficult to sum up what it means to embrace equity in the classroom. It is the recognition that each student is a unique and layered individual, and using this as a resource for learning. It is having flexibility and routines and realizing that what might take 2 minutes for someone to finish, might take 10 for another and understanding that this is okay. It is convincing each individual of their own brilliance, and helping them reach their potential by enhancing what makes them unique and special. This is why differentiation is a very important component in a classroom that embraces equity.

Differentiation means adapting instruction in order to meet all students’ needs. Teachers can differentiate their presentation of content: how the student will get access to the information. Teachers can also respond to student’s levels by offering diverse activities through which they make sense of the content. Lastly, differentiating the way teachers assess students’ understanding through culminating projects to reflect what was learned. By assessing regularly and using flexible grouping, teachers are able to provide different paths to learning and create equity in their classroom. Walking toward equity will help us to create inclusive, 21st-century classrooms.

Click on this link to see an interesting example on this topic.