What is anti-bias education? What's competition got to do with it? And how does collaboration support identity and diversity? Answering these 3 questions will lead us right into our strategy-packed series on hearing all voices in the classroom!
Teachers strive to lead every one of their students to success. But sometimes in our competitive society, we can confuse "success" with just "winning"-- coming out on top, and beating everyone else.
In our schools, students compete for
...the highest grades,
...a spot on the honor roll,
...the most robust resume,
...the internship with the highest status.
(And those are just the academic ones!)
As teachers, we can see that competition can be motivating for some students. So naturally we then reward the students with the fastest responses, or rank students by the number of books they’ve read, or play competitive review games to keep things interesting.
There's a catch, though.
This ongoing sense of competition creates an unavoidable bias, favoring some students over others.
Some students build confidence in their identity and their voice; others don't. It fails to support ALL learners' identity development.
It also fails to support students in developing a value for the diversity of the classmates surrounding them. It pits them against each other instead of being for each other.
Striving to create an inclusive, collaborative classroom that is anti-bias.
WHAT IS ANTI-BIAS EDUCATION?
The term "anti-bias" education first came onto the scene in 1989 with Louise Derman-Spark's release of the pivotal Anti-Bias Curriculum. In anti-bias education, the 4 key goals are for students to develop:
Teaching Tolerance (a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center) has continued to build upon the anti-bias body of work through their anti-bias framework and critical practices for anti-bias educators.
One of the critical practices teachers can implement is engaging students in collaborative and cooperative learning. Now, compare that learning style to the competitive one described above. When students collaborate and cooperate rather than compete, they ALL have the chance to develop their sense of identity and their appreciation for diversity.
THREE BENEFITS OF A COLLABORATIVE LEARNING ENVIRONMENT
Benefit 1: Exercising voice and honing listening skills. When we, as teachers, lead activities that make space for all students to share in a meaningful way, we are helping students find their voice and develop their sense of identity. And when we model effective listening skills, we are helping students recognize the value of the diverse, complex fellow humans surrounding them in their classroom community.
Benefit 2: Building peer-to-peer community. When students collaborate, they have the chance to build relationships across their differences. They also experience what it is like to put their collective knowledge and skills together to solve problems as a team. Through this process, they can find value in each others' contributions and see that the teacher isn't the holder of all knowledge in the room-- everyone has something to offer!
Benefit 3: Increasing engagement for all. Collaboration makes space for more voices than just the one coming from the most outgoing, confident, quick-thinking student in the class; everyone contributes to the group goal. Students thrive developmentally and are more deeply engaged in classroom environments that are learner-centered, cooperative, interactive, high-energy, and full of variation and spontaneity.
The best part about collaborative learning?
It applies broadly, across subject areas, across learning topics, across demographic differences, and across ages and grade levels. Anyone can engage in collaborative practices daily to create an anti-bias learning environment where all students feel a sense of belonging.
And collaborative learning is only one piece of the anti-bias classroom! After we lay a collaborative anti-bias foundation, we can move on to adopting strategies for leading discussions and for selecting responders to questions-- strategies that create the space for all voices to be heard, that encourage active listening, and that cultivate respect for multiple perspectives.
Here's a peek at what's to come:
Throughout this series, you'll see that there are A TON of strategies to choose from (seriously, we lost count of how many...). But don't get overwhelmed; choice is a good thing! Just pick a few to start with that resonate with you. Make them your own and share them with your students.
Most importantly, once you do choose a few, don't forget to explicitly model and practice the strategies. We can't emphasize enough the value of modeling and practicing strategies so that students can grow comfortable putting them to use!
Over time, this combination of a few new strategies, some solid modeling, and some regular practice will create an anti-bias classroom environment where all students feel seen, known, and heard.