Friday, November 7, 2014

Year 5: Week 10 – To Be Fair

Fairness is a fascinating concept. It’s something that kids are obsessed with but very few kids if any understand.

To a 3rd grader, fairness means that everyone gets a turn and the teacher treats every student exactly the same way. In reality, fairness is actually about giving different individuals what they need to reach a similar goal. For example, I would hold a door open for a student in a wheelchair but I may not for a different student who can walk under his or her own power. I’m not treating these kids the same way, but they both got through the door. That’s what fairness is all about.

This concept goes way beyond my students’ heads, even with some of my 8th graders. It’s the same reason why kids have issues understanding that a math problem may have more than what correct solution and that the “good guys” in world conflicts aren’t always good.

Developing minds needs to view the world without nuance and subtlety so that they can better categorize their surroundings. Some kids hang tight to their own illusion of fairness, the idea that everyone gets the same thing, to help them understand the world around them.

As a teacher you have two choices. You can try to get them to not focus on fairness through discussion or you can do what I do: use their obsession with fairness to your own advantage. If I convince my students that I make choices partially to be fair, then they interpret this as me validating their concerns.

I’ll tell a group of students that in order for everyone to get a chance at playing an instrument, so it’s fair, they will be quieter during transitions. If I tell a student that he can’t have two drums because everyone else has one, he will immediately put it away. And if I tell other students to be quiet during someone else’s solo because they were quiet for them, it makes sense to them very quickly.

There’s a balance between playing into our students’ worldview and helping them grow beyond their own perceptions. It’s important that students are pushed to understand the nuance of fairness but developmentally students need to be older to have these kinds of conversations.

One of the fastest ways to loose a student’s trust is to do something that a student perceives is unfair. A teacher who unfair doesn’t seem to care about the students and make kids confused and upset.

To be fair sometimes means that you have to be stricter. Other times it means that you have to spend more time with organization.  These adjustments are worth it.

Talking about fairness helps make students feel that you are fair.  Once students see you act in a fair way then you can begin helping them understand what real fairness all about.  

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