Do students learn better in single-sex classrooms?
Single-sex classrooms can make it easier for teachers to match their instructional style to the behavioral characteristics of the students. Girls seem to favor learning in a quieter setting in which they work together and come to a consensus. Boys tend to favor a setting that is more competitive, physically active, and louder.
Early research shows that girls reap the most benefits from being together for math and science. They feel more comfortable about their abilities without worrying about how they appear to boys, and they have more opportunity to participate in class discussions. Boys, who are typically more confident in math and science, dominate discussions, and teachers tend to call on boys more often.
Recent research shows that boys also benefit from single-sex classes. It is likely that teachers of a class of boys will adopt a teaching approach that encourages boys’ tendencies during discussions to be direct and confrontational, loud and excited at times, and to interrupt each other as well as the teacher. Of course, not all girls and boys are going to be comfortable in single-sex classrooms, so it would have to be voluntary enrollment. But offering single-sex classrooms in public schools is the cheapest, most effective, and simplest “innovation” available to improve achievement, particularly in math and science.
Robert Kirschenbaum is a school psychologist with the Clover Park School District in Lakewood, Washington.
Perhaps the opposite gender could be a distraction for students in the classroom, but by grouping students by gender, we lose important elements of true education. In a diverse classroom, there are countless questions, different perspectives, and a variety of interests, which all add to the excitement of learning.
Our students have much to contribute to each other, and students of all ages benefit from being engaged in activities and learning in the company of the opposite sex. In the classroom, learning experiences need to resemble real-world life experiences. How can we prepare students for future families, homes, and workplaces without exposing them to members of the opposite sex? How can we expect them to learn to respect and appreciate gender differences as adults if we do not teach them to form healthy relationships and have positive interactions and appropriate dialogues now?
I also believe that female classmates encourage many unmotivated male students.
As educators, our efforts should not be driven by how we can separate students to minimize distractions but by how we can bring all students together to maximize learning. In my experience, students tend to learn better when teachers learn to teach better—regardless of the gender of the students.
André Boyd teaches at Johnson Middle School in Timmonsville, South Carolina.