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Gendered Teacher And Student Interactions Education Essay

Abstract

A growing body of research mostly indicating the continued prevalence of gender inequality in the classrooms underscores the fact that gender equality has long been an issue in the field of education. Following the same line, this study examined the status of gender equity in a context rather different (in terms of cultural, social, political and religious perspectives) from those studied so far. More specifically, it scrutinizes teacher treatment of students in teacher-student interactions in the mixed-sex Iranian EFL classrooms in the universities of Guilan province in Iran. To this end, 20 EFL teachers, teaching Basic English courses at university level, and 500 students of both genders from various university populations in Guilan served as the Participants. A triangulation of data collection techniques (classroom observations, a modified INTERSECT observation checklist, a seating chart and the audio recording of all the teacher- student interaction) were used to provide the necessary data for the study. The findings indicated that both female and male EFL teachers interact more frequently with boys in almost all categories of interaction specified in the study. This is alarming because owing to the fact that students’ participation in the classroom might enhance learning and self-esteem, boys are likely to gain an educational advantage over girls by claiming a greater share of the teachers’ time and attention. In other words, when teachers interact less with female students they have less chance to talk, which in turn might threaten development of their language ability.

Key Words: Gender issues, Teacher-Student Interaction, Gender Equity, teacher feadback

Introduction

Being aware of and recognizing gender issues is of utmost importance for all educators who are interested in equality in opportunities for students to learn and flourish. Gender in EFL classrooms, according to Sunderland (1991) operates at different levels: classroom materials, English language itself, and classroom processes which always interact within a particular political, sociolinguistic and educational context. She further categorizes classroom processes into three different groups: those focusing on teacher-to-student discourse in whole-class-work, those focusing on student-to-teacher discourse in whole-class-work, and those focusing on learner discourse in pair- and group-work.

Owing to the fact that one of the features of FL classroom that can facilitate learners’ language learning is providing opportunities for learners to communicate in the target language and enabling them to learn the target language through meaningful use of it ; and given that classroom interaction is mainly realized by IRF (teachers’ initiate-students’ respond-teachers’ feedback) structure, where teachers often initiate interaction by asking questions, teachers’ questions cannot only create more interaction activities, but also can prompt students to participate in all kinds of negotiation of meaning (Xiao-yan, 2006). Hence, the manner in which teachers interact with students has received immediate interest by the many researchers who were prompted to study how teachers interact with students in the classroom.

Similarly, the role of teachers in providing and distributing equal interaction opportunities for all students regardless of their gender, race, and social status … is understood to be of vital importance because they not only offer language practice and leaning opportunities but also help the process of language development itself (Xiao-yan, 2006).

Needless to say, male and female students should receive equal attention in schools accordingly; however, results of studies of the specifics of teacher-student interactions suggest that notably, and with few exceptions, teachers vary considerably in the quantities of interactions they have with individual students, with boys receiving a quantitatively higher proportion of contacts from teachers across subject areas. In other words, teachers initiate more contacts with boys than with girls and boys initiate more contacts with teachers and they both criticize and praise boys more often than girls (Brophy & Good, 1974; Sadker and Sadker, 1994; Jones & Dindia, 2004). Sadly enough studies suggest that from the very early grades through the university level, female students are victims of subtle bias that manifests itself through teacher interactions and the curriculum although they sit in the same classroom environment and learn the same material (Sadker and Sadker, 1994).

From this perspective, since boys are shown to be gaining an educational advantage over girls by claiming a greater share of the teachers’ time and attention, female students are more likely to have less chance to talk and as a result learn. That is perhaps why Sternglnz and lyberger-Ficek (1977) suggest that women’s apparent low interaction rate may be influential in determining their underrepresentation in postsecondary education. These researchers reason that students who do not interact with their teachers would receive less encouragement and would be less likely to attend graduate school.

As the findings of many earlier studies indicate, the various gender-based classroom interaction inequalities that exist could obstruct and even harm knowledge acquisition for males and females (Yepez, 1994). However, despite all the studies done on gender in the classrooms, second language acquisition in adult EFL classrooms and more specifically EFL classrooms in Iran have not received the due attention and scrutiny to uncover the patterns by which EFL teachers interact with genders in their classrooms. So this study attempts to contribute to this need of the field by investigating the interaction patterns of Iranian EFL teachers with male and female college students to firstly ascertain if student gender affects teacher-student interaction in EFL classes and secondly, to assess whether or not EFL teachers are aware of gender treatment in their classroom interactions with male and female students-- because as Sadker et al. (1992) states although most teachers believe that they treat girls and boys the same, research indicates that they frequently do not do so.

Next, a review of the literature underscores the fact that there is little evidence to show whether or not teacher’s gender might affect teacher-student interaction (Good, et al., 1973). Thus one further question that this study seeks to answer is whether teacher’s gender affects his or her interaction with students.

Moreover, as Duffy, et al (2001) claim, depending on the subject of the class, teachers show to vary their expectations of males and females in languages, and since it is frequently stated that foreign languages tend to be the subjects in which females frequently do well (Sunderland, 1998), another objective of this study then is to examine whether this “differential teacher treatment by gender” (Sunderland, 1998) may be manifested in the foreign language classroom, an environment in which girls are generally thought to outperform boys?

Therefore, in the light of preceding arguments, in order to fully understand the place of gender equity in Iranian EFL classrooms at university level, the following objectives of the study were targeted:

1. To examine the differences in frequency and types of teacher-initiated interactions directed toward girls and boys.

2. To discover the differences in the frequency and types of interactions directed toward girls and boys between female and male teachers.

3. To assess teachers’ attitude towards their own treatment of male and female students in class.

Method

As stated earlier, the primary purpose of this study was to, independently of students' level of achievement, analyze the influence of student and teacher gender on the frequency and nature of teacher interaction patterns toward female and male students, and to elicit information that might raise EFL professionals' awareness of their behavior towards male and female students. In accordance with the results from the past studies on gender bias in language classrooms, the researcher wished to investigate whether EFL college teachers treat students of different gender differently, both quantitatively and qualitatively, within college EFL classrooms.

Sample

As the aim of the study was to examine gender equity in classroom interactions, mixed-sex EFL classes, where considerable amount of interaction between teacher and students would occur, were what the researcher required because she could only gain a comparable data of teachers’ treatment towards boys and girls in such classrooms. Therefore, the sampling technique employed was purposive-convenience. This; however, imposed an inevitable limitation on the total sample size because the accessibility of mixed sex classes of “Basic English” courses in the EFL field in a context like Iran , where the prevalent tendency is towards having segregated classes, was limited.

Accordingly, a sample of 20 teachers, 10 females and 10 males from different universities in Guilan-Iran, which taught “Basic English” courses (Conversation, Reading, and Oral reproduction), and 500 Iranian students( 78% females and 22% males) within the age range of 19 to 25 were selected to be observed as the participants of this study.

Data collection instrument

Data were collected through classroom observations and teacher interviews. In general, classroom observation procedures are grouped into three major categories: (1) those that focus on the teacher, (2) those that focus on the teacher-student dyad, and (3) those that focus on the student (Lockheed & Harris, 1984). However, in line with the objectives of this study, the observation method used in the present study was of the second type (focusing on teacher-student interactions) which took the form of both quantitative systematic observations and qualitative note taking, and mainly focused on the teacher-initiated interactions.

More specifically, the instrument used for the observations of classroom interactions was a modified version of gender equity observation checklist (of INTERSECT observation instrument) developed by David Sadker (1984). This instrument aids in the conversion of general classroom interactions into evaluative types of interactions: praise, criticism, remediation, and acceptance. To keep record of frequency and type of teacher-student interactions and to quantify the classroom behavior observed, a seating chart (suggested by David Sadker) was used as the means for observation and codification of the observed data.

Using this observation tool to collect data on frequency and pattern of teacher-initiated interactions to students, the researcher deliberately recorded only the interactions between teachers and individual students and overlooked those between teachers and the class as a whole and between student and student or student to teacher.

A code was assigned to each category in the checklist, and on the occurrence of each of the categories, the specified code was recorded on the seating chart. The seating chart which was constructed for this research purpose consisted of square boxes to represent the location and sex of each student in the classrooms. In addition to marking the students’ seats according to their gender, the teacher’s seat was also spotted on the chart. Codes were used to represent teacher and students behavior.

Besides coding the interactions based on the pre-specified checklist, interactions were also audio-recorded for later verification of the coded data. Of course, video-taping the classes would have been much more preferable in these situations, however, since that was not allowed in the observed classes, just audio-recording was employed. The audio-recording was very helpful because sometimes it proved to have been of invaluable help in categorizing the types of interactions observed.

Intra-Observer reliability

In order to gain experience with the use of coding chart and to test the intra-observer reliability, a pilot study was conducted which was not used in the main study. Although using only one coder eliminated the problem of inter-observer agreement, there remained the possibility of individual observer coding bias (Patton, 1990). Consequently, three randomly selected classes of the pilot study were simultaneously coded by another observer as a check on observer reliability. The overall percentage of agreement for the observers' coding among four evaluative type of interaction during the pilot study was 79.62.

Data collection procedure

Observation procedure

To secure the ethical requirements of the study, the researcher asked the participant teachers for their permission on the observer’s visiting their classes at least three times. Moreover, they were informed of the researcher’s intention of having a follow up interview where their further cooperation was required. Of course because of the nature of the investigation, the main goal of the study (gender equity) was deliberately withheld to prevent teachers’ dog-and-pony show and as a result a change in classroom dynamics. Moreover, code names were used to maintain participants’ confidentiality.

As for the method of observation, each session the observer entered a classroom prior to the arrival of the students and sat in an unobtrusive position near the back and side of the room to be able to have a better grasp of the whole setting and to observe all and every students and their teachers in the classroom. The seating arrangement of the class was drawn and labeled with the students' name (if possible), gender and any other needed information.

The observer recorded every teacher initiated interactions that occurred between a teacher and a student based on a pre-specified checklist of patterns of teacher interaction toward male and female students on the seating chart.

In order not to miss any point, the interactions were also audio-recorded using a high quality recorder. Moreover, to have a better understanding of teacher behavior in class besides coding the interactions, some field notes were also taken on classroom setup, teacher talk and teacher behavior in class to see if they would signal the promotion of any sort of gender inequity in the classrooms.

To get a typical sample of teacher-student interactions and to be able to generalize the findings, all classes were continuously observed 3 times within 90 minute class periods, yielding a total observation time of 90 hours. The number of students present during all the class observations carried out in this study was 500 (392 girls and 108 boys), and that of teachers was 20 (10 females and 10 males).

Interview procedure

A representative sample of two thirds of the observed teachers (six teachers, 3 females and 3 males) was randomly selected for the interview. Having completed the observations, and before posing the interview questions, the teachers to be interviewed were informed about the main concern of the study. Then, they were asked two types of questions: 1) some demographical questions on the teachers observed and 2) three open-ended questions to assess how they saw themselves and their behavior towards the genders in the classroom as well as their perceptions of their interaction patterns with the girls and boys in the classroom.

Permission was obtained orally from each respondent to record the interview and they were assured that their answers would be kept confidential; codes were used to protect anonymity of the participants. To have a better ability to compare the responses, all the questions asked in the interview process were pre-planned, and whenever the interviewees were not clear with the questions, they were freely offered clarifications and explanations by the interviewer. Notes were taken on their responses to every question. The whole interview was audio-recorded and then transcribed for further analysis.

Data analysis

Overall patterns of classroom interaction were analyzed and the corresponding percentages were tallied for the categories and organized into tables for easy reference. Descriptive statistics were compiled for the observations. In the second phase of analysis, a chi-square test was used to examine the statistical difference in teacher interaction with boys and girls; that is to determine if a significant difference existed between teachers of different sex and their interactions with female and male students.

Qualitative data were analyzed according to the constant comparative method of qualitative analysis (Patton, 1990). In other words, all interviews were recorded in the researcher’s field notes. The audio recording of the interviews was then transcribed into a transcript. Later, the researcher systematically worked through each transcript of the interviews and the notes taken during classroom observations to assign codes to the specific characteristics within the texts. After the open coding the researcher looked for themes in the data that could be sorted into categories. In order to ensure that naturally arising categories were used rather than those the researcher might hope to locate and to substantiate the appropriateness and accuracy of the categories as well as the data placement in these categories, an assistant rechecked the data and the classification system.

Results

Quantitative results

In the 20 classes observed, a total of 1270 teacher-initiated interactions was recorded. Then the total number of teacher to student interactions was broken down into four categories of contact: praise, acceptance, remediation, and criticism. The ratio of each type of contact to the total was further computed to represent the distributions of interactions. Table 1.1 summarizes the frequency and percentage of teacher-initiated interactions regardless of teacher gender in each category of interaction.

Table 1.1 Frequency and percentage of teacher interaction

Type of interaction

No.

%

Acceptance

710

56

Praise

268

21

Remediation

172

14

Criticism

120

9

Total

1270

100

As illustrated in table 1.1 in the table, from four types of contacts specified in this study, teachers mostly provided students with acceptance (comments which implied that student performance was correct or appropriate) in response to the questions asked by the teachers themselves. Thus, acceptance was, by far, the largest type of feedback used by teachers (56%); followed by praise (21%) (Explicit comments which positively reinforced student performance), then remediation (14%) (A constructive teacher comment, usually encouraging or cueing a more acceptable student response), and finally criticism (explicitly negative teacher evaluation) that accounted for only 9% of the interactions.

Teacher-initiated interactions and gender of students. This part aims at the first purpose of the study that is examining the differences in the frequency of interaction directed toward boys and girls. To this end, the breakdown of the number of girls and boys in the observed classes, the total number of each interaction type, the quantity of the observed interactions by student sex, and the quantities of interactions that would have been expected, prorated for the numbers of girls and boys in the study are shown in table 1.2 below. To account for the uneven distribution of girls and boys in the observed classes the expected frequency of the interactions was calculated based on the ratio of girls and boys in all the observed classes. Considering the ratio of girls and boys in the observed classes it would have been expected that in each interaction category 78% of the interactions be distributed among girls and 22% of them among boys.

As can be seen from table 1.2, in all interaction categories the total interactions distributed to boys were more than what would have been expected proportional to their numbers. In general, if we consider the uneven distribution of girls and boys in the class it is revealed that although girls constituted 78% of the total sample (392 girls. 108 boys), they accounted for only 33% of the total interactions (819 out of 1270).

In the next phase of analysis, the one-dimensional chi square was conducted to determine if there was a significant difference in the distribution of each interaction category between girls and boys. The analysis revealed a significant difference in the distribution of all the specified categories of interactions directed by both female and male teachers toward girls and boys, except for remediation. In other words, there was no significant difference in the distribution of remediation between girls and boys (χ2 = 2.688; df = 1; p> 0.05). All the other interaction categories were distributed significantly more among boys (table 1.2). The chi square measures of all the categories are presented in table 1.2 (df = 1; p> 0.05).

Table 1.2 Observed and expected Frequency of different categories of questions between boys and girls

Number of boys

Number of girls

Total interactions

Observed frequency for girls

Expected frequency for girls

Observed frequency for boys

Expected frequency for boys

Chi square

Category

n

%

n

%

n

%

n

%

χ2

Sig

A

108

392

710

452

64

557

78

258

36

154

22

90.565

0.00

P

108

392

268

165

62

210

78

103

38

58

22

44.841

0.00

R

108

392

172

126

73

135

78

46

27

37

22

2.688

0.10

C

108

392

120

80

67

94

78

40

33

26

22

9.756

0.00

Types of teacher-student interactions directed toward girls and boys and gender of teachers. The last part of the quantitative results contributes to the second purpose of the study which concerns with the issue of the differences in frequency and types of interaction directed toward girls and boys between female and male teachers.

To meet this end, the observed frequency of teacher-student interactions initiated by both female and male teachers toward girls and boys was calculated (table 1.3). For ease of comparison the quantities of interactions that would have been expected to be directed toward students of either gender by female and male teachers, proportional to students’ enrollment in their classes, are presented in table 1.4. Comparing the observed frequency of the different types of contact initiated by both female and male teachers to the expected frequency of these types of interactions, it is clear that all categories of interaction were consistently directed toward boys more than what would have been expected proportional to their enrollment in class by both female and male teachers. In order to test the differences in frequency and types of teacher-initiated interactions directed toward girls and boys between female and male teachers a chi-square test of independence was performed for each category of interactions.

Results of the analysis revealed that female teachers directed significantly more acceptance (χ2 = 28.419; df = 1; p> 0.05) and praise (χ2 = 5.158; df = 1; p> 0.05) toward boys than toward girls. Yet, there was no significant difference in female teacher-initiated remediation (χ2 = 0.6; df = 1; p> 0.05) and criticism (χ2 = 2.111; df = 1; p> 0.05) directed toward girls and boys.

On the other hand, in male teachers classes the results of the analysis manifested that significantly more acceptance (χ2 = 63.379; df = 1; p> 0.05), praise (χ2 = 50.921; df = 1; p> 0.05), and criticism (χ2 = 8.41; df = 1; p> 0.05) were directed toward boys than girls. However, there was no significant difference in remediation that male teachers directed toward girls and boys (χ2 = 2.152; df = 1; p> 0.05). Table 1.3 and 1.4 present the observed and expected frequency of different categories of feedback directed toward girls and boys between female and male teachers respectively.

Table 4.12 Observed frequency of types of teacher-initiated feedback toward girls and boys between female and male teachers

Acceptance

Praise

Remediation

Criticism

Girl

Boy

Girl

Boy

Girl

Boy

Girl

Boy

n

%

n

%

n

%

n

%

n

%

n

%

n

%

n

%

Female

208

62

126

38

75

66

39

34

57

71

23

29

38

67

19

33

Male

244

65

132

35

90

58

64

42

69

75

23

25

42

67

21

33

Table 4.13 Expected frequency of types of teacher-initiated feedback toward girls and boys between female and male teachers

Acceptance

Praise

Remediation

Criticism

Girl

Boy

Girl

Boy

Girl

Boy

Girl

Boy

n

%

n

%

n

%

n

%

n

%

n

%

n

%

n

%

Female

251

75

83

25

86

75

28

25

60

75

20

25

43

75

14

25

Male

305

81

71

19

125

81

29

19

75

81

17

19

51

81

12

19

Qualitative results

In order to assess teachers’ views on their treatment of girls and boys in their classrooms six teachers (three females and three males) were randomly chosen from among the observed teachers to be interviewed. The interview contained three open-ended questions as follows:

1. Do you see any difference between girls and boys in your class that makes you treat them differently?

2. Do you think the type of feedback that you give to girls and boys are the same or different?

3. What do you think would be the likely cause of any unequal distribution of the interaction patterns in your classroom?

All the teachers interviewed had similar if not the same answers to the interview questions. When teachers were asked whether they see any differences between girls and boys in their classes, almost all of them (83%) explicitly stated that they did not see any difference regarding gender of the students; however, in elaborating on their answers 67% of teachers stated that girls are more participating in the classroom. They believed that girls take part more in activities and interact more with the teacher comparing to boys.

“Females like to talk a lot, even participate more in activities and more question and answer happen. Males mostly try just to keep silent and when they are asked they take part.” (Teacher J, male)

On the other hand, one teacher had a different view in this regard:

“…sometimes male students participate more in class so they take more attention but the others not…” (Teacher H, female)

Another teacher points to students’ level of achievement as the source of students’ difference and not their gender:

“The only difference between students is determined by their level.” (Teacher P, female)

Concerning the type of feedback directed toward girls and boys 83% of the teachers stated that the type of feedback did not depend on the gender and in this regard they did not put any difference between girls and boys. Some of them further explained that type of their feedback depended on the personality of the student.

“The type of feedback is not based on gender; it depends on the personality of the students. I do not think that girls are more sensitive than boys. You can see some boys that are very sensitive. And because the number of boys is few in class, when you criticize them among all girls it will offend them too much sometimes.” (Teacher D, female)

“Mostly I disregard the difference between girls and boys in their emotion but if I feel the student is bothered with my feedback I try to mend it and mostly girls are more sensitive to those matters.” (Teacher J, male)

“Personality of the students determines the kind of feedback.” (Teacher N, male)

One of the teachers referred to the type of answer as the determining factor:

“It depends on the type of answer I receive regardless of any gender consideration.” (Teacher H, female)

Only one teacher claimed that he was “more careful in treating girls”.

“…they [girls] are much more emotional. So you should be careful when directing criticism or remediation toward them. We are supposed to be alert in providing feedback to girls. We criticize the girls but in a polite way not to offend them. Of course, it depends most of the time on them being obedient or not, otherwise we have to use direct words. We treat boys politely too but the selection of the words and the way we provide the feedback is different.” (Teacher O, male)

In asking the teachers’ opinion about the cause of any likely unequal distribution of interaction between girls and boys, they provided various answers. Among the mentioned causes were: students’ voluntary participation (50%), gap between teaching and practice (17%), the classroom context (50%), teacher characteristics (17%), and student’s knowledge (33%). Examine the following comments from the teachers interviewed:

“Maybe the level of participation of that gender caused it. Some students just grab the teachers’ attention…” (Teacher H, female)

“It is my failure and I accept it, but maybe more volunteers from one gender are the cause because mostly I put a question and choose from volunteers to answer.” (Teacher J, male)

“The cause is the gap between practice and thinking. Always there is a gap between the teacher concept before coming to class and something that happens in the class. The second factor may be the context of the class.” (Teacher N, male)

“It depends on someone’s temperament and characteristics. Some men are more comfortable with male students and some with female students.” (Teacher O, male)

“It depends on the knowledge they have. Among the students at the same level I do not put any difference in the type of asked questions but for both students that are in higher level or lower level type of question would be different.” (Teacher P, female)

Discussion

The quantitative findings of this study indicated that within teacher-initiated interactions, three out of four categories of evaluative contacts (acceptance, praise, and criticism) were directed significantly more to boys than girls. Actually boys were involved in more than 50% of all the interaction categories. The only category that no significant difference was found in its distribution between girls and boys was remediation. Moreover, findings regarding the influence of gender of teachers on their differentiated behavior toward girls and boys exposed that female teachers normally provide boys with more acceptance and praise than girls; however, there was no significance difference in providing girls and boys with criticism or remediation. On the other hand, in male-taught classes almost all categories of interaction were directed significantly more toward boys.

In general, these results confirm the findings of Sadker (1994), Duffy, et al, (2001), Jones & Dindia (2004), and Koca (2009); that is, males get more speaking practice and more feedback on their utterances. Boys responded more to the teachers' questions, thus getting more speaking practice, quite possibly feedback in response to their answers, and more practice in question-related language functions.

In explaining the causes of female teachers not providing boys with more criticism and remediation, both classroom observations and teachers’ interviews revealed that Iranian female teachers were more careful in criticizing boys, as one of the teachers said:

“…maybe a boy is more sensitive than a girl, especially if we have few boys in class and when you criticize them among all the girls it will offend them too much sometimes.” (Teacher D, female)

This perhaps can be explained with reference to the stereotyped sociological beliefs present in the society. Actually, based on these stereotypes society assigns abilities and characteristics to individuals on the basis of their gender. For instance, in most societies men are identified as responsible, strong, independent, self-confident, aggressive, and successful, whereas women are described as passive, emotional, nurturing, and warm. Teachers’ beliefs and behaviors in the classroom is most probably influenced by the dominant beliefs of the society too; as Dabiri (2006) believes that it is students’ gender that specifies the kind of positive or negative feedback. In her study it was revealed that teachers definition of male roles emphasize mastery and competence, whereas female role was defined as submissive and dependent. This way of looking at female and male roles may make the teacher accept the boys’ answers easier and not question the response that they provide and it might further explain why criticism and remediation were the only categories whose distribution happened to be equal between girls and boys by female teachers.

Generally speaking, as it was discussed earlier, since most language learners consider opportunities to talk and practice using the language very important, this lack of opportunity to use the language may hinder the development of girls’ language ability. Consequently the trend of male domination of talking time in ELT classrooms gives reason for concern that women are getting less than their fair share of opportunities to practice using English.

Contrary to the quantitative findings of the study, teachers in their interviews claimed that they treated female and male students equally and acknowledged the fact that it was their sincere belief that all students should have this right to have access to equal opportunities for learning in the classroom and it is the teachers’ responsibility to provide an equal learning environment in the classroom—a claim which was ironically counterbalanced by the actual teacher-student interactions which were shown to have been overwhelmingly male dominated.

This finding supports Sadker and Sadker (1994) who showed that while teachers may acknowledge gender-equity principles and may express gender-fair viewpoints, what they actually do in their own classes may not necessarily reflect this knowledge. Generally, it can be concluded that teachers are not aware of their own behavior with the genders and they may unconsciously make males the focus of instruction, giving them more frequent and more precise attention. When teachers interact less with female students they have less chance to talk, which in turn might threaten development of their language ability.

In further explaining the causes of the inequalities in classrooms, it has been suggested that the greater number of interactions directed toward male students is a result of increased initiations of interactions by male students themselves. Some studies discovered that more boys than girls volunteered to answer the questions (Koca, 2009, Altermatt et al., 1998; Bailey, 1993; D’Ambrosio & Hammer, 1996; Sadker & Sadker, 1986; Sadker et al., 1984). Similarly, some of those interviewed teachers in the current study also mentioned the students’ voluntary participation as the likely cause of unequal distribution of interactions. However, observations in the present study demonstrate that in all classrooms there were active students of both genders (boys and girls) that took a considerable number of turns. This is a new situation, which in theory, calls for some noticeable changes to the traditional way of distributional imbalance.

The researcher also observed that, except for some active girls, majority of girls were more likely to sit silently, waiting to be called on. In other words, the number of silent girls, not being called on or not calling out in the classrooms, is remarkably higher than the number of silent boys proportional to their enrollment in the classrooms. This is consistent with the findings of the study conducted by Salata (1994) reporting that two-thirds of the silent students in college classrooms are girls, not having any interaction whatsoever with their professors.

However, even if volunteering is the cause, it is the teachers’ responsibility to manage classroom interactions and provide equal opportunities for all students in the classroom. Morrow (1979) believes that:

A good question should not only have good quality, but also result in large quantity. If the question only answered by the top students or nobody, that is not a good question, even if it has good quality. So in order to increase the students’ participation both volunteers and non-volunteers should be called on. Teacher also should distribute questions randomly; they need to be sure to call on males, females, front of the room, back, sides, hand-up, hands not up, etc.

On the other hand, if student volunteering remains a critical feature of teacher-student interactions, simply instructing teachers to call on girls more often will not suffice. Efforts should be made to understand the reasons behind girls’ relative non-participation, so that steps can be taken to encourage girls to become full participants in the classroom question-answer interactions. Shomoossi et al. (2008) noted that some girls feel threatened in classrooms characterized by a high reliance on participation through student volunteering. One way for teachers to alleviate the perceived threat of volunteer participation is to use teaching strategies that defend girls against male dominance such as being aware of subtle gender bias and in turn equally calling on girls even if they are not raising their hands.

Besides the possibility of males initiating more interactions with teachers as the cause of this unequal distribution of interaction, another factor that might have further heightened this verbal domination was gender segregation of many of classes.

The researcher of the current study in examining the seating pattern of the classrooms observed that females most commonly sit with other females, and males cluster together. As male students talked and called out more, teachers were drawn to the noisier male sections of the class, a development that further silences girls. Having informal interviews with the students to seek the cause of this segregation it became apparent to the researcher that this segregation is sometimes put in effect by the teacher, but typically, it is done by the students themselves. Rarely does the teacher intervene to integrate seating and group work, particularly in higher education. When students were asked why they separated boys and girls, some boys said the girls did not want to mix with them. Some of the girls interviewed said when they mix with boys their friends teased them saying that the boys were their boyfriends.

Classroom observations at the elementary level have shown that teachers talk more frequently to boys no matter where they are in the classroom, but only to girls when they are nearby (Sadker & Sadker, 1981). Other studies have shown that classroom seating patterns can influence interaction patterns, and that they could be a compelling factor in determining interaction frequency and time (Yepez, 1994).

Sadker and Sadker (1992) believe that when left intact, these segregated grouping patterns influence the distribution of teacher attention because the instructor is drawn to sections of the room where one particular gender or group of students are clustered. Consequently, one group of students is out of the instructor’s immediate visual zone. Literally invisible, they are less likely to be called on to participate, and so they become silent as well. These subtle inequities in attention might have an impact on student achievement.

Conclusion and Recommendations for Future Research

One of the ironies of gender bias in schools is that so much of it goes unnoticed by educators. While personally committed to fairness, many are unable to see the micro-inequities that surround them. Accordingly, the university teachers participated in this study generally wished to treat female and male students equitably, but they (of both genders) gave more attention to male students in the classroom than to female students in the same classroom in almost all aspects of the interaction under investigation. As a result, male students received more opportunities for participation in the classrooms because there was significantly more teacher-male student interaction than teacher-female student interaction in the classroom. Male students in the classroom tended to demand more interaction and attention from teachers and the teachers responded accordingly.

In general, although it was found that students’ gender may affect teacher-student interaction in adult EFL classrooms, this researcher believes that few teachers set out to discriminate against their students based on race, ethnicity, gender, or economic class. I don’t believe that there is a teacher, who wakes up in the morning with the intention of excluding any student or class of students, but it happens inadvertently, and the effect is withering. Privilege is invisible to those who have it (McIntosh, 1988). Therefore, to the extent that any of us does have it, it is only by making it visible to ourselves so that we can eradicate its effects—no matter how unintentional—on others.

Given that school is not only a place where students acquire academic knowledge, but a place where youths become socialized and learn to assume particular roles in society, teachers’ role as models for students, and therefore, their actions become important in communicating messages that shape students’ beliefs and their self-concepts. If teachers, inadvertently or not, demonstrate gender-biased actions, (e.g., giving more attention to boys, permitting their interruptions or attention-drawing behaviors, or asking them more intellectually challenging questions in comparison to questions asked of girls), students may come to believe that boys are expected to be more outspoken and active, while girls are expected to be quite and undisruptive and may also internalize the message and grow to believe that such differential treatment for males and females is the norm.

This calls for developing training programs, like that by Sadkers (1984), to enable teachers and administrators to detect this bias and create equitable teaching methods. Program evaluations indicate that biased teaching patterns can be changed, and teachers can achieve equity in verbal interactions with their students. Teaching should be an intentional and active process rather than one that is passive and reactive in nature. When teachers become aware of differences in the way they interact with female and male students and when they receive appropriate resources and training, they can become more equitable in their response patterns. Research shows that for elementary and secondary school teachers, as well as college instructors, this training leads not only to more equitable teaching but to more effective teaching as well (Sadker, et al. 1984). As a result, individual educators, teachers and administrators, can insure that instructional strategies and curricular innovations benefit all our students.

Future researchers need to investigate additional factors that are likely to affect teacher-student interactions in classrooms, as they may offer explanations of sex differences in teacher-student interaction patterns. Some demographic factors that may be relevant include English language proficiency, personality and the racial or ethnic background of teachers and students. It would also be interesting to see how teaching strategies and personality differences among teachers correlate with the tendency to interact more with students of one gender.

Researchers suggest that our society’s different expectations and restraints on boys and girls have led us to accept and condone certain behaviors when displayed by a member of the expected sex. Future researchers could look at students’ perceptions, taking into consideration that perceptions and expectations are shaped by society and early learning experiences.

Finally, the effect of a training program concerning gender equity in language, teacher interactions, and all other areas of learning on teachers’ interactions with students and their attitudes toward gender roles can be investigated.

To reiterate, however complex, additional studies of these types are needed, because the payoff comes in a number of ways. First, it more accurately portrays what actually occurs in the classroom; of course what unfolds depends on the teachers’ next move. Second, it focuses on “equity of access.” -- a unique feature of the classroom culture criteria which allows teachers to reflect on their classroom events with a less biased approach, the result of which can be fair and equitable treatment of students as individuals and providing them with equal access to the full educational resources of the learning environment , and finally If the results are taken sincerely and put into practice correctly, it would potentially pave the way for establishing a learning environment where every idea is a good one and no individual is left behind.

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