Equity Sticks Aren’t Enough

May 11, 2018

Equity Sticks Aren’t Enough

The Case for Implementing Equitable Instructional Strategies with Fidelity


One entry-level strategy for promoting equitable instruction in the classroom is through the use of equitable calling practices. However, the way many teachers use this strategy is either inadequate, ineffective, or potentially damaging for all students – especially students of color.

Why is it important to equitably call on students? There is a wide array of research that explains why (research from how a law school used them, and a study from ASCD about use and question planning), but here are some major points:

  • “Accomplished teachers…establish a caring, inclusive, safe, and linguistically and culturally rich community of learning where students take intellectual risks and work both independently and collaboratively.” [1]
  • “The teacher’s positive attention toward students results in positive academic changes. Hispanic students’ grades improved more than 10% per year when students were given equal opportunity to respond and received individual help. Schoolwork turned in by students increased 15% as a result of having equitable opportunities to respond in class (Bartley, et al, 1999).” [2]


Ineffective Calling Practices: How Are They Harmful for Students?


Practice 1: Using calling cards to randomly call on students after proposing the question.

“What are the chains made of? What are the individual parts of the P-bonds? Does it

always go in the same direction? [teacher pulls card]. James?”

Problem of practice: Here, the teacher asked the question without consideration of the student they would ultimately call upon. What if the student needed processing time? What if the student was an English Language Learner? In this situation, random calling on students in this classroom will become a “gotcha” rather than a way to solicit a variety of viewpoints and extend discussion.


Practice 2: Using random calling cards to call on students who are clearly not paying attention.

Problem of practice: Whenever a teacher uses random calling to maintain student attention, or as a behavioral consequence, the efficacy of that strategy is lost (even on those who may be paying attention). Consider the following: why are you asking questions in the first place? Did you plan out your questions in advance? If so, how do they relate to the lesson and mastery objective?


Practice 3: Only calling on students who you think might have the correct response.

Problem of practice: Although it may feel comfortable when you know you can always rely on “that student,” this puts all other students at a distinct disadvantage. What is the point of asking questions if you are only looking for a correct response from a small number of students?


Practice 4: Only calling on students who raise their hands.

Problem of practice: Some teachers feel like they should only call on those who raise their hands because they do not want to embarrass or make students uncomfortable in front of the class. If students are uncomfortable, it is on us as teachers to do something about it. Although we may not be the source of that feeling, we are responsible for taking steps to improve the climate in the classroom. In order to close opportunity gaps in our classrooms, we must hold all students accountable in ways that are supportive and constructive. Letting kids off the hook by not calling on them demonstrates low expectations for students.


Practice 5: Inconsistently relying on students who call out their ideas and responses.

Problem of practice: In a classroom of 25-35 students, it is unrealistic to assume that any true learning can occur with this type of disruption. Although some students might be able to operate within these conditions, many cannot. If you truly want to create an equitable classroom environment, provide time and opportunity where your calling practices require students to not call out, and provide all students processing time.


Equitable Calling Practices: What Do They Look Like, And How Can We Create A More Equitable Learning Environment?


  1. Explicitly teach what you are going to use with your students, and why you are going to use it. This is sometimes called the “no secrets classroom.” Pop your expectations into your presentation for the day and explain what you are going to be doing, and even cite some research!
  2. Pre-alert students: Before we move forward, I want to hear what you think about the following question … I’m going to use my calling sticks to get your ideas…”
  3. Present your question (and post on the board).
  4. Provide 3-5 seconds of wait time. Wait time is crucial and is backed by extensive research. Students are rarely provided more than one second of think time before being called on or before another student yells out an answer. This leaves students behind, and sets low expectations for student performance. When you consistently use wait time, student response quality increases; the “I don’t know” responses decrease; students feel more comfortable; and the number of students who are ready to answer drastically increase.
  5. Give students time to discuss with a partner. If you feel like you are getting some confused glances, or you continue to get the same excited respondents, allow them to talk with someone and even refer to their partner’s response if needed.
  6. Use a random calling method (sticks, index cards, or online).
  7. After pulling the name, and calling on that student, be sure to return their card back to the pile. This will maintain the expectation in your classroom that even if you respond once, it doesn’t mean you can disengage!
  8. Keep calling on students as needed. You may also want to let students know that you will be calling on X number of students before moving on.


“Equitable Practices” Is Not Just a Buzzword…


Using random calling practices doesn’t automatically make your classroom equitable, and it won’t arbitrarily close the opportunity gaps that exist in our classrooms. However, it is one big step to providing a more inclusive and comfortable learning environment that supports the voices of all students.


[1] Trumball, E. & Pachero, M. (2005). Leading with diversity: Cultural competencies for teacher preparation and professional development. Providence, RI: Northeast and Islands Regional Educational Laboratory (LAB) (Eric document reproduction service No. ED494221).
[2] Los Angeles County Office of Education. (2002). Teacher Expectations Student Achievement (TESA): A staff development program for all teachers, coordinators manual. Downy, CA: Los Angeles County Office of Education. p. D-1.

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