Not long ago, I wrote about an unexpected inequity I observed in one of my classes. The girls were in effect silenced during a Quiz/Quiz/Trade activity because the boys repeatedly chose to quiz/trade with other boys. At the time, I pointed out to the students what I saw. I told the boys that I expected a change. I told the girls to be a little less well-behaved and to push in if they needed to do so.
While I haven’t done another Quiz/Quiz/Trade activity in the ensuing days, I have been watching to see how the boys and girls are interacting. What I have observed does not make me happy. At each table group where girls are present, the groups have a 50:50 male to female ratio. At one of the table groups, the girls talk to each other and include one of the boys. The other boy works at a slower pace and may join the conversation at the end. At another table group, the boys talk to each other. One of the girls is ready to talk but sits waiting to be invited into the conversation. That generally does not happen so she waits for the other girl to finish so that they can discuss the problem together. This happens when the constraints of the discussion are loose (discuss the problem with your table group) and when they are tight (use Kagan’s Numbered Heads Together Cooperative Learning Structure). Girls voices are being heard largely by other girls except when I draw them out during a whole class discussion.
This dynamic is happening in only one of my classes, but it concerns me. I recognize that a portion of the equation is the personalities involved. The boys in this class are more extroverted and the girls are more reserved. I am struggling to get the girls to assert themselves and I am struggling to get the boys to see that they are excluding the girls (the are inclusive when I point it out, but I can’t point it out every single conversation).
I watched the girls on Friday during an activity involving choice. Not surprisingly, the girls all chose the same activity. I went over and talked to them about what I have been seeing in class. I asked them how they would feel if we went back to single gender groups. Their faces lit up. That is what we will do in this particular class, at least for a while, because it appears to be what they need right now.
As I contemplate this decision, I am consumed with mixed feelings about the messages that I am sending. I keep reminding myself that it is a long journey.