differentiating by gender

Image from Julianne F.‘S reflections on gender and communication.

When Good Marks are Not Enough by Rosalind Wiseman

The success in educating girls, many say, has come from recognising
their specific learning styles as well as their emotional development
and the impact of friendships.

Teaching Physics to students – or Teaching to Girls and Boys by Prof. Dr. hannelore Schwedes

For today I will put my focus to physics instruction, and I want to
argue that teachers, she or he, should be very aware of their own gender-like
behavior and to that of their boys and girls. We have to realise that we
act and react differently to a male or female partner, and that´s
allright. I think it is a very unlucky rule in education saying teachers
should treat all their students exactly the same way, or parents their

I have had the opportunity to work in a variety of school contexts over the past 10 years – as a teacher, coordinator, pareducator, and consultant. I have worked in elementary schools, high schools, and university. I have worked in co-ed classes, all girls and all boys classes at both public and private schools, and I have worked 1 on 1 with both boys and girls.

Differences in Learning

All of my experience has led me to believe and understand that children learn differently, that it is essential to be aware of and teach to different learning styles, ability, and interest if I want to make sure that my students have equal access to learning. Another element, infusing all of those, is gender.

As educators who value integrity and strive for excellence in our practice, we must understand and aim our teaching practice towards the students in our classrooms. No, let me wordsmyth for a bit, towards the children, towards the girls and the boys.

Looking at the Brain

We now have the ability to see what happens in the brain as it is happening, through Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI), and we can see how boys and girls brains process information in very different manners.

Through fMRI, we have discovered, for example, “There are exceptions and shades of gray, of course but in general according to Dr. Deak [psychologist and author of Girls Will Be Girls: Raising Confident and Courageous Daughters.]:

  • Female brains are predisposed to excel in language, auditory skills, fine motor skills and attention to detail
  • The female brain is more decentralized, using a variety of parts or locations for a single task
  • The female brain is more integrated, allowing both brain hemispheres to work together via a more developed corpus callosum, the bridge between the right and left brain hemispheres
  • In the female brain, thoughts and emotions are much more complex, integrated and intertwined than in the male brain.”

from Gender and the Brain: The Difference is in the Details on the National Coalition of Girls’ Schools website

Allowing Data to Drive Design

I see this as valuable data that educators can use when they are designing programs and learning situations for the girls and boys in their classes. It is powerful data to know how girls, for example, learn in order to design activities that address their learning strengths and it is also important data to help us design situations that provoke them to go outside of their comfort zones, what Dr. Deak calls ‘against the grain’ learning.

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Developing dreams, reaching our highest potential

“AI’s fundamental approach
of seeking to discover, honor, and amplify what works, the life-giving
elements, is a “system” process that works at all levels,
with individual students, one-on-one student-teacher relationships,
classrooms, schools, school districts and communities.”

from Leadership at Every Level: Appreciative Inquiry in Education by Rich Henry

Appreciative Inquiry, for me, seems so logical, simple, true, and essential, that I forget not every knows this.
I am presently involved in a change process at one of the schools I work with. In the past, as the principal tells me, she found something she liked and was passionate about – some new pedagogical twist of the month – and tried to impose it on her teaching staff. Now she realizes that can never work, that what she was actually creating was a climate of insecurity, of ever-changing focus, and that teachers were actually shifting towards complacency with this.

Our goal with the present initiative is nothing less than to shift paradigms of teaching and to create a community of sharing and ongoing learning that will celebrate diversity. What this looks like will emerge as we go because, while we have a general vision of where we want to go, the details will be filled in by community members – teaching and support staff, parents, students, and the board.

Unlike previous change initiatives, the principal is moving slowly and is starting by changing the conversations that are taking place within the school’s walls. We are encouraging people to ask each other questions around their passion for teaching and learning and community. I am already seeing the change as conversations in the staff room are much more collaborative and focus on practice rather than complaints.

Our next step is provide a context for the conversation shifts, and a framework from within which the community can create their best future.

I am excited about seeing where this school goes.

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classroom management taken a step (or 2) too far

Image: Tantrum by Chirag Rathod made available on flickr via a creative commons license.

Kindergartner Charged With Felony Tantrum


A school called the police on a child in kindergarten who was having a temper tantrum. The child was arrested and a police report was written. I’d love to know the rationale behind that, or perhaps it is good I don’t. It is an example of how the end can never justify the means when it comes to teaching children. Regardless of the rationale, this little child – who was obviously already upset – spent the day at a police station, was handcuffed!

This again points to our need as a system of education to provide teachers and schools with the support they need to deal with difficult situations. And if the support isn’t there – we need to create it.

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