It’s easy to ignore social justice in math class, but there are absolutely equity issues that impact students’ mathematical experiences. Thinking about these issues can make math more accessible for students who struggle. It will also challenge students to think critically about the world around them. We put together a few ideas to start you thinking about the role equity plays in math instruction.
1. Keep stereotype threat in mind.
Stereotype threat is the concept of students being reminded of stereotypes about them and then performing negatively as a result. For example, your female students might perform worse on math tests if they’re reminded that “girls aren’t good at math.”
Fortunately, it’s possible to mitigate the effects. Try teaching students about math role models with stereotyped identities. Create a classroom environment that values diversity. Let students know, on an individual level, that you set a high bar for them.
2. Pay attention to your time.
Studies show that when math teachers believe they are spending equal amounts of time with male and female students, they are actually spending up to two-thirds more time with male students, and only when they feel they are egregiously overcorrecting do they break even. Try recording a few of your classes to watch how you spend your own time.
3. Create an environment for students to learn at their own pace.
It might be tempting to create a visual display of students’ math performance as they master key concepts, but when students can see how they stack up compared to their peers, the students who struggle the most may be learning that they simply are not good at math.
Instead, offering students plenty of time to work individually or in small groups at their level can help students develop their skills. Self-paced learning is not easy to facilitate and requires administrative support for the best outcomes, but it can be a game-changer for long-term academic performance.
4. Integrate Universal Design.
Make sure your students aren’t working extra hard to understand the material by making it as accessible as possible. Using captions, handouts, and easier-to-read fonts, and integrating a variety of learning styles will help ensure each of your students is having their needs met in the classroom so they can focus on learning. A great lesson will provide students opportunities to read, listen to, and discuss the material.
5. Bring the real world into the classroom.
There’s no reason math needs to be taught in isolation. Coordinate with other teachers to discuss inequity through math by using the content they’re learning in history, English, or other subject areas. Students can use the concepts you’re targeting to understand economic inequality, rates of disease across populations, immigration, and a range of other relevant topics. For many students, not only will they more fully understand the world, but applying math to real-world examples will help make it more memorable and relevant.
What strategies have you used to integrate equity into your math lessons? Come and share in our WeAreTeachers HELPLINE group on Facebook.