Language and gender in the classroom
Many of the issues reviewed in this chapter have far-reaching implications in classrooms. Classrooms and schools are among society's primary socializing institutions. In them, children come to understand their social identity relative to each other and relative to the institution. Although schools are certainly not responsible for teaching students their gender-differentiated social roles, they often reinforce the subordinate role of girls and women through curricular choices and classroom organizations that exclude, denigrate, and/or stereotype them. However, as discussed earlier in this chapter, recent theoretical insights suggest that identity is not fixed, that language use is not static, and that it is possible to negotiate social identities through alternative language use. It follows, then, that schools are sites in which inequities (based on gender, race, ethnicity, language background, age, sexuality, etc.) can be challenged and potentially transformed by selecting materials that represent identity groups more equally, by reorganizing classroom interaction so that all students have the opportunity to talk and demonstrate achievement, and by encouraging students to critically analyze the ways they use language in their everyday lives.
Based on a review of 2 decades of research on gender and classroom interaction, Clarricoates concludes that interaction between teachers and students and among students themselves is "suffused with gender" (1983, p. 46; cited by Swann, 1993). Studies reviewed by Swann (1993) describe a range of ways in which gender differentiation is maintained in mainstream English-speaking classrooms, including the following: • While there are quiet pupils of both sexes, the more outspoken pupils tend to be boys.
• Boys also tend to 'stand out' more than girls. Michelle Stanworth (1983) notes that in her study teachers initially found some girls 'hard to place'. Boys also referred to a 'faceless' bunch of girls.
• Boys tend to be generally more assertive than girls. For instance, a US study of whole-class talk (Sadker and Sadker, 1985) found boys were eight times more likely than girls to call out.
• Girls and boys tend to sit separately; in group work, pupils usually elect to work in single-sex rather than mixed-sex groups.
• When they have the choice, girls and boys often discuss or write about gender-typed topics.
• Boys are often openly disparaging towards girls.
• In practical subjects, such as science, boys hog the resources. • In practical subjects, girls 'fetch and carry' for boys, doing much of the cleaning up, and collecting books and so on.
• Boys occupy, and are allowed to occupy, more space, both in class and outside—for example, in play areas.
• Teachers often make distinctions between girls and boys - for disciplinary or administrative reasons or to motivate pupils to do things.
• Teachers give more attention to boys than to girls.
• Topics and materials for discussion are often chosen to maintain boys' interests. • Teachers tend not to perceive disparities between the numbers of contributions from girls and boys. Sadker and Sadker (1985) showed US teachers a video of classroom talk in which boys made three times as many contributions as girls — but teachers believed the girls had talked more. • Teachers accept certain behaviour (such as calling out) from boys but not from girls.
• Female teachers may themselves be subject to harrassment from male pupils. • 'Disaffected' girls tend to opt out quietly at the back of the class, whereas disaffected boys make trouble.
(Swann, 1993, pp. 51-52)
A 10-year research project by Sadker and Sadker (1993; including participant observation, audio and video recordings, interviews with students and teachers, and large-scale surveys) in elementary, junior high, and high school, and in university classes in the United States, and the review of research on language and gender in the classroom by Sommers...
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