The Spectrum Activity, Questions of Identity – Equitable Teaching

The Spectrum Activity, Questions of Identity

The Spectrum Activity, Questions of Identity


The Spectrum Activity, Questions of Identity are questions for discussion or reflective writing that prompt students to critically consider their identities and the relationship between identity and context. These questions can be used in conjunction with the Social Identity Wheel and Personal Identity Wheel to prompt students in a discussion or reflective writing exercise about identity.

While this activity is intended to be inclusive, there are some considerations for you to make when implementing it in class. For some students, certain identity categories may require them to disclose information they may not be ready to share in such a setting. Forced disclosure is not part of this activity and it is essential that students have the option to choose which category they want to discuss further. In this capacity, students are empowered to answer authentically through their choices. It is recommended that you facilitate this activity after the class has had time to build community and trust.

Another consideration that must be made is accessibility for this activity. This activity requires students to move around the classroom and ensuring that all students have access to do so is imperative. Be sure to address any accommodations before implementing this activity.

Please be sure to leave a comment at the bottom of the page with your thoughts or experience with this activity!

Activity Goals:

  • To encourage students to consider their identities critically and how identities are more or less keenly felt in different social contexts. The classroom and the university can be highlighted as a context as a way to approach questions on barriers to inclusion.

  • To illuminate how privilege operates to normalize some identities over others. For example, a student who speaks English as their first language can reflect on why they rarely need to think about their language as an aspect of their identity while some of their peers may identify language as the aspect of their identity they feel most keenly in the classroom.

  • To sensitize students to their shared identities with their classmates as well as the diversity of identities in the classroom, building community and encouraging empathy.

Application in a STEM Course:

Fostering a sense of community in your classroom can create a sense of belonging. According to a CRLT study on retention in STEM courses, “students reported that classroom climate (including their anxiety levels, how welcome they felt in class…and instructor rapport with students) significantly influenced their decisions to stay in or leave STEM disciplines.” If students feel that they are part of a community, they will feel more comfortable engaging and participating in the classroom. In another study, peer interactions and support in STEM courses led to gains both academically and socially. The Spectrum Activity is a great way for students to engage with each other on a personal level, creating connections that otherwise would have gone unnoticed. Taking the time to complete this activity at the start of the semester will help students form meaningful bonds, allowing them to better collaborate and support each other throughout the semester.

Application in an Online Course:

Online learning can feel impersonal and disconnected, but there are inclusive teaching practices you can leverage to build community and connection in your online course. Taking the time to discuss aspects of identity through this activity can help build trust between students, which is a key indicator of whether or not students feel comfortable engaging with one another. In one study, researchers asked the question, “what did graduate students who were enrolled in an online course about teaching online find most valuable about online moderation and community building?” From the study, students stated that Student Needs and Community Building were essential components to online learning. Regarding Student Needs, one student stated, “It is necessary that everyone feels safe, comfortable, and welcomed before they will fully engage, enabling them to make personal connections and grow from each other.” Regarding Community Building, another student stated, “Learning communities often develop naturally in a traditional classroom environment, but in an online course, the instructor must make that happen.”

Spectrum Activity Guide:

Related Posts:

Facilitating the Spectrum Activity in Your Classroom:

The Spectrum Activity starts at the 9:50 mark
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