In the course of developing the recently launched Discovery Education Experience, I had the opportunity to connect with educators and learn not only what features and enhancements they wanted to see in our newly launched digital service, but also new strategies for improving equity in the classroom. Here are six of the best strategies I learned over the last eighteen months:
Create a Diversified Content Policy
When a new concept is introduced in your classroom, make it policy to provide your students multiple types of content that explain the concept. Your learners will have choice in how they consume and process the information (e.g., video, images, audio). Make sure you provide different ways to deliver new concepts to your students, as this will support a more cognitively engaging and equitable learning environment.
Be Intentional with Your Strategies
Simply using a video in place of a reading passage will not necessarily yield different results in terms of a student’s understanding. Be intentional about the instructional strategies you use with the content. Videos are very effective as advance organizers. Have students practice citing evidence as they explore a series of images. Audio files can be used to help students create non-linguistic representations through mental imagery. Being intentional with the instructional strategy used alongside the content not only helps you provide greater access to the curriculum for diverse learners, it is an opportunity to reinforce a range of additional literacy and critical thinking skills.
Open Your Classroom to the World
Many of our students have limited exposure to the world outside of their immediate neighborhoods. Tap into the array of opportunities to open the doors of your classroom. Have your class participate in a virtual field trip that connects your students to people and places they might not otherwise experience — be it polar bear researchers in the Arctic or professional basketball executives in New York City. Seeking out these incredible learning experiences makes the curriculum even more relevant and equitable by exposing students to a broader range of possibilities that exist for their futures.
Give Students Different Ways to Demonstrate Understanding
In addition to differentiating the content your students consume and the process through which you introduce a topic, provide multiple ways for students to show what they know. Have learners create a digital project that enables them to demonstrate their understanding in different ways. By incorporating content you provide, along with resources they discover and create, their product will be more personal and representative of what they know. Differentiating how we evaluate our students’ mastery of concepts provides us with a more holistic view of their performance and offers more equitable opportunities for students to be successful.
Provide Opportunities to Practice Collaboration
When your students are working on a project, give them the opportunity to use digital platforms to learn how to collaborate and communicate in a positive and productive manner. Find a digital resource you trust that supports small group or classroom collaboration. Define and share your expectations with your students. Your rubric for assessing their performance should focus on content knowledge as well as how their group worked together and communicated with each other. Have a daily class debrief to showcase groups who are modeling what you expect. Some students might not have support outside of school to learn these essential skills so don’t shy away from making this a core part of your learning environment.
Make Professional Learning Personal
Tap into on-demand resources that help you grow every day, and personalize your professional learning plan. Take a self-paced interactive course, join a Twitter chat, or pose a question in your social networks about something you are trying to implement in your classroom. As you lean on peers from all over the world for instructional inspiration, you’ll not only find new strategies, you’ll be introduced to a wealth of other learning opportunities for your students. The more you grow professionally, the more equitable your learning environment will be for your students.
These are just a few of the best strategies I learned from educators I had the good fortune to meet and interact with over the last eighteen months. There are many more available in many places across the web, including in Discovery Education Experience. But where you get your strategies is not important. What is important is that you begin to reassess equity within your classroom today….because your students are depending on it!
Lance Rougeux started his career as a teacher at Julia de Burgos Bilingual Middle School in the School District of Philadelphia where he was highlighted in The Emergency Teacher, a book about urban teaching. He is the co-founder of the Purple Feet Foundation, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization focused on helping students think about their future.
Lance currently serves as Vice President of Learning Communities and Innovation at Discovery Education.
He holds master’s degrees in Educational Leadership and Technology in Education from Villanova University and Harvard University, respectively, and is an adjunct faculty member at Wilkes University for whom he designed the Digital Media in the Classroom graduate level course.