Saturday, December 29, 2012


Every year on the first day of school, I always make it a point to explain to my students that "fair does not always mean equal". Equal opportunity requires student-centered teaching, classroom modifications, and/or behavior plans. This is what we now refer to as "Differentiated Instruction". It is a new catch phrase, but something good teachers have already done for years. If you are connected in any way to a child with special needs, you know this comes in the form of an IEP - a legal document to make sure you provide this individualized instruction to a student. 

Unfortunately, I have had to discuss this topic with more adults than children (you know, those teachers who insist on having Stepford children as students).

One of my favorite educational cartoons ("No Animal Left Behind")

 I often demonstrate the concept of "Fair vs. Equal" to others using a tactic I learned in grad school from one of my favorite professors, Johnnie Walkingstick:

royalty-free images
I tape two one-dollar bills high on a wall (but just within reach of a tall person in the room). Both bills are placed near each other at the exact same height. I announce to the class that I will call up two volunteers, each to retrieve a dollar. The task is simple: If they are successful at reaching a dollar, they can keep it! This immediately stirs interest and sparks conversation about who can reach it and who cannot. I then call up a "random" person (unbeknownst to them, I have already planned to choose a tall volunteer). This person reaches high, maybe even tiptoes a little, then gloats when they successfully snag the dollar. I then call up another "random" volunteer (this time I have decided ahead of time it will be the shortest person in the group). This person reaches and jumps to no avail. Without speaking, I slide a (safe) chair over and allow this person to stand and retrieve the dollar. 

Almost every time, someone will comment, "That's not fair!" This is the perfect teachable moment. The volunteer could not help that he was shorter. In order to make the situation "FAIR" - each person having the same opportunity to achieve the same goal, one person needed a little modification. The conversation is endless...

Here is a poster that can be used in your classroom, from Christi Fultz. 
Check out her blog for the free printable and other cool stuff:


  1. Love that poster! I'm definitely going to be using that one. Thanks!

  2. I love the poster, too! I'm going to use your idea of teaching fairness - thanks!