Equity and Your Classroom

Reflect on your equity-awareness

How you think about your students matters—deeply

Practice equity in assignments

Tell students what the ground rules are

  • Share your criteria and standards for successful task completion (rubrics, sample papers/projects)
  • Weigh your assignments evenly; avoid any assignment worth more than 30% of a grade
  • Time due dates thoughtfully
  • Grade inclusively: avoid curving; it limits numbers of who can excel and is a proven disincentive to study

Give students choices and time to demonstrate they are learning

  • Use formative assessments early so students can discover their knowledge and skills-gaps with time to adjust/persist; examples include low-stakes quizzes, quick writes, homework, and discussion participation
  • Allow students to earn their grade in a variety of ways—avoid high-stakes, summative assessments like midterm/final-only evaluations; repeated assessments are better than one-time testing

Help students participate and belong

Assume all students want to be part of a learning community

Practice Presence

  • Make an attempt to learn students’ names
  • Use proximity with, and call on all students, equitably; treat all questions and concerns with interest

When online

  • Let students know when and how to contact you with questions or concerns
  • Send a message to students who are not participating based on your gradebook or logs
  • Create short (1-5 minute) videos to introduce each week. Only-audio also works

Experience is powerful

Relate course material to the rich, lived experience of students

  • Measure students’ prior knowledge about course topics using a knowledge survey or questionnaire
  • Use personal anecdotes to make material relevant
  • Incorporate the heritage language of students (and culturally-relevant examples) in course materials
  • Use metaphors to represent difficult content

Promote engagement inside and outside the course

  • Require at least one office-hours visit, which can be in a group
  • Require or encourage students to seek regular advising, internships, and networking with faculty
  • Include university support services in your syllabus so students know where to go for help


Your instructional materials should avoid ‘hidden curriculum’

Be crystal clear

  • Make sure your syllabus is accessible
  • Write student learning outcomes (objectives) for students, not experts
  • Link course activities directly to course goals
  • Use simple, friendly language in prompts and directions
  • Make an assignment transparent: Specify purpose, all related tasks, and criteria for evaluation

Show your subject matter organization

  • Review the previous week, outline your lecture, and recap each session
  • Use a diagram or concept map to show how your discipline organizes knowledge
  • Tell students what the discipline values and how (E.g. creativity, ingenuity, problem-solving)
  • Show students how to read writing genres from the discipline

Foster Self-Awareness

  • Ask students to set a learning goal for a personal connection to the material
  • Use reflection to help students think about how they approach assignments and tests
  • Teach students to take notes; provide “skeleton notes,” partial-lecture note handouts students can download
  • Share study skills that worked for you when you were a student.

Give and Solicit Feedback

Feedback is one of the most powerful influences on learning and achievement in the college classroom.

Structure feedback

  • Check randomly for student understanding in class (muddiest point, minute-paper, pair and share, cold calling, clickers or other peer response systems). You want to know how ALL students are doing
  • Post grades in Canvas using Speed Grader so students can track their progress (eliminate surprises)
  • Solicit feedback at the mid-term in case you need to make adjustments; don’t wait until the end of semester
  • Use peers to give feedback: Peer discussion improves student performance

Give the right kind of feedback

  • Praise student work and effort, not intelligence; students who believe they can get better with hard work perform better
  • Give feedback no later than ten days following a due date
  • Provide feedback to correct, not just incorrect, responses
  • Allow students to think about why they did/not do well on an assignment via reflection.


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Brame, C. J., & Biel, R. (2017). Test-enhanced learning: The potential for testing to promote greater learning in undergraduate science courses. CBE-Life Sciences Education, 14(2): es41-es412.

Brown, P. C., Roediger, H. L. & McDaniel, M.A. Make it stick: The science of successful learning. Cambridge, MA: Belknap.

Cooper, K.M., Haney, B., Krieg, A., & Brownell, S.E. (2017). What’s in a name? The importance of students perceiving that an instructor knows their names in a high-enrollment biology classroom. CBE-Life Sciences Education, 16(1): ar8-13.

Dubey, P., & Geanakoplos, J. (2010). Grading exams: 100, 99, 98,…or A,B,C? Games and Economic Behavior 69(1): 72-94.

Feldman, J. (2020, January 27). Improved Grading Makes Classrooms More Equitable. [Web log post].

Hattie, J., & Timperley, H. (2007). The power of feedback. Review of Educational Research, 77(1), 81-112.

Lang, J.M. (2012, January 17). Metacognition and student learning. Chronicle of Higher Education.

Smith, B. (2013). Mentoring at-risk students through the hidden curriculum of higher education. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

Smith, M.K., Wood, W.B., Adams, W.K., Knight, J.K., Guild, N. and T.T. Su. 2009). Why peer discussion improves student performance on in-class concept questions. Science, 323: 122-124.

Volk, S. (2018, April 16). Less is more: Low-stakes assessments and student success. [Web log post].

Download PDF copy

Download a copy of the Equity Minded Classroom Checklist.

Common Definitions

Diversity: Individual differences (e.g., personality, prior knowledge, and life experiences) and group/social differences (e.g., race/ethnicity, class, gender, sexual orientation, country of origin, and ability as well as cultural, political, religious, or other affiliations)

Inclusion: The active, intentional, and ongoing engagement with diversity—in the curriculum, in the cocurriculum, and in communities (intellectual, social, cultural, geographical) with which individuals might connect—in ways that increase awareness, content knowledge, cognitive sophistication, and empathic understanding of the complex ways individuals interact within systems and institutions

Equity: The creation of opportunities for historically underserved populations to have equal access to and participate in educational programs that are capable of closing the achievement gaps in student success and completion

Equity-Mindedness: "The term 'Equity-Mindedness' refers to the perspective or mode of thinking exhibited by practitioners who call attention to patterns of inequity in student outcomes. These practitioners are willing to take personal and institutional responsibility for the success of their students, and critically reassess their own practices. It also requires that practitioners are race-conscious and aware of the social and historical context of exclusionary practices in American Higher Education." (Center for Urban Education, University of Southern California)