Attitudes toward Physical Education and Class Preferences of Turkish Adolescents in Terms of School Gender Composition

Article excerpt

Single-sex versus coeducation has developed into a long-standing debate which continues to flourish (Mael, 1998). From the early 1980s a large body of research in several Western countries such as Great Britain, Belgium, Canada, Australia, and the U.S. has accumulated on the advantages and disadvantages for boys and especially for girls (Arnot, 1983; Brutsaert & Houtte, 2004; Durrant, 1992; Dyer & Tiggeman, 1996; Granleese & Joseph, 1993; Lee & Marks, 1990; Mael, 1998; Mensinger, 2001; Shmurak, 1998).

The debate commonly centered around the need for equal education opportunities for girls and boys by focusing on different aspects of schooling. Of all the curriculum areas of contemporary schooling, Physical Education (PE) provides the optimum opportunity for focus on gender inequities. Scraton (1990) has described school PE as overtly reinforcing gender differences in terms of the activities offered, and covertly through the attitudes and reactions of those involved in the policy and practice of PE. On the other hand, the social construction of the body in PE and sport that is focused on issues of slenderness, muscularity, and physicality, has been of central importance to the construction of femininity and masculinity (Connell, 1983; Hall, 1996). Therefore, keeping in mind the ongoing debate on the effectiveness of single-sex and coeducational schools for gender equity, it seems important to examine students' attitudes toward PE and PE class preferences in these two different types of school.

Attitudes toward PE

In recent years, there has been an increase in the body of knowledge in PE in terms of student attitudes. The increase in interest may also be attributed to the influence of attitudes toward future participation in physical activities outside school (Carlson, 1995; Ennis, 1996; Portman, 1995), to student achievement in PE (Graham, 1995; Lee, 1997; Silverman, 1993; Subramaniam & Silverman, 2000), and to the availability of knowledge gained about students' attitudes toward PE for developing curricula (Cothran & Ennis, 1998).

Since gender plays an important mediating role in attitudes toward PE, many studies have compared girls' and boys' attitudes. In these studies, boys were found to display more positive attitudes toward physical activities that were challenging and had an element of risk (Folsom-Meek, 1992; Smoll & Schutz, 1980), whereas girls showed more favorable attitudes toward physical activities emphasizing aesthetics (Birtwistle & Brodie, 1991; Folsom-Meek, 1992; Hicks, Wiggins, Crist, & Moode, 2001; Smoll & Schutz, 1980).

PE Class Preferences: Single-sex or Coed?

If we consider students as being capable of understanding the significance of the gender composition of the classroom on their learning, then preferences for single-sex or coed PE may help us to understand their experiences in different classroom settings. In this regard, recent qualitative studies (Olafson, 2002; Osborne, Bauer, & Sutliff, 2002) have examined students' PE class preferences. Osborne and his colleagues (2002) reported that although the choice of single-sex or coed PE is largely based on curriculum objectives, students favor single-sex PE.

A study by Treanor, Graber, Housner, and Wiegand (1998) examined participation in a year-long multi-activity PE program in which classes were coeducational in the fall semester and single-sex in the spring semester. The findings indicated that middle school students showed preferences for single-sex PE regardless of perceived level of skill, fitness, or effort. Both boys and girls perceived that they performed skills and played team sports better, received more practice opportunities, and were less fearful of injury in single-sex PE. Similarly, Lirgg's (1993) 10-week basketball study reported that both male and female middle school students preferred single-sex PE.

Over the past few decades, the education system in Turkey, as in some Western countries, has become progressively coeducational. …