Facing Gender Differences in Education

Gender Differences in the Classroom
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Published in 1992 and having sold over 50 million copies! (not including the sharing of the book between readers), Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus by John Gray educated us in the reality that there truly are differences between how men and women think, understand, behave and react. When dealing with these distinctions appropriately people thrive. When women treat men as if they were women and men treat women as if they were men, havoc is created.


These “facts on the ground” do not seem to be considered within the educational system. The gap between the successes of girls to boys in the classroom is widening as time goes on. There are twice as many boys with learning difficulties as girls. Four times as many boys are autistic and the incidence of Asperger syndrome is almost entirely male. In special units, boys outnumber girls by six to one and there are five times as many boys as girls excluded from schools. Let’s explore some of the causes.


Already in Kindergarten, girls are found to be more attentive, better behaved and more determined to succeed at the task at hand. These strong beginnings manifest themselves clearly by eighth grade. When looking at report cards, 48% of girls receive a mix of A’s and B’s or better. Only 31% of boys do. Even high school math and science classes are finding a higher percentage of female over male students-something not seen historically.


This academic gap is now continuing to be reflected in the struggling US economy. As job opportunities are based on knowledge rather than physical prowess, men’s wages are stagnating. Some men have even resorted to living idle lives as academics are not their forte.


On the other hand, women receiving a four-year college degree have increased more than 75% over the last quarter-century. Additionally, women’s earnings are up almost 35% over the same time period.


Of course, we cannot only blame homogeneous educational policies on the problem with our boys. Studies have found that, with the increase of single parent homes typically run by the mother, girls are relatively unaffected while boys do not fare well. Additionally, intellectual boys can sometimes be viewed as “un-cool”, causing an even less desire for academic achievement.


One might argue that there are still a disproportionate number of males in top ranking positions in corporate America. However, this seems to be more do to the fact that women tend to need times when they can work part time or take time off, effecting their rise to the top.


What can we do to close the gap?


    • Boys need more hands-on work and physical activity than girls to focus. Bring back art, music, recess, physical education, and play time over extended hours of reading and math. In addition, confirm that the curriculum is age appropriate. With the push to increase education, perhaps we have gone too far, especially with the education of boys whose brains develop later to handle abstract thinking.


    • Aide boys to increase their reading, writing, and ways of expression by providing more boy-friendly books or creating father/son learning opportunities.


    • Give positive feedback to boys for what they achieve. Self esteem in girls tends to increase when they are praised for how they behave.


    • Consider single gender classroom opportunities. This can lead to fewer disruptions, a curriculum based on gender interest and greater opportunities for each gender to express themselves with less fear of embarrassment.


    • On the other hand, be sure to also incorporate mixed gender small group learning. This has been shown to increase interpersonal skills, confidence, communication and assertiveness skills.


    • Find ways to encourage men to go into teaching. Positive male role models are more important than ever.


    • For boys to keep their behavior in check, they need clear behavioral guidelines. Teachers need to be consistent with their rules. Be strict but fair.


    • Set achievable challenges for your students, especially the boys. Boys tend to thrive on a challenge with which they are trusted to succeed. Be sure that the targets are clear and explicit.


    • Develop thinking skills through the use of concept maps. Encourage boys to think before acting as this is not their natural tendency.


What are your experiences with getting boys and girls to succeed in your classroom? Please share your tried and true tips or suggestions on how to balance the scales.


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