With the start of a new school year, many instructors hope to improve our efforts to give fair opportunities to all our students, especially those who may face hardships due to their identities and backgrounds. Students come into our classes with a wide range of minoritized identities, both apparent and hidden. We often focus on race, ethnicity, and gender, and these are certainly important. Additionally, our students may be first-generation college students, belong to low-income families, be parenting their own children, be gay or lesbian, have non-binary genders, or have hidden disabilities. Some students have the additional challenge of falling into more than one of these groups. They also may struggle due to poor high school preparation. In this column, I'd like to share some ideas for how instructors can work towards giving all students the opportunity to succeed in physics.

The most effective changes are at the departmental or the college level. Organizations supporting reforms at this level include the Sea Change Project,1 the IDEA Network,2 and the TEAM-UP Project.3 Consider organizing a team at your university to work within one of these frameworks. In that way, you'll be able to address not only challenges within your own courses but also improve the entire department through efforts such as updating the curriculum, adding Learning Assistants, creating student spaces that enhance collaboration, and improving student support.

But you need not wait for larger efforts to make changes that can impact and elevate your students right away. Our colleagues have shared several strategies and approaches that have helped them support and include all students. In sharing their ideas, and a few of my own, I look forward to hearing from others in the physics instructor community about strategies and approaches that can help all of us reach our goals.

In order to stay connected with students and ensure problems can be addressed early, Nicole Lloyd-Ronning (UNM-LA) reports success with sending an email, simply checking in to see if students are okay, at the first sign of a late assignment, missing attendance, etc. With the return of in-person teaching, she looks forward to being able to upgrade those electronic check-ins to in-person meetings, which are even more effective.

In smaller classes, Shelly Lesher (UW-La Crosse) holds mandatory meetings with all students in the first week of classes and in the week after their first exam. The first meeting is for getting to know each other, discussing apprehensions the students have about the class, and sharing study strategies. The second meeting celebrates and encourages those who did well and helps address problems for those who did not do their best. Working on these issues early lets students recover from one bad grade. In larger classes, where she can't meet individually with students, she holds office hours in public places like the tutoring center or student lounge to make students feel less like they are intruding on her space, so that they are more likely to come for help.

Because meeting deadlines and achieving 100% attendance can be difficult for students with complicated lives, Ran Brynn Reif (UC Boulder) suggests being flexible, recognizing that just because this is a big, important, hard class doesn't mean it's the only thing going on in students' schooling and lives. He encourages group work within and outside class. He suggests that instructors learn about academic support centers on their campuses so that they can recommend them to students. Throughout interactions with students, he works to foster a growth mindset.

Knowing that students may be overly discouraged by an initial bad grade, Mario Belloni (Davidson) weights the first exam much less than later exams, so that students know that a low initial grade won't automatically prevent them from achieving their desired grade. Moreover, he lets them know that grades in introductory courses shouldn't deter students from pursuing physics: On the first day of class, he tells the students his own grades in introductory physics courses (B−, C+, C+).

In the last few years, I have developed my own ways of helping students see that they are not alone and to encourage their success. First, a tool for helping to create an inclusive classroom: an interactive anonymous quiz early in the semester that lets students see that others in the class share the same identities. Questions range from “Did your parents complete college?” to “I identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community,” and also some just for fun, like “Pineapple on pizza? (yes/no).” See the supplementary material for my current list4 and add your own. Of course, you'll want to be certain in advance that any sensitive questions you ask will have at least a handful of students responding in each group.

Second, to increase student confidence: the grade guarantee. It's become clear that some of our students need more than just a few weeks to overcome challenges caused by an insufficient background in math and physics. Some of our students have completed multiple years of physics and calculus in high school, while others have never studied either. We've worked to reduce this disparity by developing a challenging algebra-based introductory course for all our students in which they learn about topics in modern physics, starting with why we believe in atoms and ending with Bell's inequality. But there are still students who struggle (algebra is hard!) and while complicated schemes to let students earn back credit on exams allowed persistent students to earn at least a C, it wasn't always apparent to the students how this would work out. Thus, the grade guarantee.

The grade guarantee is simple. Completing the required work in the weeks leading up to each exam guarantees a minimum grade of C on the exam. This required work is carefully chosen to help students develop habits that will lead to success in physics in the long run: (1) attend lecture and problem-solving classes, (2) complete any unfinished problems after class, (3) turn in homework, (4) correct homework errors using the published solutions, and (5) attend an exam review session and make a review sheet to bring to the exam. That's it. I tell students that these steps are exactly what they need to do to succeed, and that most students who complete them won't need the grade guarantee. But this guarantee gives students full control over their grades: They know exactly what they need to do in order to earn at least a C on each exam.

And here's what makes this possible, even though it seems like much more grading than any instructor in an introductory course has time to do: The students submit their work online (we used Gradescope) and all students are encouraged to complete the work. But it only has to be checked for the small subset of the students who do not achieve a grade of C on their own. For my class of 45 students, this check requires only a few hours following each exam.

Want to share or find more ideas? The new AAPT Communities site provides an easy way to connect with other physics instructors.5 Try it out!

Supplementary Material