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Single Gender Classrooms Can Help Girls Succeed

By March 27, 2015December 30th, 2021No Comments
The recent announcement of the closing of Sweet Briar College, a private women’s college in Virginia, has reignited debate about gender specific education at all levels.
Based on my experience as an educator and former middle school administrator, I am convinced that there are significant developmental differences among adolescent boys and girls that result in differences in learning styles. These differences warrant innovative educational planning at least at the middle school level.
Anecdotal evidence and research leave no doubt that boys and girls are are inherently different when it comes to the way they learn. They often have different interests and strengths and respond to stimuli in different ways. And for many young adults a coeducational setting can become a peer-pressured, hormone-charged, appearance-conscious environment with detrimental consequences for learning.
In elementary grades, girls are generally perceived as the stonger students. But results of national studies suggest in the middle grades there can be a significant decline in self-esteem and academic achievement for girls. According to The Harvard Project on Women’s Psychology and Girls’ Development, many girls seem to think well of themselves in the primary grades but suffer a severe decline in self-confidence by the age of 12.
A major consequence of this decline in self-esteem is an accompanying decline in academic achievement. A national report “Shortchanging Girls, Shortchanging America” paralleled the loss in self-esteem to a loss of confidence in an adolescent’s scholastic abilities. According to the study, as girl’s “learn” that they are not good in science and math “their sense of self-worth and aspirations for themselves deteriorate”. Corresponding research shows that in a co-educational class boys receive preferential treatment from teachers. The researchers found that boys ask more questions, are given more detailed and constructive criticism of their work, and are treated more tolerantly than girls.
As a result, boys and girls tend to approach learning from different perspectives. In the classroom, girls prefer to use a conversational style that fosters group consensus and builds ideas on top of one another. They thrive in smaller cooperative educational settings. Yet most classroom discourse is organized to accommodate male learning patterns. And it encourages sex-role stereotyped forms of communication -–independence, dominance, and assumption of leadership, areas in which males have been encouraged to excel. When girls do participate they tend to exhibit less confidence in their ability than boys. They are more likely to merely acknowledge the comments of previous speakers, ask questions rather than provide answers, and refrain from interrupting exchanges in progress.
Single gender classrooms offer an innovative way to strengthen girls’ self-esteem as well as academic achievement in the adolescent years. In a general review of the literature, researchers have concluded that single sex environments are more likely than coed environments to encourage females to take risks in both traditional and non traditional areas (e.g. math, technology, science), and to help build their self-confidence and intellectual self-esteem.
and generally result in higher academic achievement.
Single sex classes provide girls with a comfortable place, free from many of the distractions created by the presence of the opposite sex and can create an atmosphere more conducive to their learning preferences. This is particularly important at the developmental level of early adolescence.
Single sex classrooms are a way to encourage students as they grow and mature. When implemented effectively they can enhance the student’s self-esteem. And how a student feels about themselves is a critical ingredient in their academic success. Single-sex classrooms provide a learning environment where students gain competence and confidence, and can pave the way to their becoming self-assured adults.

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