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Want to Make Curriculum Accessible to All Students? Here’s Where to Start

There’s been a lot of talk lately about ‘equity,’ to the point where I fear it may become an empty word that is, in actuality, very significant. Equity is a complex concept, with a simple meaning. To provide equity means that students get what they need to succeed and that every student’s needs are going to look different from one to the next.

The conceptual background of equity is grounded in the idea that each student has a unique multi-cultural fingerprint that impacts the way they view the world. In turn this view or lens affects they way they are able to utilize the curriculum and learning environment to acquire new academic skills. When students are able to function within the learning environment and acquire new concepts the way they are being taught, we say that the student is “accessing the curriculum.”

Understanding that each student will view the world differently and that the view they bring with them impacts the way they learn best is critical in creating a learning environment that is truly equitable. In this context, we think of the overlapping cultures that each individual brings with them into the classroom as all of the various influences they have in their lives and their identities. For example, it is easy to understand that a student who is designated with a learning disability (or who has not been identified yet, for that matter) may have difficulty accessing the curriculum in the same way as a student without a learning disability. Taking that one step further and understanding that a student’s learning disability overlaps with other identities they have such as gender (or perceived gender), age, giftedness, language learning status, and race/ cultural influences, we can see the importance of viewing a child as a whole person (not just their learning disability or other label). This concept also emphasizes the importance of getting to know each child.

Overlapping identities may be permanent or not. An example of a shifting category that may impact a student’s access to the learning might be whether or not they had time to eat breakfast that morning or if the morning was smooth or rough. Obviously, these factors may change from day to day. Yet, this still emphasizes the role the teaching practitioner holds in their classroom each day to know if there are underlying emotions that may impact the way a child learns that day. Approaching children from this angle immediately shifts the classroom from being a place of intimidation or fear to that of compassion. And children learn better (i.e. access the curriculum) when they feel safe and secure in their environment.

As I wrap up this post, I encourage all teaching practitioners to go the extra mile to know their students. It could be as simple as giving a chance for students to show a thumbs up sign or thumbs down sign to understand what mindset they have when they’re entering the classroom. Taking note of students who may need a little extra space or TLC that day. It might mean recognizing that a child’s home culture may differ from the one they are surrounded by daily in the classroom and considering ways you can make the classroom environment feel welcoming. This is the foundation for equity of learning. It is when and only when we address the foundational issue of providing a safe learning environment where all children can access the curriculum in a way that honors who they are, that we can then set our eyes on the academic goal.

When you teach, you touch the future and that is a pretty amazing place to be. For more ideas about how to see the classroom through a lens of accessibility for all students, check out my website deannawestedt.com. I would love to collaborate with you or your team of educators to provide a deeper path to accessible learning in the classroom.