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Gender Neutral Teaching

Gender Neutral Teaching Part 2 of 2 Articles on gender and learning.

This is a Free Sample Resource
Categories: Article, Professional Development, All Ages, Any Subject

Tags: Gender Gender Neutral Early Years Leadership
Last month we looked at gender and how it is often confused with sexuality and sex. In the second of 2 articles we'll look at gender neutral teaching.

How Many Eggs?

'We're going to count these small chocolate Easter eggs,' says the YrR teacher to a group of six 4 year olds, sitting on the floor in a small room. 'And then shall we play a game!?' 'YESSS!' The session is being filmed.

'Oh no!,' says the teacher, 'I need to get the rules off Miss Jones. I'll be five minutes. Don't leave the room and don't touch the eggs!'.

If you know young children or have ever been one, then you'll probably guess what happened next. The children in the group suddenly became their true selves - the ones they are when adults aren't around - a fascinating mix of copied phrases, power struggle, group bonding and frustration.

Boys v Girls

I had the pleasure of watching several of these videos as part of the school's assessment process. The difference between the girls' and boys' behaviour was startling. Without exception, the moment their teacher disappeared, girls took charge and the boys sat back. The girls led, the boys followed or disengaged.

In the first group, one girl immediately put her hand on all the small chocolate eggs. Her friend chastised her with language and a face probably borrowed from classroom or home. In response the toucher picked up one egg and licked it. By the time the teacher returned, she'd licked all the eggs and thoroughly annoyed her friend.

In another group the girl who took charge got everyone singing and a third group were directed to curl up and become Easter eggs: in these positions, no-one could see the eggs so the temptation to eat them was reduced.

At the end of the assessment no eggs had been eaten and a lot of gender specific information had been gathered.

I wonder what would happen in a similar situation involving older children, teenagers, adults? Why did the 4 year old girls lead?

A Rising Tide

There ARE differences between boys and girls. But there are also just as many differences between individual children - personality, learning preference, attitude, interests, disposition etc. Gifted learning educator Joseph Renzulli believes that, 'A rising tide lifts all boats.' - meaning that if we improve our teaching for one group in the class then we are improving it for all. Every pupil benefits if their teacher goes through a successful process of professional learning that only targets some of them.

Gender neutral teaching is spin on this idea. Instead of targeting a learning need of one group, it addresses one feature of the whole group in order to improve teaching. The main principle is very simple: to treat boys and girls in the same way in order to give them the same opportunities. (it's not about making them the same - that'll never happen - it's about an attitude and practice of total equality and non-bias.)

2 Tips for Gender Neutral Teaching

You can hear more detail about the practicalities of Gender Neutral teaching on this Thinking Classroom Podcast. Embedding the principles is more about thinking in a different way than it is about doing things differently.

1. Language

Terms of endearment, whilst well-intentioned, send powerful messages. 'Mate', 'Princess', 'Chaps', 'Sweetie' are generally gender-specific and divisive. If you call boys 'mate' does that mean the girls aren't?

I think (from my day to day experience in schools) that we are now way beyond, 'I need two strong boys to help me move this Ofsted inspector's car', but again, is this saying girls aren't strong?

Remove or neutalise terms of endearment and be aware of the impact of your language - does it empower or limit your pupils?

2. Literature & Media

Literature and media describe and reflect culture. Changing attitudes towards gender are part of this and can be seen in books, magazines, film, TV and online.

Seek out and read books that challenge gender stereotypes and discuss and debate those where gender is limiting.

Gender neutral teaching isn't about making boys and girls the same. It's about doing our best to give them the same opportunities.

How do you give give everyone in your class the same chances?

Related Resources:

Rainbow Thinking

What is Gender?


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