Gender Equity in the Classroom
When it comes to female students in the classroom, I’ve observed a pattern over the course of my twenty years of work in public schools. In the past, when I observed primary grade classrooms, a good number of girls would routinely raise their hands, share their opinions and ideas, and volunteer to read aloud. In more recent years, however, I’ve noticed that this is not the case. Now that I teach in the seventh, eighth, and high school grades, I’ve noticed a shift that begins around the seventh grade: female pupils are much more reserved and less assertive than they were in the elementary schools.
Children appear to be significantly influenced during the puberty years by the traditional gender stereotypes that are accentuated in popular culture. According to research done in the field of education, the gender stereotypes of aggressive men and submissive women are frequently reinforced in our schools and in the classrooms where we learn. A commercial with the tagline “Like a Girl” does a great job of capturing and subverting that gender stereotype.
GENDER DISPARITY: PARTICIPATION
So what about our various lecture halls? According to the numerous classrooms I’ve been able to observe in middle and high school, male students frequently take the lead and dominate classroom conversations. They are more likely to volunteer to read aloud their writing or the class materials, and they are also more likely to raise their hands to answer questions more frequently than female students. Because of this, teachers often unknowingly rely on male students as their target or go-to responders and volunteers, according to study conducted by Fengshu Liu. As a consequence of this, females are subsequently called on less frequently, which further contributes to their quiet and results in unintentional gender bias in the practises of instructional institutions.
Researchers David Sadker, Myra Sadker, and Karen Zittleman describe their experiences of observing public and private school classrooms across the country over the course of several years in their book titled Still Failing at Fairness: How Gender Bias Cheats Girls and Boys in School and What We Can Do About It. They discovered that beginning in elementary school, teachers engaged with female students less frequently and asked them fewer questions, while at the same time delivering more feedback to male students. This trend continued through high school.
The authors also noted that there was a disparity in the allocation of the teachers’ time, energy, and attention, which was weighted heavily in favour of the male students. After spending hundreds of hours observing lessons and teaching procedures in a wide variety of classrooms and grade levels, the study team came to the conclusion that the prevalence of gender stereotypes in those settings was “startling.”
GENDER DISPARITY: CURRICULAR MATERIALS
In addition to the gender gap in class participation and attention from teachers, education researcher Kathleen Weiler discovered that male-dominated curriculum materials are commonly used in schools across the United States.
In the course of my own research on education, I recently conducted a count to determine the percentage of male and female authors in three language arts textbooks that are currently being utilised in the second-largest school district in the United States, which is the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). There were fewer than thirty percent of female authors in the language arts textbook used for the eighth grade. (Fifty-two percent of the pupils enrolled in the LAUSD are female.) The findings were comparable in the remaining two textbooks (one for the ninth grade and one for the tenth grade).
It is important to note that this particular textbook publisher is one of the largest used in public schools across the United States. In addition to publishing textbooks for language arts, this publisher also publishes textbooks for mathematics, science, social studies, and other subject areas for high school students as well as textbooks for elementary school students. According to the findings that Sadker, Sadker, and Zittleman uncovered across the country, male characters continue to predominate and outweigh female characters in curricular materials by a ratio of two to one.
EXAMINING OUR PRACTICES AND CURRICULUM
Invisible gender biases in curricula, combined with the normalisation of stereotypical gender roles, contribute to an unequal educational experience for both girls and boys. What sorts of adjustments may be done to make the learning environment more equal for each and every student?
As you reflect on your own classroom and the topic of gender equity, please take a few moments to think about the following questions:
1. Do any of the materials I use exclude girls and/or women, or do they treat their experiences as if they were not real? What are some common characterizations of boys and/or men?
2. Do any of the works I’ve chosen contain examples of guys or females acting in roles that are generally associated with their gender? How can I teach students to be sceptical of the limits that are given in the gender roles that are depicted in these works if these are historical writings?
3. Do I support actions that are empowering and nonsexist among the students in my class? Do I advocate against gender stereotypes that are associated with both men and women?
4. If I had access to a classroom library, would there be an equal number of books written by men and women? Are there a lot of books that feature strong women as the main character? Do any of the nonfiction works include influential women or young girls?
5. How can I promote gender equality in terms of the voices that are heard and the roles that are played?
6. Do I pose difficult questions to young women as well as to young men? Do I ask as many questions and probe as thoroughly into the topics being discussed with the female students as I do with the male students?
STRATEGIES TO IMPROVE PRACTICES AND CURRICULUM
The following are some suggestions that can help you improve gender equality in your classroom. In the comments box below, please share any tactics you’ve found to be successful.
1. If you notice that your textbook features a greater number of male authors, scientists, and mathematicians, you should conduct your own study and include a greater number of significant female figures in the mix.
2. Make strategic use of the time you have to wait or consider. Choose to call on the fourth, fifth, or sixth hand instead of the first or second if you are playing poker.
3. Be conscious of the number of female pupils that you ask questions of. Take a very proactive approach to ensuring that all students, regardless of gender, ethnicity, language, or learning ability, are included in discussions and are given an equal opportunity to participate in those discussions.
4. Draw attention to any sexist ideas or language that may be present in the materials that are utilised in the classroom, such as a textbook, magazine article, poetry, research paper, or blog post. In addition, you can call attention to any gender-stereotypical language that is used by students in the classroom and use it as a springboard for a more in-depth discussion.
5. Make a video recording of your classes and watch it to reflect on how you engage with the students. You might also ask a coworker to observe you teaching so they can take note of which students are being asked questions and what kinds of inquiries are being asked of them.
6. Create a lesson or an entire unit of study centred on the exploration of themes relating to gender, self-image, and equality with your students. The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, in collaboration with USA Today, has developed a set of eight lessons that examine the relationship between the media and bullying in the perspective of gender equality.
DISRUPTING GENDER INEQUITIES
According to Sadker, Sadker, and Zittleman, the median annual salary for female physicians and surgeons is 38% lower than that of their male counterparts, while the median annual salary for female lawyers is 30% lower than that of male lawyers. Education is a critical component in assisting with the reduction of this wage disparity. It is essential for educators to maintain a vigilance against gender bias in order to lessen the negative impact that it has on the academic options available to pupils and their potential for achievement.
We should all make an effort to become more conscious of any gender biases that may exist among us. We need to commit to eradicating gender bias in educational materials, and we need tools that will assist us in reflecting on and changing any discriminatory practises that we engage in.