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Equity Focused Teaching Approaches

  • Teaching Strategies
  • Inclusive & Equitable Teaching

Last modified: March 25, 2024

Making adjustments in how you teach can make a big difference in creating an equitable learning experience for all students


Many of the suggestions on this page came out of the work done by participants in UAS's book groups for Stop Talking: Indigenous Ways of Teaching and Learning and Difficult Dialogues in Higher Education by Ilarion (Larry) Merculieff and Libby Roderick as well as participants in the Decolonizing Our Spaces professional learning community.

Before the Class Begins

Syllabus & Policies

Before the semester begins, consider reviewing your syllabus through the lens of equity. Are the policies and expectations communicated in clear, welcoming language? If you have a lot of academic jargon and threatening consequences, it can be a barrier to many students; some may even drop the course without attending a single day. Incorporating the UAS Land Acknowledgement in your syllabus can demonstrate respect and awareness of the historical and contemporary relationships between Indigenous peoples and their lands. Also, establishing classroom agreements can ensure that all students have an opportunity to contribute and engage in a safe and respectful environment.

There are many great resources out there for helping you to examine your syllabus and make small changes that will have a big impact on students, including:

Course Materials and Projects

Students want to see themselves reflected in your content area. This helps them to connect with the material, but it also helps them to envision themselves as a professional or scholar in your field.

  • Include reading and content by diverse authors and perspectives (when possible), especially material written by Alaska Native and other Indigenous authors. If you're not sure where to find this kind of material, contact your librarian liaison - they are experts in finding resources.
  • Recognize students as experts based on their life experiences and knowledge, and recognize sources such as interviews with Elders or family as legitimate sources to be used in research.
  • Build in more assignments that invite students to engage with (and reflect on that engagement with) the land, their communities, culture, and values. Think about ways to connect projects to students' organizations (work or volunteer) or their communities.

Grading Practices

Reducing the stress of grading for students and instructors can help all students focus on course content and learning processes in the classroom. Here are some ideas for how to do so:

  • Allow students to learn through revision and re-submission (within a timeframe that makes sense for your course material)
  • Set deadlines and expect / encourage students to meet them, but allow students to submit late work without a grading penalty (within a timeframe that makes sense for your course material)
  • Emphasize quality over quantity - does the work lead to understanding and mastery of the course objectives, or are some assignments only for students to demonstrate they are doing work every week?

For additional ideas, see the CELT Knowledge Base page on Equity-Focused Course Design.

During Class

Create a Classroom Community

Fostering a supportive and interconnected learning environment is essential for student success. Below are some ways to help students to feel a sense of belonging in your class:

  • For on-site classes, consider your seating arrangement - would a circle of chairs work for your course?
  • Learn one another’s names and pronouns as soon as possible (and make sure names are being pronounced properly).
  • Create space in the classroom to ask “How are you doing?” or other questions that allow everyone to get to know each other a little better. In larger classes, this could also be done in small groups or as a part of breakout sessions. For asynchronous classes, you could do check-in surveys using polling tools or Google Forms.
  • Get to know your students and help them get to know you:
    • Have a student survey at the beginning of the semester to learn a little about your students.
    • Create an introductory assignment where students write or talk about themselves, where they came from, what is important to them. 
    • Post a short video on your course site about yourself - you can keep it more career focused or be more personal, depending on what is most comfortable to you. The idea is to be authentic to yourself and to allow students to see you as human.

Instruction, Activities, and Discussions

Allow student participation in multiple forms. Not every student is comfortable jumping into a fast-paced discussion where participants are talking over each other or only a few voices are dominating the conversation. Consider trying one or more of these strategies:

  • Think-Pair-Share: have students discuss the question with a partner or small group first and then have a full-class discussion.
  • Give students time to think and write down ideas before launching a classroom discussion or asking students to answer a question posed by the instructor.
  • Have students write responses on sticky notes, or online through a tool like Padlet or Google Jamboard, and then do a "gallery walk" where the class reads all of the responses.
  • Build a culture of "active listening" where students are listening to understand, not listening to respond, and where you allow for at least a 10 second pause in between speakers.
  • In asynchronous classes, offer students the option to respond to discussion forums using text, audio, or video. VoiceThread is a great tool for facilitating multiple modes of expression in discussions.

Think of ways to change up or make small changes to assignments and activities. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Incorporate the natural world or the land. Can you take students outside? Is there a way to connect the ideas in your course to the land, seasonal cycles, harvesting?
  • Model the actual work for the students, no matter what type of class. This makes the thinking process visible to students and helps them to realize the invisible work that is happening in your mind when you are working through a math problem or getting started on an essay. 
  • Invite diverse staff and community members into the classroom, including Elders. This is an opportunity for students to have positive role models, and to make the connection between your content and their community.
  • Include opportunities for reflection and quiet observation in your activities or assignments.
  • Explain the purpose of each assignment and the relevance outside the course.

Communication Strategies

By making adjustments to how you structure discussions and group work, you can create a more inclusive and equitable classroom where all students have the opportunity to participate and express their understanding. Using compassionate language when communicating with students, especially in online classes, can also foster increased and more productive student responses, especially when problems arise. Here are some ideas to consider:

Stop Talking

  • In class, allow for longer periods of silence for students to digest content and give students time to think before responding to questions. (Do not talk to fill in the silence while they are thinking or digesting - they cannot listen to you and think for themselves at the same time.)
  • Slow down the pace of class - don't expect students to give an immediate answer. Allow them to reflect on content, maybe even until the next class, before discussing.

Start Talking

For students:

  • Many students learn best from their peers. Think of ways to incorporate peer-review and peer support in your classes. 
  • Consider adding group work to your course if it fits with your subject-area. CELT has a great At-a-Glance guide for best practices in group work.

For faculty:

  • Practice compassionate communication:
    • Let students know that you want to help them be successful in your class.
    • Include your contact information in any communications. Even though students can find this in other places, having it in your message makes it easy for them to respond.
    • See this template from CELT with sample language you can include in messaging to students. (limited access to UA users only)
  • Communicate with students on a regular basis, especially in asynchronous online classes where they are not meeting with you in real time.

Additional Resources