Avoiding Gender Bias: Ideas for
If you care about girls well-being
and success, youre 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
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 youve 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.
Dont 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 Lets 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
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
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 schools
administration involved. Most schools havent 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
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.
for Catherines free parent/teacher newsletter,
Quips & Tips