Teaching the Difference Between Fairness and Equality

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The Band Aid Activity for teaching fairness vs. equality; Removing the Stumbling Block

One of the most popular posts on this blog is called Fair Isn’t Equal. In it I include a wonderful graphic that helps to illustrate the difference between the concepts of fairness and equality.

Most people believe that “fairness means that everyone gets the same”; whereas in reality “fairness means that everyone gets what he or she needs.” Further, fairness is one of the most commonly used arguments against inclusion. “Teaching students of different abilities in the same class isn’t fair to those who can move at a quicker pace,” or “It’s not fair to hold back some students to prevent others from falling behind.” 
The best way to accommodate students of varying abilities in the same learning environment is through differentiated instruction; a methodology which enables students to progress at their own pace via activities that are developmentally appropriate. 

I also firmly believe in transparency. I think that the methodology and the premise behind it should be shared with students, enabling them to understand and support one another more fully. "The Band-Aid Activity" is not something that I created; but it is a successful way to help students understand the concept of fairness (versus equality) in a differentiated classroom. 

Teaching the difference between fairness and equality; Removing the Stumbling Block

The Band-Aid Activity
Distribute “injury cards” to students (index cards with various injuries listed one per card). Ask students, one at a time, to share their injury, giving each student a band-aid (regardless of the injury). If anyone complains or questions the band-aid, simply say that it would not be fair if everyone did not get the same thing. 

Questions for discussion:
  1. Was it equal that everyone got a Band-Aid?
  2. Was it fair that everyone got a Band-Aid? Why or why not? (Everyone getting the same thing wasn’t fair because it didn’t help most of the students. Sometimes students will do different things in class, but everyone is learning and getting what they need. It is important not to make anyone feel bad about doing something different.)
  3. Depending upon the age of the students: What other things in the classroom are our “injuries” like?  What else can the Band-Aids be compared to? (The Band-Aids are like getting the help you need in class. When a teacher is working with a small group or individual student, interrupting or distracting them is like taking away the student’s Band-Aid.)  
**Variation: Give all but the last student a band-aid. Add in a discussion of how it felt to be the only one without a band aid.

There can be other variations of the activity depending upon the age of the students, but this can certainly be used in a discussion format with middle school students and teens. And here is a terrific link to a blog explaining this lesson in action with young children.

Do you have any great activities for teaching fairness?

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  1. Clarinet players and trumpet players receive different music even though they both play B flat instruments. Flutes are C instruments that cannot play chords although pianos (also C instruments) can. Fair is not always equal.


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