Equity Is Not Equality … And It Doesn’t Have To Be!


Equity At Work: Our Reading Buddy Activity – Everybody Doesn’t Use The Same Tool, But Everybody Has What He/She Needs To Be Successful

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about equity lately. This has always been a topic I’m passionate about. Talking to colleagues that teach primary grades too, the questions always become, how do you teach young students about equity? Do the students get upset because they don’t get the same things as everyone else?  

I think that for students to understand equity, as a teacher, you really need to believe in it too. Do you believe that students need different things in place in order to be successful? I know that this was the question I had to ask myself first, and then I needed to take some time to consider why it’s okay that not everyone is taught in the same way, receives the same activities, uses the same tools, and has the same set of expectations. Once I understood the importance of equity, I could help my students understand it too.

I needed to explicitly teach them what “equity” means and what it looks like in the classroom. We spoke about what every student needs to do his/her best. I think that this is important as well. I believe that equity should be about all students. In my experiences, I’ve found that there’s fewer questions of, why don’t I get that? or why is he the only one? when all students realize that I’m looking out for each of their individual learning needs too.

Giving students the chance to take ownership over their learning also lets them take control over what they need to do their best. Letting them choose the tool that they use to do their work (i.e., from pencils and paper to the iPod Touches and iPads to the computer to the Livescribe Pen), the location that they do their work (i.e., from their desk to a quiet area on the floor), and the way that they do their work (i.e., from individually to a partner group to a small group) all helps too. I know that this isn’t always possible, but even if you can provide a couple of options, students can pick the one that works best for them.

And this really does benefit them in the long run! Just the other day, I was speaking to a Grade 3 teacher about one of my students from last year. She said that she was so impressed with this student that knows when he gets too distracted in a large group, and independently moves to the guided reading table or an area on the floor to finish his work. She said that he knows when to work in a group, and he knows when to work alone. I love hearing stories like this one, and I love that the teacher is so open to letting students choose the learning environment that works best for them!

When it comes to equity, we also need to show students why we do what we do, so that they will use these same practices too. Students in my class, have seen me talk to certain students in a different way. I may use fewer words. I may ask simpler questions. Unlike with other students, I also tend to ask a question and then offer choices as answers. The class knows why I do this. I’ve told the students why, but what I never told them was to do the same thing too. Students are sponges though, and it’s incredible how quickly they pick up on our words and actions. Just the other day, one of my students was going through our Class Dojo Self-Assessment, and when he got to one of the students, instead of asking, “Do you deserve a hard work badge?,” he said, “Hard work, ________? Yes or no?,” and she answered right away. Incredible!

Even six-year-olds understand equity, and in my experiences, when they know that the teacher is always looking out for them and for others, they’re not upset when things are not always the same for everyone. It takes time though to build this kind of environment, but I think it’s worth it.

How do you show your students what equity looks like in the classroom? How do you get from “it’s not fair” to “it’s fair for everyone?” I’d love to hear your thoughts on this!


12 thoughts on “Equity Is Not Equality … And It Doesn’t Have To Be!

  1. Hi Aviva,
    I so like your thinking. Children can understand that they are unique and in that uniqueness need different tools. It is a life lesson. One that each one of us needs to master.

  2. Thanks JoAnn! I completely agree. As a teacher, I think it’s one of the most important lessons that I teach my students. It helps create such a great classroom community too, where students are accepting of other students’ differences and they can celebrate in what makes each of them unique.


  3. I agree completely with your thinking here. Creating a community with a climate of equity is essential. It connects with accepting that we all learn at different rates too. “Fair isn’t always equal” – and this is something kids need to understand. Showing them how I spend a lot of time thinking about what each child needs and teaching them to recognize what THEY need (and be able to ask for it) is really important. Celebrating differences and carrying over to things in the classroom like where they sit/stand/lay to do their best work and what tools they need are things that are life skills and ones we need to teach our youngest learners. I wouldn’t give every kid a band-aid if one child gets a cut – and I won’t give every child a “one size fits all” education. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and pushing my thinking even more.

    • Thanks Katie! I completely agree with you. I also really like the point you raised about having students ask for what they need. Teaching self-advocacy, even at a young age, is so important! Thanks for reminding me of this too!


  4. A student asked me the other day why another math group got different numbers in their math problem. My response, in this room everyone gets what they need for learning, it might not always be the same thing.
    It’s hard at the beginning of the year to build this type of understanding in equity. My students are starting to understand that each person is supported in our classroom in order to be successful. Sometimes that support is extra guided reading, whiteboards with checklists, individual success criteria, co-writer for writing and audio memo for recording. Students need to understand their learning styles and preferences and understand that students learn in different ways and that’s okay. 🙂

    We also need to think of equity in the bigger sense. On Thursday we had a great dialogue on the right to vote. My students were shocked to learn that women haven’t always had the right to vote in Canada. We need to broaden their worlds and talk to them about world issues and equity.

    Thanks for posting another highly reflective post.

  5. Thanks for the comment, Angie! I completely agree. I love the examples that you shared too … all very true!

    I’m also glad that you included this second paragraph too. Dealing with equity and world issues, even at a younger age, is important. It’s good for them to understand that the world is about more than just them.

    Thanks for getting me thinking too!

  6. I totally agree with what you are saying when you say equity is not equality. I am always telling my students not to compare themselves with others because our goal as students is to do our personal best, not anyone else’s very best. This is why I do my very best to make my lessons, or activities open ended so that students can take their learning to their place, always challenging themselves to get better. But something in your post doesn’t sit well with me. When we modify our teaching for our students, particularly those with special needs, we know why we are doing it and we have a clear objective as to why. But when I see my students try to lessen the load for my special needs students it doesn’t sit right with me. For many of them I think they do it because they think they (the special needs person) is less of a person than they are themselves. While I realize that they know that the student is different then themselves, I’m not sure if they really understand why they are different. I try really hard to create a class environment where everyone truly is equal, and as equally important. I do not want to hear my students talk down to one another. I realize of course that you are not saying that you want your students to talk down to one another, I just get a weird feeling in my stomach when I read that your student simplified his question while doing the Dojo Self Assessment. I think what I’m trying to say is that it’s not our students job to modify and adapt our teaching it’s ours. (I think that’s what I’m trying to say – I can’t quite get the words to explain but I know that something isn’t sitting right in my stomach). Your students are truly blessed to have you as their teacher. Karen

  7. Karen, thanks for your comment! I’m glad that you feel the same way that I do about the concept of “equity” versus “equality.” As for your concern, I think that part of the problem may be that I am somewhat vague on this student and her needs. I had to do this, as I do not want to breach confidentiality by sharing more. In this particular case, this student cannot process large amounts of language. She needs instructions to be only a couple of words. She cannot answer long questions, and with too many words, she will not respond at all. I have shared this with the students (in student friendly language of course). My students understand this, and they want to help her be a part of the classroom and respond to them too. They are not using these short questions to “talk down” to her, but instead to encourage her to participate. I have another student in the room with similar needs, but she can process more language, and they will ask the question to her in the same way as they do others, but they may provide her with choices to explain her thinking. Again, this is not to “talk down” to her or to lower the expectations, but instead, to help modify for her so that she can do her best in the classroom too. I work very closely with an EA (Educational Assistant) to plan for both of these students, and while we may put certain modifications in place, I think it’s great that the students can see the needs of others, see the strategies that we use, and use these strategies too. I hope that this helps clarify things!


  8. Yes! Please don’t think that I ever thought that you were not and are not the most incredible grade 1/2 teacher. While my strengths are different from yours, I love listening, and learning from you. I wish you would come and teach on my staff here on the left coast.

    • Thanks Karen! I’m glad that helped clarify things. I’m very passionate about creating a classroom environment where everyone can succeed.

      I’d love to work with you too, and I absolutely love learning from you on Twitter! You share so many amazing ideas in your blog as well, and I’m fortunate to have you as part of my PLN!

  9. Hi Aviva,

    I really enjoy reading all of your posts and I would like to thank you for also reading my blog and commenting on it. It was so exciting to see that I had gotten another comment on my blog!
    I recently had the opportunity to observe at a very unique school where their main focus is equity. The school was founded by Marietta Johnson in Fairhope, AL. They use the progressive style of teaching where they treat each child as their own person with different rates of development and growth. While I don’t exactly agree with all of their ways of teaching, I do respect it. All of the teachers are very laid back and allow each child to learn at their own pace, which I completely agree with. This helps every child in the school want to come and learn everyday. Observing there has taught me a great deal! As always, thanks for sharing!


  10. Thanks for the comment, Brooke! This sounds like a very interesting school indeed. As teachers, I think it’s great when we can observe in other classrooms, reflect on what we see, and gain some new ideas to try out in our classrooms as well.


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