Fair vs. Equal

If there are any words I’ve come to dread as a parent or a teacher, “It’s not fair!” is the phrase I dread the most.  It is an extremely hard phrase to reason with.  My husband tells me that when he was a child, he and his brother used to put their drinks side by side every night so they could guarantee that they both had gotten the exact same amount of juice as the other.  My kids try to do the same with popcorn and my students try it with seemingly everything.

The funny thing about these two words is that even though kids (and sometimes school systems) treat them like synonyms; they are not.

What is equal? 

As humans we want to make sure that we are getting everything that we are entitled to.  This sometimes means that if we see someone getting “more” than us, we want to remedy that situation by either getting more ourselves or bringing them down to our level.  In the classroom this pops up with kids when you differentiate work, give small group teacher time, or basically any time that kids can see a discrepancy between their experience and another’s experience.  No classroom functions well if every student gets exactly the same everything.  It doesn’t work because their needs are more varied than making everything equal can account for.

What is fair? 

When I talk to kids, I often make an analogy about a giraffe and a caterpillar.  In this scenario both the giraffe and the caterpillar live in the same place and they both eat leaves.  The ruler of the town decided that there should be a set number of leaves for each animal, so that the town doesn’t run out of leaves.  The ruler decides to divide the leaves equally and gives the caterpillar and the giraffe the same amount of leaves.  I then stop and ask, “Is this fair?”

The kids invariably shout, “NO!” They recognize the innately different needs in terms of amount of leaves between a giraffe and a caterpillar.  I then set them brainstorming how else the leaves could be divided if dividing them equally isn’t fair.  There are usually lots of discussions about this and quite often I’ve had kids decide to get paper or whiteboards to make diagrams  In the end we always come to a solution that takes into account that a giraffe needs more leaves than a caterpillar does to survive.  Also if a caterpillar has too many leaves they could get sick or go to waste.  We then try to sum up our ideas about fair and equal.  Sometimes we’ve said that fair doesn’t mean equal and other times we’ve said that fair is giving each person what they need.  

fair vs equal

When we’ve made our own definition of fair, we bring it back to the classroom.  So is it a good idea to make sure that we always do exactly the same thing for every person?  They now quickly point out some of the different needs they may have or others may have.  I then remind them of the definition that “fair is giving each person what they need”.  I then give them opportunity to think of times in the classroom that things might be different for different people but, everyone is getting what they need.

I have this discussion early in the year, every year and it works.  Since I’ve started using it, I’ve noticed that my students are more aware of their own needs and the needs of others.  I also display a poster that either uses their definition of fair that year or my standard definition.  I’ve included three posters that you can use with your class.  Just click on the image and it will send you to my tpt store.

Fair is not equal

Click on the picture to download.

Little Vikings




Freebie International School Welcome pennant

It is the middle of summer, the time of year that teachers start getting ready for the next school year.  My brain has currently only started thinking about the first week.  I know that in that week, international schools will be celebrating their diversity of languages and cultures.  I’m personally a little sick of only seeing national flags so I thought this year’s class could make a pennant.    Each child will get their own page to decorate and present the important information (i.e. how they say hello, their name, their languages and countries, and what they look like).  We will then string it together for a large class banner.  I envision it looking something like this.

Getting to Know Me International School Freebie
There is a shout-out in the banner to several important internationals, many of who may have been given the wrong age for entertainment/educational purposes.  I’m excited to see each pennant decorated and hanging together as a class.

A brillant colleague of mine introduced me to a new beginning of the year flag acitivity.  She started by putting her students into groups of four.  She then made them divide an A3 paper into four sections . They needed to create team flags that represented their backgrounds/likes/cultures.  The only rules she gave them were that 1) they needed to agree on how they would make the flag and 2) they couldn’t use their home countries’ flags as part of their team flag.  I thought it was brillant and with her permission, I added that idea to the freebie. Now it has a few ideas to help in your back to school weeks.

Getting to know me learning edition

I also made a Back to School Pennant for Learning Preferences.  Even if you’re not at an international school this one can still be great for you.  This has a pennant to decorate into a class banner but it also has a student survey that I think will be highly valuable.  You can then collate the data and share it with the students.  I put in a mini-lesson idea for how to start student discussions about how they can make their classroom a place where everyone can learn.  It is an inquiry based way to find out what students like and then make them part of finding a workable classroom management system.

They’re both free and available in my Tpt store Little Vikings.  You can click on either cover image to go directly to that product.