Teaching Strategies to Promote Student Equity and Engagement

Simple Teaching Strategies Rooted from Research to Support Instructors

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Designing a classroom learning environment where all students are being attended to (even the ones who may not seem to be engaged) may seem like an impossible task when your in a classroom of twenty elementary students. Luckily, there are a host of teaching strategies that foster this type of a learning environment. Sometimes these strategies are referred to as "equitable teaching strategies" or teaching so that all students are given an "equal" opportunity to learn and thrive.

This is where teachers teach to all students, not just the ones that seem to be engaged in the lesson.

Often times, teachers think they have designed this wonderful lesson where all students will be willfully engaged and motivated to participate, however, in actuality, there may only be a few students who are engaged in the lesson. When this happens, teachers must strive to structure their students' learning environment by providing a place that maximizes fairness, and allows all students to equally participate and feel welcomed in their classroom community.

Here are a few specific teaching strategies that elementary teachers can use to promote student engagement and foster classroom equity.

The Whip Around Strategy

The Whip Around strategy is simple, the teacher poses a question to his/her students and gives every student the opportunity to have a voice and answer the question. The whip technique serves as an important part of the learning process because it shows all students that their opinion is valued and should be heard.

The mechanics of the whip are simple, each student gets about 30 seconds to respond to the question and there is no right or wrong answer. The teacher "whips" around the classroom and gives each student the chance to voice their thoughts on the given topic. During the whip, students are encouraged to use their own words to describe their opinion on the set topic.

Often times students may share the same opinion as their classmates but when put into their own words, may find out their ideas are actually a little different than they first thought. 

Whips are a useful classroom tool because all students have an equal opportunity to share their thoughts while actively being engaged in the lesson.

Small Group Work

Many teachers have found integrating small group work to be an effective way for students to equally share their thoughts while staying engaged in the lesson. When educators structure opportunities that require students to work together with their peers, they are giving their students the best possible chance for an equal learning environment. When students are placed in a small group of 5 or less individuals, they have the potential to bring their expertise and thoughts to the table in a low-key atmosphere.

Many educators have found the Jigsaw technique to be an effective teaching strategy when working in small groups. This strategy allows students to support one another in order to complete their task. This small group interaction allows all students to collaborate and feel included.

Varied Approaches

As we all know now after must research, all children do not learn the same or in the same way.

This means that in order to reach all children, teachers must use a variety of approaches and techniques. The best way to teach equitably to a large number of students is to use multiple strategies. This means that the old singular teaching approach is out the door and you must use a variation of materials and strategies if you want to meet all learners needs.

The easiest way to do this is to differentiate learning. This means taking the information that you know about the way each individual student learns, and using that information to provide students with the best possible lesson. Studies have shown that using different strategies and techniques to reach different learners is the best possible way that teachers can cultivate a classroom of equity and engagement.

Effective Questioning

Questioning has been found to be an effective strategy to promote equity and make sure all students are actively being engaged.

Using open-ended questions is an inviting way to reach all learners. While open-ended questions require some time to develop on the teachers part, it is well worth it in the long run when teachers see all students actively and equally being able to participate in classroom discussions.

An effective approach when using this strategy is to give students time to think about their answer as well as to sit and listen to them without any interruptions. If you find that students have a weak answer, then pose a follow up question and continue to question students until you are sure they have understood the concept.

Random Calling

When a teacher poses a question for his/her students to answer, and the same children constantly raise their hands, how are all students supposed to have an equal chance at learning? If the teacher establishes a classroom environment in a non-threatening way where students can be chosen to answer a question at anytime, then the teacher has created a classroom of equality. They key to the success of this strategy is to make sure that students do not feel pressure or threatened to answer in any way, shape or form.

One way that effective teachers use this strategy is to use craft sticks to call upon random students. The best way to do this is to write down each students' name on a stick and place them all into a clear cup. When you want to ask a question you simply pick out 2-3 names and ask those students to share. The reason you choose more than one student is to minimize the suspicion that the only reason the student is being called upon is because they were misbehaving or not paying attention in class. When you have to call upon more than one student it will ease all students anxiety level.

Cooperative Learning

Cooperative learning strategies are perhaps one of the simplest ways teachers can effectively keep their students engaged while promoting equity in the classroom. The reason being, is it gives students the opportunity to share their thoughts in a small group format in a non-threatening, non-biased way.

Strategies like think-pair-share where students each take a specific role in order to complete a task for their group and round robin where students can equally share their opinion and listen to the opinion of others, gives students the perfect opportunity to share their thoughts and listen to the opinions of others.

By integrating these types of cooperative and collaborative group activities into your daily lessons, you are promoting participation in a collaborative versus a competitive way. Students will take notice which will help turn your classroom into one that cultivates equality.

Enforce a Supportive Classroom

One way teachers can cultivate a classroom of equality is to establish a few norms. A simple way to do this is to verbally address the students in the beginning of the school year and let them know what you believe in. For example, you can say "All students are treated with respect" and "When sharing ideas in class you will be treated with respect and will not be judged". When you establish these acceptable behaviors students will understand what is acceptable in your classroom and what is not. By enforcing a supportive classroom where all students feel free to speak their mind without feeling or being judged you will create a classroom where students feel welcomed and respected.