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Fairness Doesn’t Mean Treating All Kids the Same


“That’s not fair!” Parents and teachers hear this often. What children don’t always understand is that treating students fairly does not mean treating them all alike. Even adults sometimes say that fairness means everyone gets the same thing. Following that reasoning, if one person in the family gets a wheelchair, then everyone should get one. That, of course, is ridiculous! Only the one who needs a wheelchair gets one.

If a child in my classroom cannot read a test for herself, then I provide a way for her to have the test read to her. If another cannot write the answers, then I provide a way to have the answers written for him. The child does the thinking for himself, but a skill deficit or physical problem should not keep him from succeeding in my class. This is treating students fairly—giving them what they need.

On the other hand, if a child can read and write for herself, it would not be fair to read and write for her. She would not be getting to practice her reading and writing skills, nor would she continue to be independent.

I always need to teach about fairness versus equal treatment when it relates to accommodations in the classroom. A blog post by Richard Curwin, “Fair Isn’t Equal: Seven Classroom Tips,” discusses the concept as it relates to behavior management. One thing Dr. Curwin says in that blog is that you should teach the concept of fairness before you implement it, which is an excellent idea.

Next time you hear “That’s not fair!” use the opening to have an important talk about fairness. Ask “What would be fair?” and go from there! 

More on this topic from Livia McCoy: Fairness Is Not Always What it Seems


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#1 Leanne Strong 2015-03-01 15:37
Here are a few activities you can do to teach the students that fair doesn't always mean equal.

These activities will be appropriate for kids of all ages:

You have some of the children pretend they're hungry, some pretend they're thirsty, and some pretend they're cold. But then you give them each a sandwich (or cup of water, or blanket, or anything just as long as it will help one of the children's imaginary needs, but not all).

You have each of the children pretend something is hurting, and then you put a bandaid in the same place on each child (even if its not the place where they said it hurt).

middle and high school age children (teens & preteens) can usually understand the difference between getting what you earn and getting your own way better than younger children can. These would be good activities for kiddos of this age group:

You have them pretend they're in school and you're their teacher. Some of them pretend they always put fourth a lot of effort and are very attentive, some pretend they rarely do that, and some pretend they only do that some of the time. But you give each of them the same grade.

You have them pretend you're their parent/guardian s, and they all want more screen time. Some of the kids pretend they're very responsible, and some of the kids pretend they're not very responsible. But you give them each an extra hour of screen time.

After you're done, ask each of the children if they got the thing that was right for them, and if not, ask them what they should've gotten. "Those of you who were hungry, did you get the thing that was right for you?" "Yes." "Those of you who were are thirsty, did you get what was right for you?" "No." "What should you have gotten?"

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