Get ready for ISTELive 21! Launch the site now.
Creative Constructor
Lab Virtual
Leadership Exchange
at ISTELive 21
Edtech Advocacy &
Policy Summit

Investigating Design and Applications for Equity Maps in a History Course

Listen and learn

Listen and learn : Research paper
Lecture presentation

Presentation 1 of 2
Other presentations:
Teaching Computational Thinking to Exceptional Learners: Lessons From Two Diverse Classrooms

Michael Stephenson  
One of the primary roles of being a teacher is the ability to foster quality, inclusive dialogue. In a historical moment where that can seem more difficult (especially in regards to American history), using an app like Equity Maps helps teachers evaluate discussions and empower their students going forward.

Audience: Teachers, Professional developers, Technology coordinators/facilitators
Attendee devices: Devices not needed
Participant accounts, software and other materials: If attendees have an iPad, they could choose to download Equity Maps, but it does have a cost on the iTunes store. If I'm given the opportunity to present at ISTE, then I will have my iPad to help in the presentation.
Topic: Equity & inclusion
Grade level: 6-12
Subject area: Social studies, ESL
ISTE Standards: For Educators:
  • Shape, advance and accelerate a shared vision for empowered learning with technology by engaging with education stakeholders.
  • Use technology to design and implement a variety of formative and summative assessments that accommodate learner needs, provide timely feedback to students and inform instruction.
  • Use assessment data to guide progress and communicate with students, parents and education stakeholders to build student self-direction.
Additional detail: Session recorded for video-on-demand, Graduate student

Proposal summary


For the philosophical basis of dealing with issues like constructive dialogue and equality in the classroom, I owe leaders like Paulo Freire a huge debt. Without his work on developing the foundational aspects of critical multiculturalism, I would not have been able to see the full utility in including instructional tools like Equity Maps into my classroom.

Critical multiculturalism is a paradoxical statement in that it is both advancing and retreating at all times. It should be a societal attitude that is forward-facing and constantly yearning to reach critical consciousness for all members, but it should also factor in redundancy measures to keep its foundation strong. It is that which allows people to review the world around them, the factors contributing to their subordination, their history, the history given to them, and then advancement measures into a state of what educator and writer Paulo Freire calls conscientização or critical consciousness (Education for Critical Consciousness, pg.26).
Self-liberated students from a variety of backgrounds are afforded the opportunity, through scaffolding dialogue (provided by liberation-minded educators), to review that which held them back from their liberation in the first place. They can then continue to provide others around them with the necessary resources to do so as well. The Swiss linguist, Ferdinand de Saussaure, theorized that words or signs hold their true meaning in their differential relations within the structural system in which they reside (Culler, 1986). Identifying critical multiculturalism really comes easiest when one examines that which it is not. Primarily, ideology and its deployment against the oppressed holds one of the primary roles in continuing what Freire called naive consciousness (Education for Critical Consciousness, pg.74). The many roles that ideology plays use education, the focal point of either liberation or oppression, as a tool to massify the oppressed. Using dialogue is critical when dealing with an American history that both had little conscious importance for many of my students, but it was also a tool used to frequently oppress them by the dominant hegemony. Establishing a critical dialogue was crucial to helping them to realize the value in the content and to continuously push to engage with each other.

These views are also reflected in what Antonio Gramsci calls the cultural hegemony, where a ruling class of a diverse society have the ability to dictate cultural norms. These norms often time serve to reinforce themselves primarily through Louis Althusser’s notion of ideological state apparatuses. Gramsci states that this is a cultural web spun by the ruling elite that captures citizens so that they just see the way the world is as something they need to accept as “natural”. For many of my students, dealing with red hot issues like women’s suffrage, slavery, and Civil Rights felt like something distant. Many of them, particularly my international students and students of color, had experienced first-hand the negative impacts of the hegemonic state without learning the history attached to it. By beginning a dialogue based on these issues they were able to draw connections from historical issues (like the Dred Scott case and the Emancipation Proclamation) to what they are dealing with today. For many of them, they had been taught that their differences from the hegemonic state were natural and that very clearly made them feel lesser and downtrodden. This was evident in many of my students’ initial interactions with American History as a whole. Using Equity Maps as an instructional tool allowed them to have metacognitive discussions before (as a group) and after the dialogue (one-on-one with me) on what needed to be addressed with these historical moments and how they often reflected their modern world.
Additionally, the modern-day notion of “color blindness” does not actually entail treating people of all races equally, but rather it causes people to treat race as something biological or natural. In dealing with such a multiracial population at our school, many students walked in the door with the idea that their race had no “baggage” attached to it. This would present itself frequently in our dialogues as some students would frequently struggle with the idea of being in a privileged position. Studying history with a critical eye allowed for many of them to see that race was not just an acceptable point to discuss in American history but also a necessary one.
Beyond pigmentation, we know that race is socially constructed, so acting on the “color-blind” biological notions (what Ozlem Sensoy and Robin DiAngelo refer to as “individualism” in Is Everyone Really Equal?) actually “[d]enies the significance of race and the advantages of being white, denies the historical context of our current positions, and reproduces the myth of meritocracy, the idea that success is the result of hard work alone” (Is Everyone Really Equal?, pg. 126). Hearing what some of my students have gone through in dealing with issues such as peers and teachers issuing a color-blind ideology or suggesting that meritocracy (often referred to as “bootstrapping”) is at the heart of American history was another key component in establishing dialogue in my classroom. Additionally, the equity factor and data visualization that Equity Maps produced immediately after finishing a dialogue goes hand-in-hand with a good, critical discussion. Allowing my students to see these statistics was a visual cue for them to continue to develop strong discussion skills.

The gender disparity that is present in the stereotyped version of who usually enjoys history was another large problem that I wanted to address. Heterosexual white males compose nearly the entirety of history textbooks. For LGBTQ and female students, this lack of a visual presence in American history can be incredibly discouraging. In my years of teaching prior to introducing Equity Maps, the classroom discussions were predominantly lead by white, male students. Focusing on changing this gender dynamic in class was a big point of growth for myself and my teaching style. The utilization of Equity Maps was a huge driver in changing that disparity. By presenting the discussion data to students of all backgrounds, we could have open, heartfelt discussions on what needed to change so that students from historically oppressed populations felt comfortable enough to speak.

As Dr. Nadine Burke-Harris explained in "The Mask You Live In" (2014), the brain adapts and changes in a system referred to as proliferation and pruning. Since the human brain is plastic, new information and repeated actions/thoughts strengthen certain connections while the synaptic connections between old information and actions that are repeated frequently are “pruned” off. This shows that in a world of heavily bifurcated consumer marketing and expected roles (passed again through Althusser’s ideological state apparatuses) between boys and girls, there can be no such thing as “gender neutral”. Therefore, children from an incredibly early age pick up on these messages and then strenuously try and fit themselves in those predetermined boxes, sometimes to great detriment to themselves and others. A critical educator should play the role of identifying that nothing can be presented as gender neutral. From there, one can be aware of the implications of the intent and probable results of the messages. For example, the lack of female voice in many early American texts silenced many of my female students. By presenting more early femine role models (i.e. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Dolley Madison, and Harriet Beecher Stowe) through primary sources in our pre-dialogue classroom sessions, I was able to add evidence for my female students to find more ways to insert themselves into building a truly inclusive dialogue.
Beyond just establishing a positive, accepting school environment that encourages multicultural backgrounds and challenges hegemonic power, schools and educators should be aware of group memberships within their institutions. While many early elementary students reflect their teacher’s dialect, by 4th grade students tend to normally lean back towards their local dialect (Delpit, 1997). By the time they reached 8th grade, many of my students that speak Ebonics (or any other marginalized language) will not have access to the linguistic capital that pertains to students from the dominant group.

With an increasingly diverse student population, the teaching force remains largely hegemonic (Martin, J., Martin, T. Capel, M., 2014). According to the National Center for Education Information (2011), 84% of the teaching force in the US is white. To utilize the five dimensions of multicultural education that James Banks (1998) laid out as content integration, knowledge construction, equity pedagogy, prejudice reduction, and an empowering school culture and social structure, allows educators to assist students to remain within their group membership but also help them code switch to standard English in the appropriate situations. This highlights the educator’s role in providing access to standard English and its resultant power structure while also celebrating the beauty and importance of their primary language (Martin, J., Martin, T. Capel, M., 2014). Having an avenue for dialogue that accepts their home language but challenges them to utilize the content materials is a major component of how I found Equity Maps to be so successful in the classroom.

Teachers, like myself, that are part of the dominant structure must assist students in safely navigating between their multiple literacies due to the fact that students of non-dominant backgrounds are inherently kept out of the dominant school and societal culture. The gatekeeping utilized to withhold students from these positions is integrated deeply in the positions of the institutions themselves. Students that are able to surpass or even engage with these societal blockades find themselves in a situation of “double consciousness”. Coined by the esteemed W.E.B DuBois, the term refers to being both black and American. This can also be applied to any other subordinate group in an oppressive society that holds this identity. As the first African American to hold a doctorate, DuBois was being psychologically challenged by “always looking at [himself] through the eyes” of a racist, white society and being “shut out from their world by a vast veil” (Double-Consciousness and the Veil, 1903). Educators must realize that if students are not already part of the culture of power then informing them explicitly on the rules of power makes acquiring it easier. However, those that hold this power are usually least aware of it while those with less power are conscious of it (Delpit, 1988). As Delpit goes on to address, American students are “judged on their product regardless of the process they utilize to achieve it. Without the necessary codes of understanding...they might not be able to see that there is a process occuring.” It is the educator’s role to inform students from oppressed backgrounds of the dominant processes of power while also being aware of their double consciousness.

Students of these backgrounds do not have the means to accumulate middle-class and white cultural capital. They are usually raised in areas that develops the type of cultural capital that “is seldom congruent with mainstream or dominant practices associated with success” (McLaren, 2007). Their non-dominant cultural capital, seen as less valuable or useful in a white hegemonic system, should be utilized in the classroom to enhance student learning. Additionally, teachers can help students to recognize their funds of knowledge relative to their group and convert it into forms of capital. By activating their capital, they can have their resources legitimized by the dominant hierarchy, ergo providing new, growing opportunities for advancement (Goldenberg, 2014).
However, like Lisa Delpit, educators in dominant positions must continue to push from the top down for critical change to occur. Even the ability to navigate multiple languages is not enough for students to become “intelligent, competent caretakers of the future” (Delpit, 1997). This revolutionary change can, however, continue to take place through critical multicultural education with its aims to cultivate democratic attitudes among all levels of the educational system, pedagogy that parallels the culture of its students, and to reestablish education’s dominant cultural systems to ensure fairness to historically dominated and disenfranchised groups by white American domination (Olneck, 2000).


The methods of how I worked through these myriad issues were challenging and are still a work in progress. However, I found myself better able to engage with students of so many different backgrounds through dialogue fostered and supported by instructional tools like Equity Maps. My initial step in this was the selection of appropriate primary source materials. The Stanford History Education Group (SHEG) and the Library of Congress were informational wells that I frequented the most in developing the structures of my classroom dialogues. Ensuring that the materials I provided my students were robust, multicultural-based documents was paramount in the success of the program. For example, our textbook cited materials that made Andrew Jackson’s Indian Removal Act of 1830 seem like both a necessity and a positive moment in American history. Students had little to say in regards to material presented this way. To many of them it came off as the status quo of modern society: a hegemonic, powerful figure forcing oppressed people to a place they did not wish to go. However, by later including primary sources from Native American figures such as John Ross (Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation) their dialogue was based on their learned experiences of how people of color deal with authority figures today.
 Secondly, my students were able to assist me in developing our expectations for each dialogue. This inclusion of everything from what topics would be discussed to how it would be assessed were vital for increasing the amount of dialogue and motivation along with ensuring equitable practices were being followed. Looking at the associated research, Anderson (1984) found that many historically low-level learners did not understand the point of many assignments and concentrated on just finishing rather than on digesting what they were intended to be learning. By allowing my students to be stakeholders in the process of developing their expectations, they were fully aware of what would be discussed. Therefore any required materials or information for students to familiarize themselves with prior to the dialogue was made abundantly clear. Wells and Arauz (2009) affirmed this as well, stating that dialogue in the classroom is most effective when students are actively involved in the construction of meaning about topics that are of significance to them.
 As a teacher, the best way to foster this type of dialogue in the classroom is to ensure that the students have a strong foundation in the primary and secondary sources (Reiser, 2004) and to not overly involve myself in the dialogue itself. With that being said, researchers have shown that cognitive strategy use, motivation, and metacognitive processing as markers of academic success (Butler & Winne, 1995). For an example of the cognitive strategy use, students that naturally wanted to be involved in the dialogue were regularly taking well-organized notes prior to the dialogue and bringing them with them on the day itself. They also showed the ability to maintain motivation on their own, and monitor their progress on various preparatory academic tasks as a type of metacognition (Winne & Azevedo, 2014). To summarize, the students that came prepared and wanted to be part of the dialogue, were typically very successful in dialogues prior to my implementation of Equity Maps.
One of the great benefits of Equity Maps, was that my students that were still learning how to self-motivate and self-monitor were jump-started by the standardization of dialogue that Equity Maps presents. I intentionally projected the Equity Maps dashboard on my SmartBoard during dialogues, insofar that I did not need to momentarily show an image, map, or other form of realia. This allowed students to self monitor and course correct as the web of conversation was literally being shown in front of them. As students were stakeholders in both the content and assessment of the dialogues, they knew what was expected of them, and I could immediately provide that feedback through the instructional tool.
The next step in my methods of using Equity Maps as an instructional tool to foster critical, productive dialogue was to identify my own role. As previously mentioned, Equity Maps allowed students to self-monitor their own progress, but I had to be sure not to over-involve myself. Lisa Delpit (1997) identified that constant verbal corrections of students (especially those of color) increases cognitive monitoring of speech, therefore making it more difficult and less genuine. Forcing students, in a heavily linguistically diverse one like mine, to monitor their speech for minor errors or misconceptions typically produces nothing but silence. This point can be well-summarized by one of my distinguished peers who often stated: “Don’t sweat the small stuff”. By naturalizing language, I helped to foster the dialogue itself in a way that cultivated new points that I do not believe would have been possible in a more dictatorial teaching style.
One of the best dialogues we had throughout the entire school year was based around the question: “Which theater of the American Civil War was most important in ending the war?”. High ESL student populations tend to take these referential questions and produce longer and more complex answers compared to display questions. They also tend to have more of a need for collaboration and contained greater numbers of connecting statements (Brock, 1986). One of the benefits of Equity Maps was being able to visually present those connecting statements as well. This is a referential question because we covered evidence that could be used as supporting information; however, it is not a display question because the question itself was never answered or covered in class prior to the dialogue (Mehan, 1979). Additionally, there is not one “correct” answer to this statement as the Eastern, Western, and Trans-Mississippi Theaters all had their merits in the way the war ended. The production of the question, lead by my students, was therefore generated using background knowledge and genuine curiosity. Their cultural skills for an argumentative style of dialogue (not structured as a true debate) allowed this to flourish.
Once I pressed the start button on Equity Maps, students would immediately be allowed to being their dialogue. As a monitor of the debate, I did not require raised hands, but instead I had students self-police who was speaking. Especially in the first few dialogues, this allowed for a bit of confusion and talking over one another for a moment. However, that was an opportunity for me to utilize the “Chaos” button on Equity Maps, which would trigger a visual on the screen that students would respond to and quickly redirect themselves. I had my set of identified points that I wanted to make sure the group hit and an accompanying set of visual aids or realia to additionally redirect students. Without a verbal cue from myself, I would simply split my screen with Equity Maps on one side and a map, chart, short video, or other form of media on the other. This would cause a momentary pause while students investigated whatever I had posted, and at that point I could simply press the “Media” button to record the time being investigated. On the occasions that students were having a hard time generating talking points, I could hit “silence” to give them some reflection time, or I could cue them with a hint (ex: “Think of how we discussed the number of railroads built from 1850-1860 in the North vs. South.”) and allow them to discuss via the “pair share” or “small group” options. Once the dialogue had hit all of the predetermined discussion points and everyone that had something to share was given a chance, I ended the session. Having completed 55 individual Equity Map-based dialogue sessions with 10 classes over the last two school years, 48 of them have lasted at least 30 minutes out of my 47 minute class period.
My next method was to ensure that my students feel celebrated for utilizing their voice. With many students not having an outlet for such a thing, it is crucial that they felt heard and respected for their opinion on an academic topic. Students, even those that have radical ideas, should feel like their voice plays a central role in the instruction and development of the classroom (Bragg, 2007). By both allowing for the inclusion of student voice and celebrating it, the entire school ecosystem can benefit from a person-centered model of true democratic partnership (Fielding, 2011).
The final two methods of instruction are some of the most useful in regards to the technical capabilities of Equity Maps. First, I assessed and revisited the impact that every student had on the discussion. Assessing dialogues is a notoriously challenging task for teachers. Without Equity Maps, I was trying to record each and every input throughout a dialogue or create some sort of scoring system that would standardize the entire measure across multiple dialogues. This rarely worked out well as it would keep me from monitoring or my assessment system was difficult for students to understand. Once I began using Equity Maps, I had a method of keeping track of individual student involvement along with whole class data. It was incredibly useful for me to utilize the assessment data in one-on-one meetings with students, parents, and with other school members. Primarily, I represented some of the data (discussed in the assessment section) on a growth-mindset web rubric and other data was just kept on the iPad for ease of accessibility.
Lastly, I always felt like the data that I had, courtesy of Equity Maps, was peerless in my ability to further inform my future instruction. I was immediately provided full understanding of what students were able to articulate about a particular content-based question. Supported by the fact that they had ample access to evidence, I felt like I could draw a very clear line from the end point of our dialogue to where we needed to go in our next unit. Additionally, if students were making errors in their dialogue that provided me with a road map of what needs to be addressed in a redundancy measure or in a future unit.


The type of dialogue that is most effectively fostered and supported by Equity Maps is a critical dialogue willing to challenge historically dominant ideologies. These critical dialogues should start with differences of opinion, be based in respect for one another’s viewpoints, a value system that rewards good points being made with evidence, and an overall group goal of sharing understanding (Andriessen and Baker, 2014). My intention over the course of the school year was to be able to see growth in my students’ ability to engage in Socratic Seminar dialogues. With that being said, I established a growth mindset web rubric with input from my students. With a scale of 1-5, the rubric was intended to fit the thematic mold for my gamification activities as well.
It firstly graded the student’s ability to connect to points made by other students with ideas of their own. I was looking for students to have the ability to take one point made by a peer and connect it to something another student said. This webbed cognition is a key feature on Equity Maps as it can be visually charted on the app. Additionally, I was gauging how well students used evidence either discussed previously in class or posted on the board during the dialogue. Classroom management concepts such as listening and levels of preparation dealt with individuals, while the chaos section established a whole class component.
I was also looking to see how much each individual time students spoke in the dialogue. At the start of the school year, a 5/5 score was usually very easily attained with a student being willing to speak without prompting. If they are keyed into the Equity Map projection on the board, then it should be fairly straightforward to see who has and has not spoken. As the school year progressed, I expected more of an intentional effort to continuously stay engaged.
Students felt like it was necessary to have a grammar section of the rubric as well. While this was not something I graded strictly on the basis of spoken, standardized English, it was expected that students could make valid and understandable points to the overall discussion. Lastly, I assessed the equity of the group as a whole. This enforcement of equality assisted in students specifically asking their peers that typically did not have a voice in a history classroom what they thought. As the equity evaluation was compiled from gender and race, it allowed for students to continuously utilize their privileges and invite historically oppressed groups to the discussion. These rubrics could be used to visually cue students towards the directions they needed to grow and that the many components are tied together. They could also easily be juxtaposed over several dialogues throughout the year.


Primarily, I would say the significance is driven by the utilization of the app to drive multicultural conversation in a quantifiable manner. Having an opportunity to build conversation and dialogue in a classroom should be of great importance to any educator. My experience with this app has been transformational in how I can help students find their own voice, develop dialogue skills, cultivate a classroom environment around the value of conversation, and show growth mindset-based data to students, parents, and administrators in a comprehensible way.


Althusser, L. (1968). On the reproduction of capitalism: Ideology and ideological state apparatuses. New York City: Monthly Review Press.
Anderson, G. (1984). Advocacy Leadership. New York: Routledge,
Andriessen & Baker (2014). Arguing to Learn. In R. K. Sawyer (2nd) The Learning Sciences. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
Bragg, Sara (2007) “Student Voice” and Governmentality: The production of enterprising subjects?, Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, 28:3, 343-358, DOI: 10.1080/01596300701458905
Brock, C. (1986). The Effects of Referential Questions on ESL Classroom Discourse. TESOL Quarterly, 20(1), 47-59. doi:10.2307/3586388
Brophy, J., & Alleman, J. (1991). Activities as Instructional Tools: A Framework for Analysis and Evaluation. Educational Researcher, 20(4), 9–23.
Butler, D., & Winne, P. (1995).Feedback and SRL: A theoretical synthesis. Review
Culler, J. D. (1986). Ferdinand de Saussure. Ithaca, N.Y: Cornell University Press.
Delpit, L. (1988). The silenced dialogue: Power and pedagogy in teaching other people's children. Harvard Educational Review, 58, 280-287
Delpit, L. (1997). Ebonics and culturally responsive instruction: What should teachers do? Rethinking Schools, 12(1)
DiAngelo, R and Ozlem, S. (2017). Is everyone really equal?. New York: Teachers College Press
DuBois, W. E. B. (1989). Double consciousness and the veil. In The Souls of Black Folk, pp. 1-9. New York, NY: Bantam. (Original work published in 1903)
Feistritzer, C. E. (2011, July). Profiles of Teachers in the U.S. 2011. National Center for Education Information.
Fielding, Michael (2011) Patterns of Partnership: Student Voice, Intergenerational Learning and Democratic Fellowship, Rethinking Educational Practice Through Reflexive Inquiry. Professional Learning and Development in Schools and Higher Education, vol 7.
Freire, P. (2013). Education for critical consciousness. London: Bloomsbury Revelations.
Goldenberg, B. M. (2014). White teachers in urban classrooms: Embracing non-white students’ cultural capital for better teaching and learning. Urban Education, 49(1), 111-144
Gordon Wells & Rebeca Mejia Arauz (2006) Dialogue in the Classroom, Journal of the Learning Sciences
Israel, Elfie. (2002). “Examining Multiple Perspectives in Literature.” In Inquiry and the Literary Text: Constructing Discussions in the English Classroom. Urbana, IL: NCTE.
Krajcik, J.S. & Czerniak, C.M. (2013). Teaching science in elementary and middle school classrooms: A project-based approach. 4th Edition. Taylor and Francis: London.
Krashen, S. (1997). Why bilingual education? ERIC Digest.
Martin, J., Martin, T., Capel, M. (2014). Apple pie and ebonics: Language diversity and preparation for a multicultural world. Leadership and Research in Education: The Journal of the Ohio Council of Professors of Educational Administration (OCPEA), 1, 35-50
Mehan, Hugh (1979). "'What time is it, Denise?": Asking known information questions in classroom discourse". Theory into Practice. 18 (4): 285–294.
of Educational Research, 65.
Olneck, M. (2000). Can Multicultural Education Change What Counts as Cultural Capital? American Educational Research Journal, 37(2), 317–348.
Reiser, B.J. (2004). Scaffolding complex learning: The mechanisms of structuring and problematizing student work. Journal of the Learning Sciences, 13(3), 273-304.
Winne & Azevedo (2014). Metacognition. In R. K. Sawyer (2nd) The Learning Sciences. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
Wong, H. K., Wong, R. T., & Seroyer, C. (2009). The first days of school: How to be an effective teacher. Mountain View, CA: Harry K. Wong Publications.

More [+]


Michael Stephenson, University of Alabama
Graduate student

With several years of middle school teacher experience under my belt, I am now in the process of becoming a school psychologist. My wife and I frequently move all over the country with her work, so I spend as much time as possible learning from teachers, parents, students, and administrators. Because of our unique living situation, I get lots of opportunities to volunteer in schools and listen to new perspective. Teachers of so many different varieties had a huge impact on my development, and I believe it is my role to give back wholeheartedly!

People also viewed

Assignments and assessments in Microsoft Teams
EDU On-Demand
Enrich Place-Based Education Using a Variety of Tech Tools