Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Reaching Girls: If Teachers Want to Reach Girls, They Must Align Their Practices with Girls' Specific Learning Needs

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Reaching Girls: If Teachers Want to Reach Girls, They Must Align Their Practices with Girls' Specific Learning Needs

Article excerpt

Boys' struggles in schools have generated ongoing discussion for more than two decades. Girls continue to outperform boys academically in schools when making comparisons across every social category, such as race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status (DiPrete & Buchmann, 2013), a condition that causes teachers and parents of boys to wring their hands with concern. Books such as Why Gender Matters (Sax, 2005) and The Trouble with Boys (Tyre, 2008) provide vigorous, sometimes polemical, commentary about the issues. Such conversations concerning gender differences in educational achievement inspired Reichert and Hawley (2010a, 2010b) to ask what we actually know about teaching boys. In an earlier issue of Kappan (2010b), Reichert and Hawley described the results of their study, which surveyed over 1,500 male students ages 12-19 and 1,000 teachers in all-boys schools in the United States and internationally to explore the lessons and teaching practices that were engaging to boys. They found that:

* Boys' relationships with teachers are key to their learning;

* Boys elicit the kinds of teaching that they need; and

* Lessons with an element that arouses their interest connect boys to broader learning outcomes.

So far, no one has asked the same question about girls--what do we know about teaching practices that engage girls in learning? Our study addresses this question by using Reichert and Hawley's (2010a) survey to identify the teaching practices and lessons that are effective and engaging for girls. We believe that we can better situate girls for success beyond high school if educators, practitioners, and researchers begin paying attention to what girls need in grades 7 through 12. This is vital because boys' struggles in school and girls' academic success often obscure the ongoing gender inequality between women and men in the workplace and society (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2013).

What we studied

In our study, we wanted to begin a conversation about what lessons, topics, and classroom practices girls find particularly engaging and effective. Similar to the work of Reichert and Hawley, a compelling aspect of our study is that we listened to students and teachers explain what lessons and practices have been effective and powerful for girls. We collected over 2,000 rich narratives that detail the experiences of teachers and girls in all-girls schools across the country. Who better to tell us what works in schools than students who learn in them? In addition to student perspectives, we examined teacher responses to discover where student and teacher responses aligned and where they differed.

To accomplish this task, we recruited 14 all-girls schools across the United States that reflected various philosophical orientations and student demographics. Participating schools varied in terms of type (religiously affiliated, public, and independent), geographic location, and size (ranging from 300 students to over 1,000). The 1,328 student participants in grades 6-12 created a diverse sample in terms of race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, achievement, grade level, and number of years that they had attended an all-girls school. The 560 teacher participants were also diverse, reflecting different races, ethnicities, ages, genders, subjects taught, and years of experience.

We asked students and teachers to respond to an online survey that had the following prompt--a modified version of Reichert and Hawley's (2010a):

   Please tell us a story of a class experience at this
   school that stands out as being especially memorable
   to you. By this, we mean that it was especially interesting,
   engaging, or motivating for you. It might
   be a particular lesson, unit of study, a choice of text
   or subject matter, a class activity or exercise, or a
   project or assignment.

Our analysis of the teacher and student responses revealed the contours of the pedagogy, practices, and lesson content that girls found particularly engaging. …

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