Social Identity Wheel
The Social Identity Wheel worksheet is an activity that encourages students to identify social identities and reflect on the various ways those identities become visible or more keenly felt at different times, and how those identities impact the ways others perceive or treat them. The worksheet prompts students to fill in various social identities (such as race, gender, sex, ability disability, sexual orientation, etc.) and further categorize those identities based on which matter most in their self-perception and which matter most in others’ perception of them. The Social Identity Wheel can be used in conjunction with the Personal Identity Wheel to encourage students to reflect on the relationships and dissonances between their personal and social identities. The wheels can be used as a prompt for small or large group discussion or reflective writing on identity by using the Spectrum Activity, Questions of Identity.
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- 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 identity 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 Social Identity Wheel 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 a Large Course:
Cooperative learning and small group approaches in a large course can greatly benefit student learning, engagement, and overall sense of community. Research has shown that leveraging such approaches can lead to the development of key skills such as active listening, empathy, consensus building, leadership, constructive conflict management and resolution as well as decreasing racial prejudice while increasing interracial tolerance. This activity allows students in your large course to learn from and about each other and to reduce the feeling of anonymity that can be pervasive in a large course setting. By making your large course feel smaller through this activity, you are actively working toward making a more inclusive space for all students.
Citation: Cooper, J.L. and Robinson, P. (2000), The Argument for Making Large Classes Seem Small. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 2000: 5-16. https://doi-org.proxy.lib.umich.edu/10.1002/tl.8101
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 get to know each other’s identities through this activity can help build trust between students, which is a key indicator of whether or not students feel comfortable participating. 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.”