Academic journal article Journal of Higher Education

Understanding Classroom Interaction: Students' and Professors' Contributions to Students' Silence

Academic journal article Journal of Higher Education

Understanding Classroom Interaction: Students' and Professors' Contributions to Students' Silence

Article excerpt

Some students eagerly participate in class daily. Yet, at semester's end most classes contain students who have not uttered a word since first-day introductions. Why the difference? This perplexing question is important because, whether one's reference is a lecture-oriented or a discussion-oriented class, student participation seems to nurture critical thinking [20]. Facilitating students' willingness to raise questions or offer comments in class is likely to enhance their intellectual development [3, 16].

Research on classroom interaction is dominated by studies of children; less is known about the dynamics of classroom settings containing young adults and adults. Much recent research on college and graduate school classes tests hypotheses of Hall and Sandler [12], authors of the frequently cited report on the chilly classroom climate. Hall and Sandler believe women are disadvantaged in college because of professors' differential treatment of students by gender. For example, instructors may ignore or interrupt female students more than male students, and they may recall male students' names more often or give them more eye contact.

Hall and Sandler's [121 report is admittedly speculative; they possess

only anecdotal evidence about adult classroom experiences. Yet, they raise numerous research questions that could provide insight into college classroom interaction. For example, are there gender differences in professors' behavior? Do faculty treat male and female students similarly? Do students perceive gender differences in professors? Are there gender differences in students' classroom behavior? Does faculty gender affect students' actions? Each of these queries has received attention in recent literature.

A number of observational studies have uncovered limited evidence that male and female faculty act differently in college classrooms [for example, see 8]. Boersma, Gay, Jones, Morrison, and Remick's [5] observations of fifty classes found no gender differences in praise given to students, number of interactions with students, likelihood of responding to students, or number of questions asked of students [cf. 7]. Sternglanz and Lyberger-Ficek [22] found no gender differences in professors' tendency to call on students. However, Statham, Richardson, and Cook [21] reported a number of interesting gender differences in faculty behavior, including female professors' tendency to encourage more student class participation (for example, by soliciting student responses), to provide more positive and negative feedback, and to acknowledge students' comments.

A question central to Hall and Sandler's [12] thesis is whether professors discriminate in their treatment of male and female students. Evidence from observational studies suggests they do not. Constantinople et al. [7] and Cornelius et al. [8] provide the most extensive proof of this. Unfortunately, their methods of data analysis involve using classroom averages of male and female students' behavior; they cannot account for variances that might exist among male students and among female students. Nonetheless, others corroborate their findings, including Wingate [24], who found professors equally likely to give positive or neutral responses to male and female students. Sternglanz and Lyberger-Ficek [22] reported that teachers were equally likely to recognize and continue interactions with male and female students. One contradictory finding involves Boersma et al.'s [5] discovery that female teachers offer longer responses to female students, whereas Constantinople et al. [7] report that professors expand upon male students' comments more often.(1) Regrettably, a number of observational studies cannot tell us about differential treatment of male and female students. For example, Statham et al. [21] apparently did not collect data on the gender of students being called on.

In contrast to observational studies, research on students' perceptions indicates that women professors more often know students and call them by name [9]. …

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