Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

Learning Intelligence - Children's Choices of the Best Pupils in the Mother Tongue and Mathematics

Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

Learning Intelligence - Children's Choices of the Best Pupils in the Mother Tongue and Mathematics

Article excerpt

This study addressed children's perceptions and explanations of verbal and cognitive intelligence. A group of primary-school children (N=119) from the second, the fourth, and the sixth grades were asked to choose the best pupils of their respective classes in their mother tongue (native language) and mathematics and to give reasons for their choices. In the mother tongue, the children tended to favor their own gender in their choices, and boys and girls were chosen as the best pupils quite evenly. In mathematics, the boys selected only boys from the second grade on, while the girls started selecting mostly boys from the fourth grade on only. In the mother tongue the consensus was low, and the choices were explained by referring to the pupil's positive classroom behavior and appropriate work habits. But in mathematics the consensus was high, and the choices were explained by referring to the formal academic recognition that the best pupil had attained and to the speed and correctness of his/her performance. These findings seemed to suggest that mathematical ability is personified as a masculine domain and that our culture's gender-bound representation of mathematical ability may well be inherent to the routines of the school institution.

Key words: children's conceptions of ability, gender differences, mother toneue, mathematics, school.

According to our culturally predominant representation of intelligence, males are expected to surpass females in the cognitive domain, in mathematics particularly, whereas females are expected to surpass males in the verbal domain. When children learn the notion of intelligence, they will also learn something consequential about their society and its gender-related hierarchies. Our study addressed the issue of children's conceptions of verbal and cognitive competencies by asking children at different grade levels to name the best pupils of their respective classes in two pivotal school subjects - their mother tongue (native language) and mathematics - and to give reasons for their choices.

Research on choices and preferences among school subjects and related selfevaluations informs us that boys and girls acquire a gender-marked notion of abilities quite early on. Generally, boys tend to rate their ability higher than girls do theirs in mathematics, while girls rate their ability higher than boys do theirs in the mother tongue (Eccles, Wigfield, Harold, & Blumenfeld, 1993). According to Finnish research findings, there is a clear difference between boys and girls in their academic self-concept relating to mathematics at the end of the 9-year comprehensive school: boys have more self-confidence relating to mathematics than girls do, and girls feel more anxious about mathematics than boys do (Tuomi, 1996). The gender difference in children's academic self-concept in mathematics is psychologically revealing, for girls' grades in mathematics are as good as the boys' (J. Hautamaki et al., 2000). In the mother tongue girls do better than boys at school, and they also have better self-concepts than boys do in relation to all its constituent areas, that is writing, reading, grammar, and oral expression (Tuomi).

Raty and Snellman (1997) asked a group of elementary school pupils to draw a picture of an intelligent person and of an ordinary person. For the boys, the prototype of an intelligent person was unequivocally a male, usually an adult one. In comparison, the girls pictured adults and children, males and females, more equally. A grade comparison revealed that even the youngest boys - the second-graders - drew only males as cases of an intelligent person, whereas the youngest girls had a broader view, and that it was not until the fifth and the sixth grade that the girls showed the same pattern of preferences as the boys. It is the girls' views of intelligence, then, rather than the boys', that change. To conclude, there seems to exist an influential cultural representation of intelligence which regards cognitive competence as a pervasively masculine trait and which thus excludes women. …

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