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Young Learners

Teaching English to Elementary School Children

April 19, 2011

Ensuring fairness between boys and girls

After reading a couple of books by Peggy Orenstein who writes about how teachers, both male and female, in American public schools treat boys and girls differently, I was prompted to look at my own teaching and the way I treat boys and girls in my elementary school classes.

I found that when boys raise their hands to answer questions, they tend to shout “me, me, me” or “Hai, hai”, while girls are more likely to raise their hands in silence. While I do try and ask students who raise their hands silently, my attention was often drawn to the loud (mostly) boys. I also noticed that boys are more likely to try and answer questions that they are unsure of, while the majority of girls will only answer when they are certain they have the right answer.

I also found that I tended to be more inwardly tolerant of naughty behaviour from boys than from girls. Although my reaction to the behaviour was similar on the surface, I realised that underneath I was more accepting of bad behaviour from boys than from girls, and students can probably sense this.

Do these things really matter? Almost certainly, yes. Students are learning a lot more in the classroom than what we are explicitly teaching them. While the lesson is in theory an English lesson, the students are constantly learning other lessons about social roles, social norms, what constitutes acceptable behaviour and so on. How we as teachers treat our students will affect how those students think about themselves and about their roles in the classroom and more widely in society.

How can we ensure fairness between boys and girls in our classes? Firstly we have to be aware of our own tendencies to treat boys and girls differently. Once we become aware of our own inconsistencies it becomes much easier to ensure our actions in class are fair. We can have strict rules about how students answer questions. For example, only students who raise their hands silently can answer. Or, if we do’t want to discourage this enthusiasm we can have a rule that we will ask boys and girls alternately. If girls are more reluctant to answer question than boys, we can have a system of points for girls versus boys, to encourage girls to answer questions.

As well as ensuring fairness between boys and girls, we also need to encourage quieter students to speak out, regardless of whether they are a boy or a girl. Some students are naturally quieter and we don’t want to force them to speak but reluctance to speak out in class can have a detrimental effect on learning. According to Orenstein, “students who talk in class have more opportunity to enhance self-esteem through exposure to praise; they have the luxury of learning from mistakes, and they develop the perspective to see failure as an educational tool”. One way of allowing all students a chance to speak out is to have students divided into a number of teams. Points are awarded when students answer questions. To ensure all students have chance to speak, a rule can be used where the same student can’t answer again until all team members have answered a question. Students can help each other in order to avoid pressure on weaker, quieter students, but a new student must actually answer the question each time.

« Spot the Difference | Main


You may find "En(d)gendering Communicative Competence" interesting.

This collaboratively produced six-part video series problematizes the routine pedagogical

promotion of “communicative competence.” The star of the movie is the moviemaker’s former

Kansai Gaidai University student, who returned last year as graduate researcher bearing searing questions related to gendered patterns in classroom interaction. [Presented at JALT's Seventh

Annual Pan-SIG Conference, "Diversity and Convergence” at Doshisha University, Kyoto, Japan, May 10-11, 2008.]

1. Introduction: What We Think We Do (8 min)

2. Asking and Answering (10 min)

3. Interruption (10 min)

4. Agreement and Disagreement (10 min)

5. Encouragement Discouragement (14 min)

6. Achieving Fair Share (10 min)

In continuous form (63 min)

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