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Avoiding Gender Bias: Ideas for Teachers
By Catherine Dee

If you care about girls’ well-being and success, you’re familiar with the research results: Teachers have been found to call on boys more often than girls; reward girls for being quiet and behaving well as opposed to taking risks and solving problems (as boys are encouraged to do); give boys more time to answer questions; and let boys interrupt girls and generally dominate the classroom conversation.

According to Susan H. Crawford, author of Beyond Dolls & Guns: 101 Ways to Help Children Avoid Gender Bias, “In studies of classrooms, many excellent teachers who were trying to be very fair were aghast to watch videotapes of themselves showing that, when their interactions with students were tallied, they had called on boys more often, given boys more and different kinds of encouragement, and reprimanded girls for the same behavior they overlooked in boys.”

Whether you’ve only recently begun delving into gender equity or are a seasoned expert working to reverse the trend and find new ways to affirm girls, here is a sampling of teacher-recommended ideas.

When you ask the class a question, pause. In a typical classroom, when the teacher asks a question, boys immediately wave their hands in the air and call out asking to be chosen. By contrast, girls quietly think through what they would say before raising their hands. Waiting a moment gives everyone a better chance to answer.

Bring girls into classroom discussions. Don’t wait for girls to raise their hands—be proactive and ask individual students (particularly those who are quiet) what they think. Give them time to develop their thoughts and if they talk slowly, be patient. The more they speak and feel comfortable doing it, the smoother their presentation will be.

Get feedback on your student-interaction style. “Have a colleague you trust sit in the back of the room and watch how you work with boys and girls,” recommends Doug Kirkpatrick, a middle-school teacher in Walnut Creek, Calif. If you feel comfortable having someone videotape you, you can join in the critique as well.

Use girl-friendly examples and metaphors. are naturally more interested in subject matter if they are familiar with it, point out Whitney Ransome and Meg Moulton, co-executive directors of the National Coalition of Girls' Schools in Concord, Mass. Balance your use of male-oriented metaphors and examples with female ones (e.g., softball as well as football).

Supplement male-biased textbooks whenever possible with books that focus on girls or present a female perspective. Two good resources: Great books for Girls by Kathleen Odean and Let’s Hear It for the Girls by Erica Bauermeister and Holly Smith.

Assign female-centric class projects. A few ideas: famous women, the suffrage movement, gender stereotyping, and women's contributions in particular fields (such as science, the arts, or aviation).

Encourage girls to take risks. Boys learn that they can succeed by trying out possible solutions, even if they make mistakes. When girls are praised and rewarded for venturing into new mental territory (as opposed to for being neat and well-behaved) they strengthen their self-reliance.

Use gender-neutral language. Research shows that when children hear male-biased phrases like “All men are created equal,” they don't picture a coed group. One way to add balance: If you're talking about a generic person, alternate using “ he” and “him” with “she” and “her.” If you're referring to an animal, use the pronoun “it.”

When possible, create welcoming space for girls. Studies show that boys often monopolize physical space, such as at the classroom computer. Do your students have computer access? Set aside times when girls have first dibs.

Take sexual harassment seriously. Teach students the significance of harassment, the importance of eradicating it, and how they can respond if harassed. Don't concede that bad behavior is OK because “Boys will be boys.”

Start a girls' math and science club. have been proven to do well with schoolwork when they can explore concepts without having to compete with boys' attention-demanding behavior. One way to facilitate higher learning-comfort levels for girls is to start a female math and science club.

Wage a campaign to get your school’s administration involved. Most schools haven’t made gender equality a priority; many “have not even included gender as a category when they collect data about student performance,” according to Susan H. Crawford. If enough teachers support gender equity at your school, the agenda will change.

Catherine Dee is the author of the groundbreaking self-esteem and women's issues best-seller for girls, The Girls’ Guide to Life, as well as the ALA-award-winning Girls' Book of Wisdom. Her new book is The Girls' Book of Success (2003). For more information, visit the Empowering Books for Girls Web site, www.empowergirls.com.

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