As teachers, it is always our desire to make sure we reach every learner in our classrooms. Now more than ever, our students are becoming more and more diverse – whether it is their background, home life, prior education, life experiences, abilities, preferences, etc.
I’m sure if your teaching experience has been anything like mine, you have sat through many an equity training on a Wednesday afternoon during your faculty meeting time. And while these types of professional development sessions can be extremely helpful and enlightening if taught by the right instructors, I found that I sometimes still felt really overwhelmed when it came to ensuring I was reaching every learner who walked through my doors.
If I am being perfectly honest with you, I found that it came most naturally to me to reach my strongest and my weakest students. They seemed to be the ones that most naturally garnered my attention and care. It’s those middle-of-the-road, “average” students, that I often did the worst job serving. Now that my own children are growing and I am seeing that I most likely have “average” students (Side note: I keep putting in quotations because I hate to even label a student average, but for the sake of not writing a 10-paragraph preface, I am going to keep using this term to define those students in the middle) in my own home, I want to ensure more than ever that every student is reached by every teacher.
So today I am sharing 4 tips to reach every learner in your high school science classes.
Reach Every Learner by Building Relationships with EACH Individual Student.
I know this may seem TOO simple, and maybe TOO obvious, but it truly is the MOST IMPORTANT THING we can do as teachers. So many disciplinary and classroom management issues can be prevented by building relationships with students. So many academic struggles can be mediated when we have foundational relationships with our students. If there is ONE thing I can challenge you to do this year, it is to make relationship building with your students a priority. This is how we reach every learner in our classrooms – by knowing each individual student.
Not sure where to begin? Here are my best tips for building relationships with high school students.
Reach Every Learner by Not Assigning Homework.
This may seem irrelevant, but hear me out. In order to reach every learner in our classrooms and to create learning environments that are equitable for ALL, ALL of our students deserve to have an equal opportunity to be successful in our classes. This includes our students who have to work to provide for their families or care for their siblings after school hours.
SO many of our students walk into our classrooms with immense responsibilities and burdens on their plates. The last thing they care about is making a cell organelle foldable for homework when they are worried about their basic survival needs. Even the playing field by not adding to their burdens. Create a classroom environment in which all learning can happen. You will be amazed at the relief it will provide your students to know that they can learn everything they need to be successful in your classroom during the 50 or 90 minutes that they see you each day.
Not entirely convinced to drop homework? There are SO many reasons why not assigning homework can benefit you AND your students. You can read more on why I don’t assign homework in my high school science classes here.
Reach Every Learner by Providing a Variety of Assessments.
The more time I spent in the classroom, the more and more I realized that using tests as my primary form of assessment was just not what was best for my students. It serves our students so well to give them MULTIPLE opportunities to show what they know. This is why I LOVE using nontraditional summative assessments. I even love doing alternative midterms and final exams.
Now I still do have unit tests, and this is honestly more of a benchmark and a data point for ME so I can collect quantitative data year after year to assess how well my instructional resources are meeting the goals I have of teaching my students (and let’s be real, it gives them much-needed test practice each unit for their EOC exams). But I do LOVE to include a nontraditional summative assessment with every unit, too, in order to best reach every learner in my classroom. You can read some of my ideas for how to do this here.
Reach Every Learner by Reviewing Test Questions for Bias.
Last but not least, you HAVE to review your assessment questions for bias. This is SO important. I learned NOTHING about creating assessments in my undergraduate teacher certification program, but luckily I got my MEd in Curriculum and Instruction and had classes specifically about assessment writing. I learned SO MUCH about writing questions that are fair and ONLY test the information and not students’ backgrounds/experiences.
Collaborate with coworkers of diverse backgrounds to review your questions. Not comfortable with that? Have your students help you! Be willing the first time you write and use an assessment to receive feedback on it – and be willing to throw out questions that you may determine after the fact have bias in them. Work together with other teachers at your school, in your district, or who you meet online.
If you don’t have any connections to other science teachers, I recommend using test questions written by curriculum developers or textbook companies that are trained in creating equitable assessments. I have tests included in all of my complete units, and I also have midterm and final exam packs with tests, answer keys, and review materials for biology, anatomy, and physical science.
An additional tip for ELLs (English Language Learners) – make sure seemingly “easy” words in your questions don’t add FURTHER burdens to our ELL students. Ex. Increases –> replace with “gets bigger”. Simplify all other language so that the only language really being assessed is the actual vocabulary terms for the content.
I hope these suggestions help to equip you to reach every learner in your classroom this year!
Have your own tips? Want to share a tip with listeners of the Secondary Science Simplified podcast? If so click HERE and record YOUR best tip for reaching every learner. If we can compile enough tips, I will share them in a podcast episode!!