The Ottawa Citizen had an editorial today on the Toronto District School Board looking at opening an all-boys public school.
This issue of single gender schooling and classrooms has been in the news a bit over the last few years as parents, teachers, and administrators try to find ways of reducing the "achievement gap" between boys and girls in school. Now, as I blogged about earlier, we need to be a little bit careful when we talk about gaps. Still, there is quite a bit of anecdotal and research evidence that at least some boys are not being well served by our current education system.
One idea that comes up is the idea of single gender classes (in coed schools) or single gender schools. I did some reading today about single gender classes and the overall research seems to be mixed. I think the best quotes that I saw talked about the need for teacher training if single gender classes are to have an effect.
from Gender based courses:
Dr. Leonard Sax, director of the National Association of Single Sex Public Education, a nonprofit organization that supports the availability of same-sex educational programs when appropriate, said segregating classes without extensive teacher training and parental input can quickly backfire on administrators.
“You can engage girls in computer science. You can engage boys in art and creative writing. But that doesn’t happen automatically,” he said. “Just putting girls in one room and boys in another accomplishes very little. In can actually have adverse effects if teachers don’t have appropriate training.”
Without the proper training and without enough parental and administrative involvement, Sax said, the classes can reinforce society’s gender norms, not circumvent them.
“If you simply put girls in one room and boys in another, and teachers have not had appropriate training, the result is that you end up reinforcing gender stereotypes,” he said. “You end up teaching girls with shopping analogies and boys with sports analogies. That’s not helpful, because not all boys like sports and not all girls like to shop.”
Another point that I remember reading several years ago, but could not find when I went looking, is that many teachers naturally connect better with either boys or girls. I wish I could find the article where I first read this, but personally, it seems to be true. Our first assumption would likely be that men are better at teaching boys and women are better at teaching girls, but this is not always the case. I know that in my teaching, I have typically had a better teacher-student connection with the girls in my classes than with the boys. I have also run across an all-girls class taught by a woman where there was clearly a major lack of connection between the teacher and the students. This means that schools looking at staffing single gender classes need to be aware of the fact that it can be tricky to put the right teacher in front of a room full of boys or girls.
A final point goes to my wife's experience teaching English this year. She has embraced a lot of technology in the form of using wikis and a SMARTBoard interactive white board. Using technology, along with some other ideas she picked up from professional reading, has allowed her to bring in more interesting resources (e.g. Google Earth instead of a photocopied map), get students doing different activities than they normally have in an English class, and offer more choice to students. The response has been that several parents of boys have told her "For the first time, my son is enjoying English class." Now, typically, my wife has not connected super well with boys, but her differentiated teaching as well as adoption of useful technologies has let her get a lot more interest, enthusiasm and participation out of the boys in her class. So, in the end, maybe the way to fix the "gender gap" is just better teaching, not anything structural or administrative.