Posted on October 24, 2011 by Connieay

Untitled1-300x225For my current session on differentiating instructions (DI), we came to explore the issue of fairness and how the ideas of fairness in terms of equality, equity and need relate to the philosophy of DI.

Here is what I think:

How do the concepts of equality, equity and need relate to the philosophy of DI?

DI is about addressing the needs, readiness and interests of each student within a high-quality curriculum with a set of well-defined goals. It is important to point out that such diversity of needs, readiness and interests exists even within a monolingual classroom of students from a relatively homogenous background and family circumstances.

Nowadays, the complexity of the matter increases as diversity within the classroom increases as a result of having students from more diverse socio-cultural and linguistic backgrounds. “Cultural, linguistic, and ability differences are factors that influence fairness in the classroom.” (Butler, 2004)  So apart from needs, readiness and interests, the diversity of student beliefs about fairness also increases due to their varied linguistic and socio-cultural makeup. “For example, students from more cooperative cultures will place a greater value on equality, while students from a more competitive culture understand equity as fair.” (Butler, 2004) Fairness is defined distinctly as equality, equity and need by Deutsch (1975). The key is for all parties, especially the learners, to understand all these distinctions and definitions of fairness are practised and valued in the classroom and having the different circumstances clearly defined and discussed.

So is the practice of DI compatible with these concepts of fairness and how?

How does DI fit in with equality?

Equality is treating everyone the same, like everyone’s right of having a vote. In DI, there is a set of common goals in the curriculum, aimed at equipping students with the understanding of certain key concepts and/or the development of certain skills. In this way, I see that DI is compatible with the concept of equality. Knowing that each individual have different learning styles and can be smart in a different way according to Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences (MI), teachers practising DI strive to present information through a multifaceted and multimedia channel. As such, this can be viewed as a form of equality, so that each student, no matter how he or she is intelligent, is given an equal chance of being exposed to the information that is most compatible with their ways of learning and that most appeals to their strengths in terms of their MI profile. Also in DI, the use of anchoring activities is a way of practising equality. Everyone in the classroom will be doing that activity when the time comes.

How does DI fit in with equity?

The concept of equity is to about rewards that are proportionate to effort. Simply stated, the best performed gets the most rewards. In DI, teachers establish individual ceilings for each of her learners through the use of tiered assignments. In that sense, the individual learners are rewarded for effort they put in to beat themselves, for effort that stretch beyond the best of their own abilities. It is also “fair” in the sense that in these tiered assignments, the learners can be assessed according to their strengths and weaknesses. In a DI classroom, tiered assignments can be seen as a way of providing equal opportunities for everyone to excel and be celebrated to the best of one’s own ability.

How does DI fit in with needs?

Fairness in terms of needs is the accommodations and support given to the ones who need it the most. In a DI classroom, this can be seen as manifested by varied levels of teacher scaffolding and support to accommodate for these needs.

“Educational professionals often experience intrapersonal conflicts around issues of fairness.” (Butler, 2004) In responding to students concerns about fairness, Ann Welch (2000) points out, “both teachers and students need to know which accommodations are fair for which students in which circumstances.” Although there are diverse views of fairness from the different linguistic and socio-cultural backgrounds, research has found “a fair procedure can improve satisfaction even if people perceive the outcome as unfair.” (Welch, 2000). The problem lies in the fact that “the procedures by which educators and policymaker make fairness decisions in schools are often unclear or unknown.” (Welch, 2000) Having addressed the awareness of such fairness concerns, for teachers, Welch suggested a few classroom strategies for teachers to deal with such concerns. Welch also mentions that “failure to meet the standard is typically lamed on the student or family” (Welch, 2000) In response to this, the different stakeholders might try to work together to work out strategies that help clearly define and implement schoolwide procedures that address all these definitions of fairness. The key is openness, transparency and consistency. This principle of involving the community, learners, community members, other faculty, parents, and administrators is also a tenet of DI.

Here is a quote from a learner who requires special needs. “Fairness is not just about treating everyone the same; it’s also about giving people what they need.” (Andrea)