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Chapter 3: Teaching Is Adapting to Student Diversity - page 3 / 16





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significantly outscored boys (American Association of University Women, 1998).

3.  Girls outperform boys on standardized tests of reading during the elementary school years, and girls are less apt to be referred for remedial reading (Feingold, 1993).

It is important to keep in mind that these and other differences between males and females are relatively small and certainly less than the differences observed among males or among females (Corbett, Hill & St. Rose, 2008).  Nevertheless, these differences are important because they can limit directly or indirectly the career paths available to men and women.  For example, women are less likely than men to enter careers that place heavy demands on math ability, such as engineering (Linn & Hyde, 1989).  Importantly, there is considerable evidence that these gender differences in ability and achievement are largely the result of environmental rather than of direct biological influences on development (Santrock, 2008).  Maternal attitudes about the natural (i.e., innate) abilities of boys and girls in areas such as math, language, and sports have been found to play a particularly important role in the achievement of boys and girls in these areas (Eccles, 1987; Eccles, Jacobs & Harold, 1990).  This impact of maternal attitudes occurs largely through the attitudes and beliefs fostered in their children.  For example, mothers who believe that girls have less natural ability in math may lead their daughters to have less confidence in their math ability, place less value on math in their career plans, and take fewer classes in mathematics (Eccles et al., 1990

It is not just parents who play a role in the development of gender differences, however; such differences are encouraged by today’s society.  Unfortunately, schools and teachers play a role as well.  Consider the following observations:

1.  In the preschool and early elementary school years, classrooms are often physically arranged in ways that keep boys and girls separate and reinforce the differences between them (American Association of University Women, 1989).  For example, a pretend kitchen and associated toys are housed in a different location than are the blocks and other building materials.

2.  Teachers pay more attention to boys than to girls (Elliott et al., 2000), are more likely to ask boys than girls questions that require elaborate responses (Sadker & Sadker, 1982), and give boys more constructive praise and criticism than they do girls (Sadker & Sadker, 1995).

3.  Teachers are more likely to encourage boys to complete difficult academic tasks but to take over and complete difficult tasks for girls (American Association of University Women, 1998).

4.  Teachers spend more time with girls in reading and language arts, but more time with boys when the subject is math (Sadker & Sadker, 1982).

5.  Teachers are more apt to attribute failure to a lack of effort for boys than for girls (American Association of University Women, 1998).

6.  Boys are more likely to be assigned by teachers to high ability math groups than are similarly achieving girls (American Association of University Women, 1998).


Teachers are more likely to ask boys than girls to demonstrate experiments in science class (Elliott et al., 2000).

It is important to recognize that not all teachers behave in the ways described and that teacher behavior, in part, may be elicited by differences in student behavior (Berndt, 1997).  Nevertheless, the foregoing observations suggest that teachers need to be especially vigilant in monitoring their own attitudes and behaviors to ensure that they treat male and female students equitably.  Later in this chapter we offer some strategies that will help achieve this goal of equity.


Each student who enters a classroom brings with him or her something of the culture to which he or

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