Boys compete, girls converse

Boys compete to solve problems quickly, while girls converse in an Arkansas elementary school that offers all-boy and all-girl classes in fifth grade.

Boys sit at clusters of desks in Pam Long’s fifth-grade classroom, forming teams that race to answer questions and complete math drills.

In a typical classroom, the boys are asked to sit calmly in desks, complete story problems and answer questions after raising their hands. But speed, enthusiasm and competition get the pupils in Long’s all-boys class motivated to learn and to participate, she said.

. . . (Monitor Elementary School) has three fifth-grade classrooms. In the girls-only room, pupils use a natural drive for conversation to discuss assignments, unhindered by the watching eyes of boys. Long focuses on competition in her boys-only room, while a third teacher leads a typical class that absorbs additional pupils of either sex who come throughout the year.

Researcher Sara Mead warns that “boy-friendly” teaching can mean lowering standards.

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  1. While Sara Mead’s responses in the article sound like those who are suspicious about any measures viewed as ‘catering’ to boys, she does raise one very valid point. Namely, there is probably more variation between individual boys than there are between boys and girls.

    I like the idea of having different methods used in different classrooms and let the students choose the teaching technique they’re most comfortable with.

    I will say the competition approach has one other weakness. You really need to have narrow enough layers of ability in a single class so all the students in a class have a chance of ‘winning’ on occasion. This is especially so in primary school where the difference between top and bottom ability is often huge due to differing maturity levels.

  2. Tom West makes a good point about varying ability that can be dealt with through tracking and ability sorting. Historically, good Catholic schools, especially those run by the Jesuits tended to emphasize competition and problem solving (see James Joyce on the “War between the Roses” with teams of boys competing in class). And this ethos is also apparent in sci-tech programs today and in Silicon Valley in general.

  3. I found the following part of the article most interesting, as it gives an alternate explanation for why boys and girls perform differently. It sounds plausible as it matches my experience, at least for elementary school students. Not sure how well an authoritarian style would work with teenagers 🙂 Any thoughts?

    The difference in boys’ learning can be attributed more easily to the ways they are reared, Mandara said.

    Children whose parents use an authoritative style — high in emotional responsiveness and behavioral demand — tend to be better students, whether they are male or female, he said.

    “Boys are less likely to receive that type of parenting than girls,” Mandara said. “When they do, they perform on the same level as girls.” In a study of hundreds of families, Mandara observed that 37 percent of white males were taught with an authoritative style, compared with 52 percent of white females. The numbers showed similar imbalances in other racial groups.

    “Parenting trumps all of the other factors in achievement,” he said.

  4. Hm, can I be in the boys’ class? 😉 Math competitions were my spiritual food in junior high and high school.

  5. “Namely, there is probably more variation between individual boys than there are between boys and girls.”

    This is what I always wonder at. There will be girls and boys who are poorly served by this model because they don’t fit in with how their gender is supposed to learn best.

  6. There will be girls and boys who are poorly served by this model…

    Which would be different from the current model … how?

    It is going to be tough to find a model that works equally well for everyone *AND* that works well.

    One approach would be to give parents more ability to select the school their child attends. Then if the model above worked for their child, they could go to a school that implemented it. If the model didn’t, then they could pick another school.

    -Mark Roulo

  7. Lightly Seasoned says:

    And yet, Stephen hates that type of competition (even though he is good at it) in Portrait of an Artist. It gives him anxiety issues — and if there’s one thing he doesn’t need, it’s more issues.

    I have an AP class this year that has only 3 girls out of 18. Plus it is after lunch. The energy could blow you out of the room. The tone of the class is different, but I still do all the same types of activities. Boys do enjoy discussing literature, you know.

  8. I thought gender was fluid. Have the feminists been lying to us?

  9. “I thought gender was fluid. Have the feminists been lying to us?”

    Nae, nae, ’tis the truth that’s fluid.

  10. Re:Stephen

    And that is why disaffected writers often focus on “unusual” students. System choice will always fail for “some” students (although in Stephen’s case it’s not clear that “any” system would have really worked well). Rigorous schools all over the world stress out some kids. But I’d rather have a world where the default is too much rigor than the current system which encourages “warm and cuddly feelings” even if it leaves the majority of so-called A students unprepared to perform in a first rate college environment (which themselves tend to grade inflate and dumb down their curricula).

    That’s why the fighting is so bitter over education. Which imperfections are you willing to tolerate and who pays the price for it?

  11. Mark – I agree. Don’t think my scepticism of that model means I think the current one is any better.

  12. Lightly Seasoned says:

    Stephen’s education wasn’t particularly rigorous (historically speaking).

    But I agree that education policy is like trying to squeeze jello.