Promoting Gender Equality in the Classroom

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Promoting Gender Equality in the Classroom

According to researchers, over 50% of teenage girls have reported experiencing some form of overt academic sexism. These are often discouraging comments about their abilities in math and science. Exposure to these kinds of comments can alter the course of a young woman’s life by causing confidence issues and redirecting her education and career path. Despite repeatedly being confirmed false, women can internalize negative cultural stereotypes about their intellectual and academic abilities.  Women continue to be underrepresented in STEM fields according the to National Science Foundation. They account for 27% of doctoral degrees in mathematics, 15% in physics, 20% in computer science, and 20% in engineering. There is growing research indicating that this underrepresentation can result from gender discrimination in girls’ formative years.

It's important for teachers to help foster environments that allow boys and girls to equally pursue whatever academic interest they please. Teachers may not realize that they have a gender bias and it can seep into the classroom environment. Teachers may say something along the lines of “I need 3 strong boys to move these desks, after that I need 3 girls to sweep the floors” or “break off into groups of boys and girls”. In this article we’ll go over some ways to avoid fostering gender discrimination in the classroom.

Examples of Stereotypes in the Classroom

Here are some examples of stereotypes that are often held against students in the classroom.

  1. Boys excel in math and science and girls succeed more in language arts and art classes.
  2. Girls and boys can’t work well together in group activities.
  3. Boys are more athletic than girls.
  4. Athletic boys are weak in academics.
  5. Boys are slower to girls in reading.
  6. All science groups in class are named after men.
  7. Boys make better group leaders.
  8. Praising girls for being well behaved and boys for their ideas and comprehension.

Starting Self-Reflection Questions

Start by asking yourself these questions to get a feel for where you should start making the necessary changes in your classroom.

  1. How much of the required reading materials are written by women?
  2. Do any texts I use omit women/girls or reduce their complex lives into a simplified or stereotypical representation.
  3. How are boys stereotyped in the reading materials I use?
  4. Do I avoid separating children based on gender for activities or lining up?
  5. Are females or males presented in stereotypically gendered roles in any texts I have selected? If they’re historical texts, how can I teach students to be critical of the limitations in the gender roles being presented?
  6. Am I treating all students equally, regardless of gender? Instead of using gendered terms like “good morning, guys!”, can I use more inclusive language like “good morning, friends!”
  7. Do I actively discourage female and male gender stereotypes in the classroom?
  8. In what ways do I encourage equal participation and voice in my classroom?
  9. Do I ask the same depth of questions that require complicated discussions to both female and male students?
  10. How do I greet students? Am I focusing on appearance or reinforcing beauty standards?
  11. Am I learning about each child as an individual and letting them express their likes and dislikes without imposing stereotypes?
  12. Can I questions the school’s dress code to ensure it doesn’t reinforce gender stereotypes?
  13. Are toys and colors accessible to all students, regardless of gender?
  14. Have I audited my bookshelf to ensure it includes diverse perspectives and avoids perpetuating gender biases?

Changes Teachers Can Make to Ensure They are Not Perpetuating Gender Discrimination

  1. Avoid using gender-specific nicknames such as buddy or sweetheart that reinforce stereotypes.
  2. Refrain from separating children based on gender during activities or lining up.
  3. Avoid constant comments about appearance (e.g. “you look so pretty today”). These reinforce beauty standards for girls and women.
  4. If you find you have more male authors, scientists, and mathematicians features in the textbook you use, do your own research to add women into the mix. Growing up, girls often never see representation for them in textbooks, especially in STEM fields.
  5. Girls often take longer to raise their hands. Be aware of the number of female students you call on. Instead of calling on the first hand that pops up, choose the 5th or 6th.
  6. Call out any gender discriminatory language a student may use and invite a broader discussion.
  7. Videotape your classes and review your interactions with students to see where you could improve.
  8. Provide diverse role models. Invite speakers and showcase individuals from various fields and backgrounds. Success comes in any background and gender.

It’s important to foster gender equality in the classroom not only as a moral imperative but as an educational necessity. By challenging stereotypes, using inclusive language, and providing diverse role models, educators can create an environment where all student thrive.

Check out the video below on how to eliminate gender bias in the classroom!

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