Creating Equitable Classroom Climates: An Investigation of Classroom Strategies in Mathematics and Science Instruction for Developing Preservice Teachers' Use of Democratic Social Values

Article excerpt

The purpose of this study was to determine best practices for enhancing 48 preservice teacher candidates' knowledge of gender equity and use of innovative instructional methods and strategies for developing classroom democratic social values. Initially, prior knowledge was assessed with a 20-item Likert-style rating scale instrument (pretest). Following the pretest assessment, group discussion addressing perceptions of equity, diversity, and equality in the classroom and initial attempts at constructing meaning and definition of each area was completed. After analysis, it was determined that initially, most preservice teacher candidates did not have much experience in equity training other than what they had observed or experienced in their own lives. Next, participants were immersed into selected current equity and diversity literature, observation of girls and boys in real classroom settings, and initial construction of what activities and approaches driven by equity, equality, and diversity would look like . As the semester progressed, marked development in understanding and application of appropriate methods and strategies in equitable classroom practices emerged. As closure, preservice teachers were assessed in a 20-item postrest.

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The purpose of this study was to describe and delineate a series of methods used to prepare preservice teacher candidates to create equitable classroom climates and, ultimately, to better serve all children's learning needs. A secondary objective of this task was to show the value of and need for arming preservice teacher candidates with empowering practices in equity education, emphasizing gender, which will not only enhance their underlying value systems but also the value systems of their students.

Equity issues are at the forefront of most educators' agendas today and a considerable amount of data is available concerning gender equity. Findings indicate that progress has been made, however, it seems that teacher education programs may be among the most reticent to change (Sadker, 1999). Educational quality will likely not improve without educational equality and this understanding of equality and equity should begin in preservice teacher preparation. Teaching equity will not only empower beginning teachers, it will also begin to offer more strength to the overall shift in the acceptance and understanding of societal equity issues.

Building democracy in the classroom requires implementation of fair and equitable practices that students of both genders can invest in and trust. Equity, although difficult to define, usually connotes fairness or an eventual equality of Outcomes (Nieto, 2000). Equality not only signifies the provision of equal resources and opportunities for all students, but also considers their skills, talents, and experiences (Nieto, 2000). Secada (1989) has argued that equity is a qualitative construct that appeals to the spirit or is "unwritten" as opposed to being accountable by the letter of the law.

Literature Review

Reasons for studying equity and equity related issues have surfaced in numerous well-respected educational books and journals over the past few years, most often beginning with the work of David and Myra Sadker. The Sadker's (1994) now-famous work studied teacher's responses to boys and girls in the classroom and found clear evidence of bias showing that this gender bias in schools makes it impossible for girls to receive an education equal to boys.

Fennema, Carpenter, and Franke (1995) highlighted the need for rethinking the norms by which learning and academic success have been described in the past in that, in most instances, the academic successes of an individual were recognized when they conformed to the norm or traditionally held beliefs about what constitutes success in school. In brief ways of knowing and behavior within a school environment have been controlled by these established norms. …