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Fair equals needs not necessarily the same

Classroom Management 


Full Member
Does anyone have an explanation suitable for children about why teachers differentiate? I am searching for ideas to help children understand why procedures may be adapted to fit the needs of individual.

In the past I have used the explanation of purchasing books for a three year old niece, an eight year old nephew, and a fifteen year old niece. I tell them I want to buy books for these relatives and show them a book appropriate for the three year old. I say, “This is the book I purchased for the three year old. Do be fair, should I give this same book to the eight year old and fifteen year old?” Most children reach the conclusion that the same book is not appropriate…each would enjoy a different book. I generalize this to how in the classroom it is necessary for a teacher to change things to be a better fit for students…everyone gets what he/she needs but they may need different things.

This year I have several students with major behavior issues. The classroom management plan which is appropriate for most children, will need to be tweaked to their needs and perhaps for one (an student with autism) and entirely different system is likely. I am looking for ways to help children understand why some children may use other systems and plans.

Any and all ideas will be appreciated. It this topic has been addressed via other threads, please tell me how to access them.

Thanks for your help!!!!


Senior Member

I'm very straightforward about this. Children are very perceptive, and they know that other children are "different" from them. I just say something like:

"Look around the room. Do we all look exactly the same? Are our voices exactly the same? Do we all like the same things? Do we all behave exactly the same way? Of course not!"

"We are all different. Some of us are really good at reading. Some of us are really good with numbers. Some of us are great artists. Some of us can build amazing things with lego."

"Turn to your neighbor (or partner) and tell him/her something that you are good at. Just like we are all good at things, we all have things that are harder for us to do. Some of us have a hard time listening. Some of us find it difficult to wait our turn. Some of us need help standing in line. Some of us need more help with reading. Some of us don't remember our number facts. And that's okay! We are all different, and that's what makes our classroom such a wonderful place."

"You will see me doing some things differently with different students, because we are all different. And that's okay. Some of you will spend more time reading with me. Some of you will spend more time doing math with me. Some of you will spend more time talking about being a responsible member of the class. And we might even make special rules together for some of us. And that's okay."

You get the drift. :) I teach K and 1.


Senior Member

I love your explanation! I went to a Behavior Boot Camp this summer and this topic was not even discussed. I will have several kids with behavior plans, this will put them and everyone else at else.


Full Member
clothing example

A presenter at a recent PD workshop said to post the saying "Fair does not equal same." I am trying to remember the story as she told it but the gist of the story is about a mother shopping with her twin children - a boy and a girl. She buys the girl a beautiful dress and the boy immediately says that's not fair. So the mother bought the boy the same beautiful dress. The boy immediately became upset at the notion that his mother may make him wear a dress. The mother then kindly explained that she bought the dress for his sister because that is something she needed and could use. So you see, fair does not mean same.


Full Member
Our school quote from our principal is "Fairness is not giving everyone the same thing. Fairness is giving each person what they need to succeed." I don't remember who said it. You think I would since I read it a couple hundred times last year...


Full Member

What a great explanation! You probably wouldn't have to go into such detail with all classes but depending on the students some you would.

I too will have a child with autism. In my class I do not give rewards, I expect them to follow the class expectations because it is the right thing to do. That being said, kids with autism respond better to rewards and I know the student in my class may have to go that route and that is ok.


Senior Member
present levels of performance

I would talk about skills, introduce the idea of 'present levels of performance, then move into personal goal setting. You can do this over several lessons. Tie the lessons together keeping the props around and plan on creating Y charts:

Fairness: What does it look like? Sound like? Feel like?

Getting our needs met: What does it ....?, etc.

The lesson for 'just right fit' books can be done using shoes as an analogy. This would work for anything about fairness as well. Bring in baby shoes, shoes for all different purposes, giant all-star basketball size 18 shoes if you can get 'em, etc. Talk about wearing shoes for different purposes and size. This shoe fits so and so, but will it help them with the skill they are practicing? [high heels to play basket ball? Will they get better? Do they fit the purpose? Do they fit the person?]

Teach that different people are practicing different skills. Intro multiple intelligences. One of sets of skills we need to learn tare social skills. Get kids involved in figuring out why these are so important and if they are as important as reading, math, science, writing, etc. Use sports figures, a few different highly talented familiar/popular individuals. Ask kids - can you do that? Can I do that? Lead them to answer: "not yet". How could we get to be that good at ____? Practice. Do we all need the same things to get that good at reading? writing? behaving? Why and why not?

I teach kids that I compare them to themselves - not to each other. We talk about why that is fair. When they ask why so and so gets to use the white board right now, I respond: Because it helps him practice his manners...you are practicing something else right now because we all need practice at different skills. You are getting what you need too.

I teach them: It's 'everybody's show'. It's not the Mrs. D's show, it's not the ____ show, it's everybody's show. We all have the right to learn what we need to learn. When they are being egocentric they begin to learn about sharing and turn taking, bout everyone getting their needs met, and no one being 'left behind', about working together, etc..

Here is a link that includes some information about a success story with a student who was struggling in my room. It's pretty long, - check for my post that has some links attached and watch some videos - but I hope it helps: http://www.proteacher.net/discussions/showthread.php?t=269280

Let us know how it goes for you!



Junior Member
I remember doing a lesson on Fair vs. Equal with my class last year. I hung up lollipops from a string off the board. I asked the children if they could reach it and could have it, would that be fair? They said no because everyone would not get one, because many of the students would not be able to reach the lollipops. Then we talked about how we could make it fair. Some students suggested that if you were shorter, you might be given something to stand on, or maybe your lollipop wouldn't be placed as high. We then connected this to the school setting and talked about how we might not always get the same things- but we get what we need and we are all different and need different things to help us to be succesful. The lesson ended with everyone getting a lollipop :)


Senior Member
Need a crutch or a cast-not always the same

I may not be remembering right, but I think I read in a "Responsive Classroom" book that a way to explain that 'fair is not always equal' is to have a discussion about someone with a broken arm versus someone with a broken leg. Each one will need something different. One might need a set of crutches, the other might need a cast. Each one gets what they need.


Junior Member

I did a lesson-read it somewhere-probably here with bandaids. I choose a child who just so happened ;)to have a scab on their knee-I called them up to the front of the room and made a big deal of puting a bandaid on their knee. Then I said does anyone else need a bandaid while I have them out- of course they all have some sort of boo-boo:rolleyes:. So the next kid comes up with a hurt finger and I make a big deal of putting a bandaid on their knee-the kids are all confused and saying he doesn't need a bandaid there and I respond with Johnny got a bandaid on his knee it wouldn't be fair if Billy got one on his finger and not his knee. So Billy sits down looking puzzled and Susie comes up with a scrape on her arm I put a bandaid on her knee-etc (especially funny if she is wearing pants!). The kids get it! :D


Senior Member
VERY cute idea, Thanks nrr!

Thanks for this great idea, nrr! I can SEE the scene...you've created a movie in my mind! I'm chuckling already at the thought and the power of the lesson. LOL



Junior Member
Great ideas so far

But I also want to add that I've found in Pre-K and K that children seems to understand this pretty well. They see the other child's behavior and your modifications for it and they really get it. I love it when a student tells me excitedly about a child with a behavior plan who has done what he was supposed to do - they get so happy when they see their friend succeed!


Senior Member
Isn't that the truth!

Kids really are sweet about wanting their friends to succeed, aren't they? I love that about kinders! I can't wait to meet mine this year!


Senior Member
In a graduate class this summer, we watched a video about differentiation where the teacher had the students complete a "self-assessment" on several school skills (reading, coloring, handwriting, etc). They then discussed the results and how some students thought they were really good at coloring but not so good at math and vice versa. She had them create a graph based on the results to show all the differences in skills an then discussed how, because of these differences students in the class might be doing different things at different times, etc. I created a a self-assessment for Kinder to do this year and I will basically be following this exact example.


Senior Member
njteacherk, can you share?

Would you mind sharing your self-assessment with us? Here is one I have come up with, but doesn't include some of the things you've mentioned.

I'm trying to get kids to do self-assessment AND connect their ACADEMIC PROGRESS with BEHAVIOR, EFFORT, and ATTENDANCE. LOL We'll see how this goes for me this year.
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Senior Member
I have really noticed the past few years my students don't really have an issue with this. I wonder if it's because of having students with special needs integrated into the class the children just naturally understand that we all need different things to be successful. Or maybe they are just so busy just surviving they don't even notice! These are pretty disadvantaged students who aren't really used to even their basic needs being met so are grateful for everything.

I love the ideas posted though and will definitely use them if the need arises! Thanks for sharing.

BTW I love this book - It's okay to be different - http://www.amazon.com/Its-Okay-Different-Todd-Parr/dp/0316666033


Junior Member
sonjateacher and nrr

I agree with both of you and do similar things.
I have 3 students come up. One pretends to have a cut on their leg, one has/needs glasses, and the other has a broken arm. I then have in a basket bandaids, a splint, and a pair of glasses. I give the student with a broken arm a pair of glasses, the student that needs glasses a bandaid and the one with a cut the arm splint. The kids all giggle and we discuss that each student is different, we have different needs and it is my job to give students what they need and it is the students job to do/use whats best for themselves.

"Fair isn't always equal and equal isn't always fair."