More schools are dividing classes by gender, reports the Washington Post, looking at Imagine Southeast Public Charter School, a D.C. elementary school that separates boys and girls starting in first grade.
“I need the cleanup crew here,” shouts (Soheila) Ahmad, a 23-year-old first-time teacher, sweeping her arm around the central area of the class, where a few books lie scattered on the blue rug, and six blue beanbag chairs are arranged in a reading circle. Three boys hop to it, hoisting and heaving the beanbags into a pile against the far wall. A fourth boy collects the books and reshelves them. It is 10:30 a.m. and time for math.
“Let’s practice counting by 10s to 100,” Ahmad says.
The boys, standing behind their chairs, begin to chant, jumping in place as they say each number: “Ten, 20, 30, 40, … ” they sing, as their jumps and hops get bigger.
“Now let’s count by 2s to 100.”
The boys find their rhythm. Some do scissor jumps. Some do jumping jacks. One pounds his thighs. Another dances wildly, huffing out the numbers as a breathy backbeat. Yet another channels Michael Jackson, moonwalking backward, each sliding step punctuated by his counting. The decibels rise — a stampeding herd of elephants racing toward 100 — and the pace quickens. Ahmad doesn’t blink an eye.
She quizzes them for 15 minutes on their addition facts and divides them into their math groups: Persevering Penguins, Ferocious Foxes, Eager Eagles. The Penguins test each other with addition flashcards. The Foxes play math games on three computer terminals in the corner. The Eagles sit on the floor and have a math lesson with Ahmad. When it is time for the groups to trade places, Ahmad asks, “All set?”
“You bet!” the boys shout, swapping places in a raucous bustle.
Ginene Pointer’s first-grade girls sit quietly at their desks till their math group is called.
“Strawberry Shortcake House,” she says, as four girls stand quietly, push their chairs in and walk to the carpet, where they sit in tidy rows at her feet. “Unicorn House. SpongeBob House …”
When all the girls are seated, Pointer, 31, who has taught for nine years, gives three of them plastic baggies with their supplies: small white boards, construction paper and markers. The leaders distribute the materials and return to their spots on the floor, crossing their legs with military precision. The girls carefully arrange scraps of construction paper on one corner of their slates, sock erasers on their laps and markers in their hands. They are ready for the game.
“Six plus unknown partner equals 15?” Pointer asks.
The girls scribble furiously on their boards. A student named MaKayla raises her hand.
“Nine!” she says softly when the teacher calls on her.
“What?” Pointer asks. “Use your big girl voice, please.”
“Six plus nine equals 15,” MaKayla responds firmly.
“Yes,” Pointer says. “Let’s give her a round of applause.”
The girls clap.
“You go, girl! You go, girl!” one chants.
The boys are allowed to move around during lessons and teachers introduce competition through games. The atmosphere for girls is more relaxing, though they like games too.
Like students nationally, Imagine’s girls do better than the boys in reading and about the same in math.
According to the DC Benchmark Assessment System (DC BAS), which measures students’ progress annually in reading and math, 100 percent of Pointer’s girls scored “advanced” in reading, compared with 50 percent of Ahmad’s boys. Almost the same percentage of girls and boys scored “advanced” in math (40 percent and 38 percent, respectively), but 60 percent of the girls were “proficient” in math (the next step down from “advanced”), compared with 38 percent of the boys.
I’m not persuaded that single-sex classes are more effective. Once the boutique effect wears off, kids seem to do about the same. And the research on boys’ and girls’ brains is sketchy, as the story indicates. But it’s the sort of option that may work well for some students in some schools. If the parents want it, why not try it?