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A Question about Equity

I have this idea stuck in my head, and it keeps spinning like the record player my sister broke when I was 11.

When we think about equity in an English class, what comes to mind?

I hope fairness, impartiality, “justice in the way people are treated,” says Webster.

But what does equity look like? What does it look like every day in an English class?

Too many days I spend too much time with my students who do not do the assignments than those who do. Is that equitable?

Too many days I find the time to talk to the talkative students about their lives outside of class, but I rarely take the time to talk to the quiet kids who have a gentle grace, pay attention, complete assignments. Is that equitable?

A week or so ago I conducted a training, and one of the teachers asked something like this:  “Do you still have students who do not read, or do not move forward, in your workshop pedagogy?”

Yes.

Will I keep encouraging, pushing, pulling, doing everything I — and my extensive network of workshop teachers –can possibly think of to help that student want to read and grow in her literacy skills?

Of course.

But let’s be real. I offer choice reading in my classroom. I offer choice of writing topics on every writing assignment (except timed writings when we specifically practice for the AP English exam.)

I’m going to have to allow the student choice when it comes to actually reading.

I can tell you this though:  More students read and grow and become avid readers than ever did when I chose all the books, all the prompts, all the everything.

And this brings me to the real question spinning in my head:  What does equity look like when it comes to instruction in an English class?

Choose one:

a. A teacher chooses six books for her students to read in a given school year, all books shining with literary merit. She teaches in a school where the majority of her students live in poverty. The children come from diverse homes where they face some struggles, but they seem eager to learn. She believes that since the more affluent school across town requires its students to read these six lofty books, she must require her students to read them. (Maybe her administrator even told her she has to teach these books– she’s just doing what she’s told.) This teacher wants her students to have the same rich literary experiences with these books she had in high school. She wants them to think about literature and analyze the language. She want them to grow in cultural literacy. All good goals. But probably, more than anything, she wants them to be on equal footing with the students across town. She wants them to have the same advantages and the same knowledge about the world’s great books.

b. A teacher allows her students to self-select the books they read. She models the moves of a reader. She talks about rich literature, what makes a compelling story, hboys readingow characters and plot lines develop and how they mirror their lives. She challenges students to consume pages, develop stamina, and grow in fluency. She gives them opportunities to read more and read harder because she knows the value of reading in building confidence and competency. She introduces different genres, authors, themes. She surrounds them with shelves weighed down by high-interest books and gives them time to read in class. To this teacher, it is not about the book — or the six books of lofty literary merit — it is about the reader. Readers who read 12 books in a year instead of just six. This teacher knows if she makes a reader she can make a life.  And the skills gained through reading extensively transfer to their writing and permeate like energetic friends into the reading they must do in other classes.

I am going to go with b.

Equity is not in the books we require students to read in English classes. Equity is in the skills and the fluency and the stamina students need to read those books if they chooses to read them.

Too many students in high school read below grade level. The only way to help them read better is to read more. Six books (and I’ll question if he really reads them) is not enough. So much research helps us understand this. Donalyn Miller collected a lot of it for easy access here. And Penny Kittle cites scores of it in the bibliography of Book Love.

I met with a reader today. I asked her about the reading she did as a sophomore in her Pre-AP class. “Did you read last year?” I asked.

“Uh, no, not really,” she said. “I only read two books last year. But I only remember one.”

Two books.

 

And before you jump all over me, I know there is option c. Yes, we can have a mix of both, but I will hold my ground:  If we are not advancing readers and writers, we are doing it wrong.

 

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6 thoughts on “A Question about Equity

  1. […] written about AP English and AP test scores in the past, and I imagine as long as I teach AP English Language and […]

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  2. […] AP Literature class, a topic near and dear to my own AP English heart. (I’ve written about choice in AP and how I feel about AP test scores quite a […]

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  3. Cirillo Michele January 22, 2016 at 9:54 am Reply

    Love this article on equity and choice in our classrooms.

    – Michele Cirillo Curriculum Supervisor ELA/SS/WL Ellington Public Schools Sent from my iPad

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Whitney Kelley January 22, 2016 at 9:37 am Reply

    We’ve talked about this before, you and I, that I’ve lost my way with Readers-Writers Workshop. Not only are my students suffering for it, but so am I as a teacher. The flames I once had for teaching the joy of possessing and wielding literary skills has all but died, and sit as a smoldering ember in the ash pit of my heart. (A little mellow dramatic, I know, but I’m truly feeling the repercussions.) However, at the end of last semester, I reflected back on the choices I had made in the classroom for 12 of the previous 18 weeks and realized that the discontent both me and my students were feeling was because we were trying to engage in prescribed tasks rather than authentic learning. So I scrapped everything and went back to as much choice as I can possibly offer.

    Yesterday, I did a mini-lesson about point-of-view. Students reflected on their self-selected book of merit they are currently reading and thought about what POV it was being told from and why the author may have chosen it. Then they considered how it might have been different, both in information, tone and perspective – and credibility – if told from a different POV. It was challenging, and they struggled, but we had rich conversations – about books THEY HAD CHOSEN AND WERE INTERESTED IN – about the credibility of a speaker and how experiences and nuances can be lost for memoirs if not told by the person who lived them.

    Then I had them turn to a personal piece of writing they were working on and asked them to now write it from a 3rd person POV. What information was lost? What might people outside of them see about their demeanor or personality or struggles? What assumptions – right or wrong – might be made? It was hard!

    But then we had that “realization” discussion about the complexity of writing and points-of-view and something had to be sacrificed for whatever choice was made, and the author had to determine what was in the best interest of the story, i.e. the best interest of the reader. Students were considering the intentionality of their authors and then could see how that same intentionality could be applied to their own writing.

    The kids were doing the thinking. The kids were doing the work. The kids were doing the learning. All with their choice of reading AND their choice of writing. I want more of this.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Amy January 22, 2016 at 6:58 pm Reply

      Sounds like you are finding your way, Whitney. Sometimes all it takes is a few of those moments to make us question why we would ever do anything different. Your students are blessed to have a reflective teacher like you.

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  5. jhuber2015 January 22, 2016 at 8:52 am Reply

    Amen! “This teacher knows if she can make a read she can make a life.” LOVE IT!!!! Thanks for ending my week on a great note. Little by little, we are all making a difference by giving our students choices and time to read!

    Liked by 1 person

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