Since the beginning of time, scientists, philosophers and the common man and woman alike have been struggling to understand what, besides the obvious, differentiates the genders. Are behavior deviations a product of societal expectations or something more deeply hard-wired from birth via hormones and DNA? There’s still a lot we don’t understand about the relationship between gender and behavior, and even more regarding gender and education.
Hundreds — if not thousands — of studies done on the subject over the past few decades have come up with some interesting results. From understanding why girls don’t often go into math and science to exploring the different expectations teachers may have for each gender, the discoveries reveal a lot about how educators teach, treat and relate to students — both good and bad. Whether you want to hone a more gender-focused approach or believe neutrality is best, these facts (from what we know at present, anyway) are an interesting read for any educator who wants to better understand what may make students tick.
We have to interject a word of caution for readers, however. It’s important to remember that these facts and findings represent averages and generalizations that, while holding true for many, certainly don’t preclude members of either gender from being quite different in their thoughts, actions and preferences. Gender studies and the results they produce can be valuable tools in developing new and better educational methods, but they should never result in pigeonholing students who need space to be who they are.
- Boys are more likely to be tested and diagnosed for a learning disability than girls.Educators take note: boys are almost twice as likely as girls to have a learning disability, and are three times more at risk for ADHD. This doesn’t mean that girls don’t have learning disabilities, of course. Many believe females may receive fewer diagnoses not because they aren’t having trouble, but because boys are more likely to visibly act out their academic frustrations.
- Boys comprise two-thirds of special education classes.From dyslexia to autism, boys are diagnosed with learning, behavior and social disorders at a much higher rate than their female counterparts. Teachers need to be on the lookout for symptoms and signs in both genders. Doing so means they can get help early, when it will do them the most good.
- Regardless of racial or ethnic group, boys have higher rates of suspension and expulsion than girls.While rates differ from district to district, boys are twice as likely to be suspended as girls. Girls can be troublemakers as well, but statistically, boys typically act out in more violent or disruptive ways. Unfortunately, there is also a racial gap with regard to suspensions, with black males three times more likely to be suspended than whites.
- Girls are much less likely than boys to drop out of school.This fact is related directly to suspension rates. Suspended students are much more likely to be disengaged and disinterested in school than those who are not. They also tend to fall behind (if they were not already) due to missed school days. Currently, boys are 30% more likely to drop out of school than girls — a gap that reflected in the higher number of women going on to college and graduate school each year.
- Boys tend to be bigger risk takers.There is some truth behind the stereotype that boys are more willing to take risks than girls. Dr. Leonard Sax has found that boys get more enjoyment out of taking risks, are more impressed by others who do the same and are more likely to engage in such behaviors if other males are present. Girls, while not unwilling to take risks, were much less likely to actively seek out the same behaviors.
- Boys and girls may be motivated by different factors in the classroom.While each child is unique, researchers have found some trends that show marked differences in what motivates male and female students. Girls are often driven by a desire to please adults, even if they find an assignment uninteresting. Boys care less about having a teacher like them and are more motivated by work they find meaningful. Additionally, males perform better on tests under moderate stress, while girls do worse.
- Girls are more likely to ask for help if they need it.While male students may not care as much what the teacher thinks about them, they are acutely aware of their peers’ judgment. When they become frustrated, they may act out rather than asking for assistance, as this disruptive behavior may raise their status. Asking for help may make them feel weaker and less able. Girls, on the other hand, are often much more willing to ask for help. Their peers do not inhibit their desire to develop a close relationship with teachers.
- Boys and girls mature mentally at different rates and in different ways.The way the brain itself develops as children age may actually be quite different in girls versus boys. Girls tend to develop more advanced language and fine motor skills early on, as much as six years earlier than boys. Boys’ brains may develop better spatial memory and targeting aspects of the brain as much as 4 years earlier than girls. This is especially important for early education teachers to note, as each gender may find certain tasks very challenging and may need additional help and support.
- More attention and praise may be given to male students than females.Whether in grade school or in college, the way teachers interact with male and female students can be quite different. Studies have shown the male students are more likely to be praised, listened to and called on than their female counterparts. While many teachers strive for equality, subconscious ideas about gender roles impact the treatment of students — something every educator needs to watch out for in his or her own behavior.
- Single-sex classrooms can improve outcomes for both boys and girls.There is some evidence to suggest that single-sex classrooms may be more beneficial for both males and females. Students report feeling more comfortable in such settings, finding greater academic success and touting that the classes improved their self confidence. While some students and parents exalt the benefits of single-sex education, others don’t agree. In the end, it may boil down to personal choice and preference. But if many of the research findings hold true, gender-tailored education may prove beneficial for students who struggle in co-ed classes.
- The way boys and girls use technology at home and school differs.Technology is a major part of both the educational and working sphere, so the ways in which students use it can be quite important. Research published in The Literacy and Numeracy Secretariat showed that boys and girls are approaching computer use differently. Boys were found to use computers more frequently and chose to play games, use educational software and access the internet. Girls used computers less often and focused on activities like emailing, chatting and homework. Teacher attitudes about computer use were also different, with educators letting girls give up more quickly on computer-related problems than boys.
- Girls are much more likely to be bored, disengaged or stressed in science classes.A Northern Illinois University study found that girls in high school science classes reported a much different experience than their male counterparts, despite spending an equal amount of time and getting similar grades. The study found that girls were most engaged in science class when listening to lectures or completing work, and were much less likely to take the lead in lab work. Educator attitudes might also have something to do with it. Of the 13 teachers studied, only two chose girls as their top students, describing them as "hard workers. The favored male students were considered "naturals" who "just got it."
- Boys and girls respond differently to certain teaching methods."One size fits all" might not work when it comes to engaging male and female students equally. Girls typically benefit more from teaching methods stressing hands-on, active approaches to learning, as well as team, cooperative assignments and performance-based assessment. Boys, on the other hand, seem to excel in more competitive situations and testing with time constraints, though they too prefer hands-on learning.
- The achievement gap between American boys and girls is among the smallest in the world.While the gap between math and science and reading and writing skills between American girls and boys is certainly notable, it may not be as bad as other countries. In the latest round of international tests, the split found between male and female students sat among the smallest of anywhere in the world – though still significant, with boys scoring lower on literacy and girls on science and math.
- Girls are less likely to take AP exams in math and science subjects.In general, girls take more AP exams than boys — except when it comes to math, science and computers. In 2003, only 6% of the students taking the computer science AP exam were girls. Additionally, girls represent only 10 to 15% of all students in AP physics classes, and are significantly less likely to take the AP exam for this or calculus courses.
- Educational differences based on gender are more pronounced in childhood than adulthood.As children grow and mature, the sex differences that made many of their educational needs so different may gradually even out. Teachers working with students in lower grades may need to pay more attention to gender-based education than those with high school or college students.
- Some gender differences may be hardwired into the brain from birth.While gender expectations undoubtedly play a role in later development, studies have shown that some of who we are as men and women may simply stem from biology. Newborns react differently to stimuli along gender lines, with female babies being attracted more to faces and male babies to motion. These differences persist into the early years of education, and can influence student motivation and interest.
- Research has found differences between the ways boys and girls respond to stress.There is no doubt that learning can be stressful for both girls and boys at times, but the differing ways in which each gender may respond to it complicates matters. Boys are more likely to act out when they get upset, girls to burst into tears or trust a friend for comfort. When it comes to learning-related stress, boys perform better under anxious conditions than girls, with such issues actually lowering girls’ test scores.
- The average 11th grade boy writes at the same level as the average 8th grade girl.Teachers need to be especially aware that boys may struggle to write at the same level as girls. The U.S. Department of Education came up with this statistic, which brings into stark clarity some developmental differences in male and female brains — some which might leave big impact on academic performance. Studies have shown that the brain of a 17-year-old boy is more similar to that of a 13-year-old girl, a result that holds true over cultural and racial boundaries.
- Boys tend to perform better on standardized tests, while girls get better grades overall.Throughout school, girls tend to get higher grades than boys in nearly all subjects. Boys, conversely, seem to do better on IQ and standardized tests. Researchers think this may have to do with girls possessing more self-discipline, and being more willing to push themselves to study and earn good grades. Though other factors may come into play as well, of course.
- There are differences in perception between boys and girls.Girls have been shown, even from birth, to have the ability to hear a wider range of sounds. Additionally, the ways that boys and girls see may differ as well. The eyes of young girls may actually be thicker with the types of cells that collect information about texture and color, while boys’ have more following motion and direction. By adulthood, these differences evaporate or become very small, but can be key for teachers working with younger students.
- Boys often develop speaking, reading and writing abilities more slowly than girls.This is largely a product of brain development differences between the sexes but can lead to a wide disparity in early grades. In middle and elementary school, girls outscore boys by wide margins on NAEP reading and writing tests, and the gap often doesn’t close until late high school or college. Boys may need more help in expressing their thoughts in written and verbal form — something educators should take note of.
- Boys and girls use their left and right hemispheres skills differently in early grades.In early grades, girls tend to use left-hemisphere skills to speak, read and write well, and their right-hemisphere skills empathizing and understanding the feelings of peers and teachers. Boys, on the other hand, use the left hemisphere to help them recall facts, rules and categorize information, while the right serves to give them their visual, spatial and motor skills.
- Women are more likely than men to continue on to college and get a bachelor’s degree.Regardless of race or socioeconomic group, men earn bachelor’s degrees at a lower rate than women. Those who do head to college are less likely to complete their degrees in the usual four to five years, and will — on average — get worse grades than women.
- While there are developmental differences between boys and girls, overall there is little to indicate that education performance can be explained by biological differences alone.All this research is great, but in the bigger picture, gender differences can’t account for all performance gaps between individual children. In fact, social and cultural factors including career aspirations, teachers’ expectations and familial involvement prove far more important. This means educators may have bigger role to play in the success of a child than their biology — a reminder of their work’s value and importance.
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