Thursday, December 3, 2009

Equity in the Classroom Paper

We had to write a paper on gender inequality for my Sociology class so I chose to write about Strategies to Promote Gender Equity in the Classroom. It's pretty long but a lot of it is relevant to things we have talked about in class so I figured I'd share and see what you guys think. Here it is:

Strategies for Promoting Gender Equity in the Classroom

For generations girls have constantly been the gender that has lagged behind in schools. Girls received lower marks than boys, graduated in lower numbers, and were much less present in the University setting. In recent years however, girls have begun to dominate in almost every aspect of the classroom. The many organizations that have been set up to help girls achieve and promote confidence have proven to be extremely effective in helping girls rise from the oppression they faced just years ago in the classroom. In the meantime, while we have devoted so much effort to ensuring that girls are able to thrive in schools, we seem to have forgotten about the boys. For the first time, it is now the boys who are lagging behind in school, they are receiving far lower grades, dropping out of high school in much greater numbers than girls, and are absent from the now female dominated college classroom. Schools are now feverishly trying to put an end to the gender bias and achieve gender equity in the classroom by implementing a variety of different teaching strategies to benefit the needs of all students.
To understand the strategies being used to promote gender equity in the classroom, it is first necessary to understand why boys have fallen behind in the first place. The elementary school curriculum itself puts boys at a distinct disadvantage from very early on. “Most school curricula emphasize the left-brain cognitive skills of speaking, reading, and writing abilities, which usually develop at a slower rate in boys. Starting at the kindergarten and first-grade levels, boys are expected to perform to a standard that favors the girls. They are expected to sit still, speak articulately, write the alphabet legibly, work in groups, color between the lines, and be neat and organized.” (Connell) Boys also struggle in the emotional climate of the classroom as well. Boys are often taught to be unemotional and are therefore much less able to cope with sadness, frustration, and anger. “In the classroom, this silent code gets boys into trouble, because they are less likely to let teachers know when they are having difficulty, feeling frustrated, or just plain not getting it. Instead, they may express their feelings in the only way they know how: They fidget, get distracted, and ultimately-they get reprimanded.” (Connell)
While it is the boys who have fallen behind in schools, the academic experience is not necessarily perfect for girls either. Although the gap has become much smaller, boys still tend to test better than girls in math and science (while it is the girls who test better in writing, reading, and verbal skills) (Bleuer) Girls are also expected to raise their hands and wait to be called on in class, while boys typically just yell out the answers. In numerous studies, researchers have found that when boys call out answers, the typical response of the teacher is to listen to what they have to say whereas girls are usually told “Please raise your hand if you want to speak.” (Bleuer)
The typical classroom/class is set up and conducted in such a way that does not benefit the learning of all types of students. It has become clear that the egalitarian classroom model-teach everyone the same- doesn’t serve all students (Connell) and that changes must be made to America’s classrooms in order to keep the gap between boys and girls from growing any larger. In order to better facilitate the learning of all students, especially boys, educators recommend using the following strategies to promote equity in the classroom.
Due to the fact that boys are generally more active in nature than girls, one strategy that is recommended is to allow time for movement during the day. This movement can be done in a variety of ways, from simply letting students take a brief period of time to get up and stretch, to using movement to teach an entire lesson. For example, a teacher could ask the whole class to stand up and act out a period, a question mark, an exclamation point, or a semicolon during a lesson on punctuation. (Connell) This technique is not only beneficial to boys, but to all high active children who may struggle with focusing on the material if they are too fidgety to pay attention during class.
Using hands-on material is another strategy that is beneficial to male students. Boys tend to be visual learners, which is one of the reasons why they typically excel in sciences, spelling and math (Bradway). Being a visual learner in writing class however is much more difficult in the typical classroom setting. In order to help visual learners learn in the classroom it is recommended that teachers allow children the opportunity to show their learning in other ways besides writing. (Connell) “Jennifer Muse, a kindergarten teacher in Bedford, Massachusetts, recalls a lesson in which she was teaching her students to write the letters. One little boy complained, “Ms. Muse, I don´t want to write the letters, I want to make them.” Later, following his lead, they used modeling clay to form the letters of the alphabet. This is a perfect example of teaching with boys in mind.” (Connell)
Throughout school, boys are severely lacking prominent male role models in the classroom, especially in elementary school, where the majority of their teachers are female. In order to provide role models for boys it is recommended that teachers invite fathers and other male guest speakers into the classroom, such as authors or community figures, to help balance the female influence in the classroom. High School boys are also a great source for a positive male influence on younger boys by having them tutor male students who are struggling with certain subjects. The programs initiated for girls have been largely successful because they have provided role models for girls to admire and strive to be like, helping them do better in school. By doing the same for boys, they too would see the importance of doing well in school in order to become successful adults.
The actual material covered in the classroom tends to favor girls as well, and thus another strategy for promoting equity in the classroom is to choose books that appeal to boys. Girls read more than boys do, and because they read more books, publishers publish more books with girls as their target audience. Thus, even when boys do pick up a book, they are likely not to read it after finding that the stories are not told with them in mind. The fact that boys do not read as much is also attributed to girls being “more likely to read a book about a leading male protagonists than boys are willing to read about a leading female protagonist. But this, too, is likely our fault, as a culture that so often sends the message that not only are girl things unmanly, but, worse, that reading itself is unmanly.” (Baggott) Whether the main character in the story is male or female, it is the stories themselves that do not interest boys. In an interview with psychology professor Judith Kleinfeld one boy said "Why would anyone want to read novels? They aren't even true!" (Britt) In the article Why Johnny Can't Read: Schools Favor Girls, Kleinfeld makes it clear that it is not the boys themselves who are the problem, it is our schools curriculum, "Here's a fascinating fact," she said. "There is no literacy gap in home-schooled boys and girls….Why? In school, teachers emphasize reading literature and talking about character and feelings," she said. "This way of teaching reading does not turn boys on. Boys prefer reading nonfiction, such as history and adventure books. When they are taught at home, parents are more likely to let them follow their interests." (Britt)
In order to encourage boys to read and improve their fluency it is important to ‘hook’ boys early on by giving them books they want to read, whether it be a book about baseball or even just a comic, by fostering a love for reading early on teachers can insure that boys will continue to enjoy reading throughout their schooling years.
These are strategies that are proven to work, and do because they not only play towards boys strengths, but also helps girls who learn differently as well. By integrating these more hands on approaches along with some of the more traditional teaching methods, teachers are encompassing all of these students’ learning needs, so that everyone in the classroom benefits/learns.
Some educators feel that the inherent differences between boys and girls are so great that the best way to ensure gender equity in the classroom is to have separate classes for boys and girls. This is a strategy, however, that has been met with great opposition. Although, in practice, the separate classes would teach the same material to boys and girls just in different ways that benefit each gender’s hardwired learning techniques, many people feel that separate classrooms would be a step backwards. Another criticism of separate classrooms for boys and girls is that it violates Title IX which states that “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance..." The new legislation brought with No Child Left Behind however, gave public schools more flexibility in offering single sex programs (Standen) and even allocated funding to some schools willing to try single sex classrooms.
No Child Left Behind has caused a number of America’s schools to try out single sex classrooms and those schools who have, have found that the students are actually benefiting from this unique classroom setting. Jefferson Leadership Academies, which implemented single sex classrooms in 1999, has reported a number of benefits from using this strategy. "Student grade point averages for students who had previously attended Jefferson in either grade 6 or 7 increased for all students, male and female, in both grades 7 and 8 under the single gender academy configuration. The increase was statistically significant for both genders at grade 7 and for males at grade 8." (Sharpe) “The California Department of Education summarized research on single-gender educational programs in a Fact Sheet: Single Gender Academies Pilot Program. The report indicates that single-gender education
• Seems to reduce the number of dropouts.
• Improves the general academic performance of urban males and the math and science achievement of females.
• Creates a setting that appears to reduce the distracting behavior boys and girls fashion for one another.
• Motivates students and parents. "The effectiveness of single-gender programs may be due more to students' and parents' motivation, commitment, and small class size than to the fact that they enroll only boys or girls." (Sharpe)
Although single gender classrooms have statistically improved test scores across the board, one of the issues with all boy classes is that some teachers report that they feel threatened by their students. “When asked about specific problems in Jefferson's single-gender classes, Rojas, the Principal of Jefferson Leadership Academies responded, "Some teachers have had a hard time with their all-boy cores [classes], but I feel it is based somewhat on the fact that they feel more physically challenged by boys who misbehave than by girls." (Sharpe) According to Emily Martin, the deputy director of the ACLU’s (American Civil Liberties Union) Women’s Rights Project, the risks far outweigh the benefits of single-sex education. "When you segregate groups of people based on a characteristic, you give enhanced importance to that characteristic," says Martin. "And the very act of putting boys in one class and girls in another encourages students to rely on differences in gender, to inflate the gender difference in their minds." (Standen) Another criticism of single-gender classrooms is that the schools “may owe their success to any number of factors: smaller class sizes, specialized teachers, and a higher profile, which brings extra revenue” (Standen)
In talking about this issue it is important to understand the difference between ‘equality’ in the classroom and ‘equity’ in the classroom. These two words are often used interchangeably, but despite this fact, equality and equity are not synonymous to one another. Equality occurs when everyone is treated exactly the same, everyone is put on the same playing field and given the same ‘tools’ regardless of what they need or already have. Although equality may seem ‘fair’, it is not the right thing to be promoting in our classrooms(For an example, if a school wanted to make sure students were being treated equally, no student would be allowed to have extra help via a reading program because not every student would be getting this same extra time.) Although Acts such as Title IX made great strides in providing equal opportunities for boys and girls the problem we now face is achieving equity. Schools need to now realize that treating students equally is not ideal, they must instead strive for equity. Not all students are able to learn in one specific way, it is time that schools acknowledge this fact and begin teaching in a way that promotes equity not simply for boys and girls, but in ways that benefit all of the different ways students are able to lean.
Whether the change is radical, such as creating single-gender classrooms for boys and girls or something as simple as allowing time for physical activity, something must be done to obtain gender equity in the classroom. We must first rid ourselves of the myth that it is the girls being shortchanged and realize that it is the boys who are now in need before America’s classrooms are ever able to properly teach boys and girls alike. By doing so, we will ensure that one day gender inequality in the classroom will become a problem of the past.

1 comment:

  1. Lots of connections to our course, huh? Glad you posted this!!!