Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Trashing "aphorisms" as guides to 'best practice' in education

When Ms. Mazzorato worked previously at a large Ontario school board, a Grade 10 boys literacy class was set up to figure out what the boys were struggling with and which approaches helped. Instead of creating more boys-only classes, the board showed teachers how to adopt those same approaches — such as using more graphics to organize ideas, setting clear expectations, more frequent checking in with students — for all students.

“What’s necessary for some is going to be beneficial for all,” said Ms. Mazzorotto.
However, educators cannot ignore gender differences altogether, says Leonard Sax, a U.S. advocate of single-sex schooling and the author of Boys Adrift and Girls on the Edge. (from
"Sex-selective programs and the belief that ‘boys will be boys’ stigmatize students: study"

By Moira MacDonald, National Post, February 11, 2013, below)
There is a disconnect here. On the one hand, Ms Mazzorotto is attempting to "blend" approaches that work for some, (example, boys,) with the need not to discriminate, and to focus on  the benefits of specific approaches that will accrue to all students. And there may be some value in her position. However, we must also be cognizant of the notion that boys are extremely heavily influenced by other boys. They get much of their "formation" from male models that, by their nature, differentiate from activities "appropriate for boys" and those "appropriate for girls"....and that is a signficant theme, or more contemporarily, meme, that impacts this discussion.
Politically correct integration of all differences, including those of race, ethnicity, language and gender in the Ontario classrooms is, and has been a hallmark of Ontario education for decades. However, in the course of that narrative, we have also seen inserted, from different sources, admission quotas in some university programs to attract female students. Some of the results of that kind of policy decision may also not have a long-term benefit for "all" students especially if males realize that by achieving an average graduation grade of 70, for example, they are not admitted, while female students with an average of 66 are admitted to the same program.
Feminism, too, has rasied the consciousness of women's performance, women's culture and women's need for equality, all of them worthy of the considerable energy that has been directed into that goal. In the process, there have been "side effects" that have had an impact on the culture of many institutions. And while executives and professional workers are able ready and willing to adopt new standards of attitudes, beliefs and behaviours in compliance with "workplace equality" young boys who have grown up in a culture which champions the fullest possible flowering of the talents of women may see the numbers of university students, for example, and certainly of graduate students in universities, outstrip the numbers of males, both undergrads and grads. And they also witness a demographic changed in the numbers of male and female teachers in their classrooms, from the very earliest grades.
(And this notwithstanding the most recent evidence that men prove to be extremely effective in nursery school classrooms! Who woulda thunk it?)
Isolating the classroom from the culture, as if it were a discreet laboratory, is neither possible nor advisable. Adopting creative and student-centred approaches, to all students, of course, will raise the motivation and the achievment levels of all students...who does not seek to be known, individually?
However, educators must acknowledge that boys learn, think, grow and develop differently from girls...not better, not worse...just differently.
And the school culture, as well as individual classrooms and teachers, have to acknowledge these differences. And the homogenization of methods to have a positive impact on all students must not be a rationalization for not paying attention to the gender differences in our learning environments.
And "aphorisms" like "boys will be boys" will have a negative impact not only on the young boys who hear such dismissives, but on the many young female students who will also integrate such pablum into their perceptions of their immediate culture and the world around them. Similarly, "girls will be girls" would have a negative impact on both gender groups.
Let's lower our sociological and demographic approches to learning and focus more on the individual of whatever demographic, and admit that to do so will be both more complicating and time consuming, and also potentially more rewarding for both teacher and student.

Sex-selective programs and the belief that ‘boys will be boys’ stigmatize students: study

By Moira MacDonald, National Post, February 11, 2013
The belief that “boys will be boys” could hurt their chances for academic success, new research says.
The study, published Tuesday in the journal Child Development, says experiments with predominantly white British schoolchildren revealed even young boys and girls believe girls are better students. When children were told this, boys’ academic performance dropped compared with those in a control group. Boys did better in a subsequent experiment when children were told both sexes were expected to perform equally well.
“Our findings emphasize the real importance of promoting positive gender expectations,” said Bonny Hartley, a PhD student at Britain’s University of Kent, who co-wrote the study with associate professor Robbie Sutton.
The study looked at children between ages four and 10, using groups of between 162 and 238 students.
But Ms. Hartley added the results should be a caution to teachers trying to address the “gender gap” — where boys underperform compared with girls on key academic indicators — by targeting boys with sex-specific programs. The study’s results suggest those attempts could backfire by further stigmatizing the students teachers are trying to help.

“We really appreciate that educators are trying their best … to help boys … but a lot of the strategies seem to really reinforce these [negative] expectations,” said Ms. Hartley.
“There are people who suggest there’s a lack of female teachers. We think that’s reinforcing the expectation that male teachers have certain special qualities that can make them better at teaching boys and that boys somehow need something different to girls, which is not what we would suggest at all.”
Marianne Mazzorato, chief assessment officer with Ontario’s Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO), the province’s student testing agency, agrees, despite evidence of the gender gap in Ontario schools. Boys and girls are typically close to each other in EQAO math results, but girls commonly outpace boys in reading and writing.
“The gender differences, they exist,” said Ms. Mazzorato. “But when we draw attention in such a way that makes it sound like it’s all boys, or all girls, our kids hear that and the minute they start to struggle with something they attribute it to, ‘oh, it’s because I’m a boy.’”
When Ms. Mazzorato worked previously at a large Ontario school board, a Grade 10 boys literacy class was set up to figure out what the boys were struggling with and which approaches helped. Instead of creating more boys-only classes, the board showed teachers how to adopt those same approaches — such as using more graphics to organize ideas, setting clear expectations, more frequent checking in with students — for all students.
“What’s necessary for some is going to be beneficial for all,” said Ms. Mazzorotto.
However, educators cannot ignore gender differences altogether, says Leonard Sax, a U.S. advocate of single-sex schooling and the author of Boys Adrift and Girls on the Edge.
The idea that, “if we just pretend [gender] doesn’t matter maybe boys will start scrapbooking and writing about their feelings and girls will start taking apart computers in their spare time was a very nice idea 30 years ago, but we now know it was not effective,” said Dr. Sax, a physician and psychologist, pointing to statistics showing girls have outpaced boys in terms of university enrolment, but are dropping in enrolment in computer science programs.
Ms. Hartley acknowledged the “stereotype threat” her study identified with boys can affect other groups too, whether it’s girls, an ethnic group or the poor.









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