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  •  I'll Repeat an Experience I Stumbled On in Sailing (25+ / 0-)

    instruction, for getting gender neutral results in mixed gender teaching.

    Our college sailing club way back when used to run a recruitment drive spring and fall quarters for novices who would want to learn and of course party. Then we'd run a weekend instruction course for several weeks to qualify the novices to sail on their own.

    A few years earlier I'd noticed that people who were experienced first as crew members learned to command more slowly than landlubbers. They seemed to be doing 2 things at once, first remembering how their skippers had handled problems, then figuring things out for themselves from the new unaccustomed position. The landlubbers having no background were free to figure things out for themselves and they could sometimes make perceptions and extrapolations more easily.

    From the lore of sailing to every book and movie made about the subject, where harping on skill and experience vs the idiot newbies is practically the foundation of the story, this was a very surprising observation for me.

    Once for lesson one, which was 3 novices plus an expert in each boat, the teacher I was assisting asked who wanted to steer first. As a prank he said those who'd not raised their hands had to be the ones to steer first.

    But I saw the same effect in this prank lesson. The timid ones got their half hour and they all were catching on faster than timid learners I'd seen before. When the bold novices got their turn, they didn't seem to have the handicap that timid people experienced when they went 2nd or 3rd and had watched the bolder people doing it first.

    So after the lesson in free sailing time, in the carefully limited course we'd set up, everyone in the class seemed to be equally confident whereas ordinarily even after 1 lesson there were usually great differences in confidence and competence.

    And there was a huge gender component to this; I was used to seeing few if any women willing to steer on their own after only 1 lesson, but this day every one of them was willing.

    So I later taught an entire quarter course on the one simple principle that all those who'd volunteered to go 2nd, for the whole course they had to go 1st each day. Now I never told students the real reason I was letting the timid people try every new lesson first. I just let the social preference perform the gender selection automatically. At the end of that quarter where we typically had zero or maybe one woman granted skippering privileges, every woman in the course qualified.

    In a mixed gender learning setting women tend to function as the more timid learners, and the experience of hanging back at first seems to handicap them some. Men generally function as bold learners but the bold learners are independent enough not to be saddled by the burden of modelling others' behavior.

    To this day there's an industry of teaching sailing and for that matter primary & 2ndary education to women in gender segregated courses. This goofy stunt shows it doesn't have to be done that way at least in some settings where it's thought necessary.

    I wouldn't pretend to know how to apply this to other learning and participation settings, or to know the nature vs nuture breakdown. If we have more bold women today then I'd expect them to do as well as the bold men in waiting to try a lesson 2nd.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Thu Jan 24, 2013 at 07:16:19 PM PST

    •  This is a fascinating story/observation! (7+ / 0-)

      I'm now trying to figure out how to make it workable in the university classroom.

      Babylon system is the vampire... ~Bob Marley

      by sfinx on Thu Jan 24, 2013 at 07:22:48 PM PST

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    •  Yes, fascinating story (6+ / 0-)

      In my little math group, if I have multiple volunteers to demonstrate a problem on the board, I always give priority to a less experienced kid, or to whoever volunteers least frequently. That helps a little with the gender issue. But I think I have fewer girls who volunteer at all. I suspect the difference is less than it wold be in a school group, but I don't know that for sure.

      My group attracts "über nerds" who are great at, and obsessed with, math and sometimes science. So far, those have all been boys. A couple of them have had Aspbergers traits. I think that homeschooling is particularly attractive to families of children like that, both because of their mathematical precociousness and because they would be at such risk of not fitting in.

      •  Another dynamic of note (9+ / 0-)

        is society's relative tolerance for male "imperfection," whereas women are held to rigid standards of "perfection."

        "A woman must be twice as good as a man to be thought half as good." A male, embarking on a scientific education, may be allowed to "have an off semester," whereas a female, pursuing a scientific major, who struggles in a class or two, "has no talent."

        Serves to make females generally more inhibited.

        It's here they got the range/ and the machinery for change/ and it's here they got the spiritual thirst. --Leonard Cohen

        by karmsy on Thu Jan 24, 2013 at 08:05:58 PM PST

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        •  The males are only repsenting themselves (6+ / 0-)

          While the females are representing all females, in the minds of the males.

          It's quite disconcerting, and can ruin performance.

          Women create the entire labor force. ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Sympathy is the strongest instinct in human nature. - Charles Darwin

          by splashy on Fri Jan 25, 2013 at 10:34:08 AM PST

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        •  That was certainly my experience. (0+ / 0-)

          Back in the day, almost 40 years ago now, I was a 16-year-old college freshman in Honors Math classes. I had done relatively well in HS math, thanks in part to some wonderful mentoring by a very gifted math teacher. (I don't think it's irrelevant that he was an African-American teacher in an almost 100% Euro-American school district.)

          In college, though, I set impossibly high standards for myself. I was one of only two girls in at least one of my classes, and the other girl was truly brilliant. The sort of student who never had to take notes and still aced every exam.

          It never came that easily for me--but I was vulnerable to believing that it had to in order for me to be any good at all.

          Working on this dichotomous thinking, that either you're good at math or you're not, is really important, probably still significant for the involvement of girls in math-related fields.

          The other component is having good, supportive, encouraging teachers. It matters more for some of us than others.

          And, to add a sad contemporary experience: my younger daughter had a terrible math teacher in middle school--terrible because he was sexually inappropriate with many of his female students. (Yes, we complained to the administration and got nowhere at all. Changing teachers was our only option in the end.) I think her comfort with the topic was adversely affected by this experience, and it still has an impact, four years later.

          Some DKos series & groups worth your while: Black Kos, Native American Netroots, KosAbility, Monday Night Cancer Club. If you'd like to join the Motor City Kossacks, send me a Kosmail.

          by peregrine kate on Sat Jan 26, 2013 at 10:38:30 AM PST

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      •  Fascinating. I took my first math degree in 1989. (17+ / 0-)

        Despite my obsessive work I rarely was  given better then B grades. I had one teacher tell me outright that he would never give me an A because math was a "mans" field. What was most interesting is that many times I turned in proofs  that I had let some male friend & classmate copy. So the proofs were exactly the same... I got a B or a C while they nearly always got an A. This happened in all my upper level math courses. Except for my superb Laplace transforms proofs... I spent 3 days doing them and they were elegant and beautiful. Not only my work but exams were graded the same. My friends and I compared our graded exams. The only differences were minor starting with my obviously female name. Identical points on my work leading to deductions as compared to nothing for the identical work on thiers. Again the same discrepancy in grading.  HERDING

        I graduated but was definitely discouraged from going further. This is even though while in college I provided a professor with my private work that allowed him to write up a paper in a journal proving that a common theorem in our text was wrong. But man, did I get good grades in topics that I regarded as cake walks but were considered appropriate topics for girls in the 80s. I called it HERDING.

        I ended up working as a Chemist mainly because I had a huge amount of lab experience and took chemistry classes for fun. So I am very skeptical myself when I hear how females are worse at math or science... there is a lot of discouragment in being ranked lower because of what you are and not the work you are doing. So blacks and handicapped or even ugly people have my empathic sharing. But even there I watched less qualified men given higher positions even though they frequently had to come to me for answers. This occurred so often that when we had some visiting lab chemists come through they thought I was the floor supervisor and started asking their questions directly.
        Seriously, sometimes women just decide that the  hassle and unlikely chance that you will be promoted to any degree makes many move on and out. Why bother against the steel doors? I knew many girls who didn't want to caught alone if they showed they were too good at "boy" subjects in high school. The only reason I lasted through college is that I was willing to fight to the death against the bullies and enforcers who kept everyone in thier place.

        When I joined the Air Force I wanted to become an air traffic controller but was slotted into med lab because that is where females uteruses pull them (obvious to the males making the decisions). After a year I applied for the program to send good soldiers to college... They said yes to nursing degree but I turned it down. Then near the end of my 4 years they offered to send me to become a physician assistant and I turned it down because i wanted to get a degree in math (I was obsessed with maths beauty & truth)... 2 years later when I was in college the USAF (through an officier who came around) offered to send me to MIT  to finish my double degree in math and computer science. By then I was so discouraged I refused. I had my son and I had work ... I was tired of fighting to be able to be taken seriously... I was tired of my femaleness being more important than my ability which was deliberately downgraded based on some kind of discounting to keep the serious stuff for the  boys.

        I hope it is better for young women but I fear that most still face this HERDING and social pressure to do what doesn't upset others. Thenthere is always the tool of rape to push em out. Now here comes the pouring forth of all the old prejudices.

        Fear is the Mind Killer...

        by boophus on Thu Jan 24, 2013 at 08:36:26 PM PST

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      •  The girls are unlikely to volunteer (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        chimene, GreenMother, LSophia, splashy

        It's a socialization thing, and it affects even homeschoolers.

        Maybe try giving out random colored or shaped tokens of some sort at the beginning of class. Pick demonstrators by token color/shape.

        •  Demonstrating on the board (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          LSophia

          The problems we put on the board are the tricky ones that most of the kids do not see how to do, so I cannot pick randomly. The kids who volunteer to explain have to have the solution. They tend to be the same kids who make the highest scores on the written tests. If a weaker kid has the solution, they get called on preferentially. But most of the explaining by the weaker kids happens at the table level, with easier problems that the stronger kids already know how to do. (I have an enormous ability range). We will be putting a lot more problems on the board in May when we open up to prospective newcomers. I think I will keep a tally this year of exactly who volunteers to explain. The group is consistently about 1/3 girls. It is an optional activity, and kids have to make a minimum score on a readiness test. So I don't have any kids join the group who struggle with math. I certainly have prospective newcomers visit who struggle with math. And sometimes you can see the parent pushing as hard as they can for the kid to join, and the kid clearly hates it.

          •  This may seem like an odd question (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            elfling, Nannyberry, peregrine kate

            Note: When I encounter a problem, I tend to conjecture potential reasons and potential methods for addressing it. So, please don't take this as reflecting on your teaching, but rather as a myself puzzling "out loud" on the problem.

            I have no answers, just conjecture and curiosity. I'd love to hear what you learn over the rest of the school year.

            The question: Is demonstrating on the board the right methodology?

            I'm trying to imagine what I would do if I found that a portion of my students almost never grasped the material sufficiently to feel comfortable demonstrating it. If the methodology of "learn then demonstrate to the class" is consistently leaving some students out at that second step, what are the causes and the effects? For example, is it subtly discouraging the non-demonstrating students from trying harder, because they are convincing themselves that they aren't as "smart" as the frequent demonstrators?

            Is there another way to harness the strengths of the students who do grasp a concept to help other students grasp it, too? Would something different, like pairing off students at their desks to share with one another their respective methodologies for approaching the problem, lead to a different outcome?

            •  Two things are very different here (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              elfling, viral

              ... from a regular class.

              First, there is a huge range in where the kids are in a standard curriculum. I have a threshold math requirement, so they are all at least ready for pre algebra. But because the kids are all homeschoolers, the strong ones have been able to accelerate way beyond what is typically seen in a school. I have young beginners who are fuzzy about exponents in the same room with kids who have covered all of high school algebra and geometry and are at a pre-calculus level as middle schoolers. And I have first years mixed with fourth years. No kid is going to stick around for four years hearing exponents explained over and over for the beginners.

              Second, this is a team, not a class. And I am a coach, not a teacher. I do not have the same goals as a teacher. We are practicing for competitions. Most of the kids will never win a thing and do not really care about that. But the strongest kids care a lot about that. They need to be challenged at a level appropriate for them to have a shot at reaching their goals. I have some kids hoping for national level recognition this year. For the beginners, that is all years away.  Imagine a young gymnast with Olympic aspirations in the same gym as a bunch of youngsters walking shakily along a balance beam. I have the math equivalent to that.

            •  I never volunteered to go to the board (3+ / 0-)

              for anything my entire school experience! I also never volunteered to answer aloud. Shyness, lack of confidence, and fear of being wrong prevented me. I wouldn't take the chance of "making a fool of myself".

              I was actually a pretty bright kid, and ended up with an advanced degree and a successful teaching career. I've found many youngsters (many more girls than boys) just like I was. Scared to risk.

              •  Hell (0+ / 0-)

                I almost never volunteered even when I was 100% certain that I knew the answer. So it wasn't even being afraid of making a fool of myself (though often enough that was the case, if I had even the smallest doubt i would just not answer a question that i was almost certain i knew, instead I would just sit there quietly not saying anything at all and letting my superior patience make the teacher call someone else). Since school I have gotten more confident in this type of thing, but only a little bit, so I often enough still wonder why exactly I couldn't raise my hand to say the answer I knew was right.

                "We judge ourselves by our ideals; others by their actions. It is a great convenience." -- Howard Zinn

                by Mudderway on Sat Jan 26, 2013 at 01:57:42 PM PST

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      •  Peopel with Asbergers also tend to be blunt (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        HeyMikey

        And not very diplomatic, so they are more likely to intimidate the girls/women. It can really hurt when they do their blunt truth as they see it.

        Women create the entire labor force. ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Sympathy is the strongest instinct in human nature. - Charles Darwin

        by splashy on Fri Jan 25, 2013 at 10:32:50 AM PST

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    •  You are aware that women in this culture (9+ / 0-)

      are socially conditioned to be timid right? So their skill level may be just fine.

      "Til you're so fucking crazy you can't follow their rules" John Lennon - Working Class Hero

      by Horace Boothroyd III on Thu Jan 24, 2013 at 07:40:46 PM PST

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    •  Thanks for sharing this sailing insight! :-) (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      GreenMother, LSophia

      Join us at RASA: Repeal or Amend the Second Amendment. (Repeal will not ban guns, just help regulate them.)

      by Sharon Wraight on Fri Jan 25, 2013 at 03:21:09 AM PST

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    •  Gooserock, women hang back because we learn (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      viral, LSophia, Constantly Amazed, splashy

      to hangback or be punished as often as not, for being too bold.

      Still though, it's a cool story.

      •  That's for sure! (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        LSophia, chimene

        Too many times we think we are included, then some guy turns to us and with disdain makes sure we know we aren't, or aggressively pushes us aside and takes over.

        It hurts, and after a while you hang back out of fear of it happening again. You get to where you spend all your time watching for it instead of actually putting your mind to the task at hand.

        I can't tell you how many times it's happened to me, done by men that were clearly inferior to my abilities, in hindsight.

        Women create the entire labor force. ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Sympathy is the strongest instinct in human nature. - Charles Darwin

        by splashy on Fri Jan 25, 2013 at 10:44:42 AM PST

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    •  That's a huge insight! (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      LSophia, chimene

      You may have hit upon the key technique to use in mixed gender studies.

      Draw out the girl/women first, so they are not intimidated/having-their-conditioned-button-pushed that says they are less than, then let the boy/man go second.

      The boy/man is not hurt, and the girl/woman is helped.

      Thanks for a great comment and much food for thought!

      Women create the entire labor force. ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Sympathy is the strongest instinct in human nature. - Charles Darwin

      by splashy on Fri Jan 25, 2013 at 10:30:52 AM PST

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      •  I think this has to be on a more (0+ / 0-)

        person by person basis. During my school time i was certainly the kind of person who would never volunteer to go first and i then always got more panicky after seeing other people answer something or do something, while a whole lot of the girls were always the most eager ones, often performing  best and being most outspoken. I don't know if I was in a very weird class, or if the culture in germany is that much different (which i doubt), or if this kind of thing isn't actually as genderbased as you think, but rather personality type based.

        Whatever the case, i like the idea of pushing the timid ones to perform first, its just that this sentence "The boy/man is not hurt, and the girl/woman is helped." rubbed me the wrong way.

        "We judge ourselves by our ideals; others by their actions. It is a great convenience." -- Howard Zinn

        by Mudderway on Sat Jan 26, 2013 at 02:04:00 PM PST

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    •  Interesting quote from your post... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      LSophia, chimene
      In a mixed gender learning setting women tend to function as the more timid learners, and the experience of hanging back at first seems to handicap them some. Men generally function as bold learners but the bold learners are independent enough not to be saddled by the burden of modelling others' behavior.
      Actually, I have observed that women and girls function boldly as learners, up to a certain age. By then we have learned, through some years of positive and negative reinforcement, that we are to hang back and defer to the boys, that it's somehow a shame and a bad reflection on us if we step up before a boy or look better than a boy. Really, this stuff is caught quite early because it is reinforced so consistently throughout our childhoods.

      If we treated boys and girls the same, the girls would be as bold as the boys.

      I'm amazed by people's courage and kindness in the face of everything and life.

      by LaraJones on Fri Jan 25, 2013 at 11:24:24 AM PST

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      •  "up to a certain age"--puberty? (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        chimene

        Could be socialization. Could be hormones. Probably a mutual-reinforcement feedback loop involving both.

        Don't think I'm implying we should just throw up our hands and accept it. To the contrary--my wife is a computer programmer, and I have a daughter.

        "The true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals." - Barack Obama

        by HeyMikey on Fri Jan 25, 2013 at 12:09:30 PM PST

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    •  Great comment. NT (0+ / 0-)

      "The true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals." - Barack Obama

      by HeyMikey on Fri Jan 25, 2013 at 12:05:40 PM PST

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