Gender Bias In The Classroom Education Essay

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This paper is a research proposal that will offer an extensive examination of the sources and effects of gender bias in the classroom. In particular, this paper will outline a research tack, after a literature review on the subject, that will suggest a future means for deepening the understanding of gender bias in classrooms. The hypothesis of the study is that having educator awareness alone will not be sufficient in eliminating bias.

The problem of gender bias in the classroom, particularly in terms of differential treatment, has been widely and heatedly debated in academic and popular literature for decades (Beaman, Wheldall, and Kemp, 2006). While the debate can be traced back throughout the twentieth century, it intensified significantly in the 1970s when researchers began to look more systematically at the time of treatment that boys and girls received from their teachers in a classroom setting. There is, not surprisingly, variation in research and conclusions over the subsequent years, but a review of even a small cross section of the literature on the subject over that period reveals that there is significant evidence to suggest that there is institutionalized gender bias in classrooms. Quite simply, boys and girls are treated different by educators by dint of their gender alone, even when all other factors have been accounted for.

The far-reaching implications of this problem should be readily apparent. Almost wholly unintentional, gender bias in education is so pervasive that even when teachers make a concerted effort to change their behavior regarding differential treatment, subtle forms of bias still creep in. The importance of recognizing and eliminating this bias is evident in the capacity of this bias to create two educational curricula, one that severely truncates the ambitions and accomplishments of students (Frawley, 2005). It must be the goal of the educator to not believe that he or she is above this kind of behavior but rather to recognize that gender bias in the classroom is more often than not present. Educators must be trained to recognize how to recognize this behavior, and how to develop strategies that can be employed to mitigate the effects of gender bias in the classroom. Only in this way can educators hope to provide an educational experience for all students that enhances their ability to learn and achieve educational success, rather than hinders the experience based on nothing more than gender (Frawley, 2005).

The author's goal in this paper is to outline a research approach that can help move educators closer to the realization of the aforementioned-and admittedly lofty-goal. As such, the author will begin with a literature review on the subject to familiarize readers with some of the pertinent conclusions that other researchers have drawn over the past decades in examinations into gender bias in the classroom. The proposed research will examine the important question of whether or not making educators conscious of the gender biased behaviors has a positive impact on reducing said bias. In other words, can we reduce gender bias in the classroom simply by making educators aware of it and providing them with some basic pedagogical tools to more evenly treat their students? The author's hypothesis is based on previous research that suggests that gender bias is too institutionalized-both for teachers and students-for such a simplistic stratagem to be effective (Tournaki, 2003). The information developed previously in the literature review will play a significant role in helping readers conceptualize and contextualize the importance of this proposed study and its results.

Literature Review

Starting in the mid-1970s, likely with the rise of the feminist movement in academic research, questions of gender and gender bias began to slip into focus in educational research. In particular, researchers questioned whether or not there was a statistically significant preferential treatment of boys over girls in the classroom. By the late 1980s, more than eighty studies had come to the same conclusion regarding gender differentiation in the classroom:

[…] boys attracted more interactions than girls, with girls receiving less criticism but also less instruction. Boys received both more academic and behavioural criticism than their female counterparts. Although girls were just as likely (slightly more in fact) as boys to volunteer to answer teacher questions, girls on average participated in only 44% of classroom interactions. Kelly's finding that boys attracted more teacher attention than girls held true regardless of gender of teacher (although male teachers gave girls less attention than female teachers), age level of the students, subject area, ethnic origin, socio-economic status, country, and in terms of when the study was conducted. (Beaman, Wheldall, and Kemp, 2006: p. 340)

In effect, gender bias in the classroom was well-established even as early as three decades ago. But the research has continued to amass that suggests that despite this early realization, little progress has been made at reducing gender bias or mitigating its effects. Lundeberg (1997) found that teachers and other educators are often utterly unaware of the subtle gender biases that they perpetuate in the classroom. The study of 48 teachers (21 men and 27 women) revealed that overall boys received greater amounts of attention, feedback, and praise from the teachers. The researchers suggested a number of techniques for reducing this bias and increasing classroom equity-such as tracking student responses, alternating interaction between male and female students, and encouraging teachers to not choose the first student to raise his or her hand. The results of this study are consistent, as stated, with the bulk of the research on this topic.

In a similar bit of research, though must more extensive, Tournaki (2003) analyzed the responses of 384 teachers who were asked to respond to a case study of one of thirty-two students whose gender, reading abilities, behavior, and attentiveness were manipulated experimentally to test teacher reactions and influence. The researcher found that when these student characteristics were manipulated, teachers perception of said students and predictions of their academic and social success were affected. In particular, Tournaki found that the gender of the student had a statistically significant influence on the attitude of teachers toward those students, even when all other characteristics were accounted for. The implication is clear that students will be perceived and treated differently by educators simply based on their gender characteristics. This perception will bleed over into treatment in the classroom, which will have long-term effects and implications for the success of students in the classroom and in later life situations.

Sneller (2001) points out that despite "a ban on gender discrimination in public schools […] imposed by Title IX of the Education Amendment over twenty years ago, gender bias in our educational institutions is alive and thriving" (p. 196). The reason for this, as the research reveals is because girls are discouraged, systematically and often unintentionally, from pursuing many academic disciplines, especially in math and science. The key words to focus on from this research are 'systematic' and 'unintentional'. While there are no doubt examples of gender bias in classrooms that is purposeful and arbitrary, these can easily be dealt with because they are obvious and statistical outliers. Gender bias that is so pervasive it has become part of the educational background noise is more difficult to address because most educators don't even realize they're contributing to this climate of bias. Worse, some may even think that they are improving gender equity in the classroom while they are actually still perpetuating the same gender roles.

That was the case for feminist research Spender who, in 1982, taped her own classroom teaching for analysis whilst making a concerted effort to spend an equal amount of time interacting with both male and female students (Beaman, Wheldall, and Kemp, 2006). To her utter surprise and dismay, she discovered that her efforts were still statistically skewed in favor of an underlying gender bias. Ten taped lessons revealed that the maximum class time spent interacting with girls was 42%, with 38% the average. Boys received a minimum of 58% of classroom attention. For her, a feminist instructor and researcher acutely aware of gender bias in the classroom, to still fail to create a gender equitable classroom hints at the underlying current of bias against which educators must fight. Her research, limited and anecdotal as it might have been, nonetheless illustrates the problem for educators who assume that simply paying lip service to gender equality in the classroom is enough to overcome the strength of the differential treatment afforded male and female students. It will require nothing short of a cultural shift in attitudes regarding the behaviors and aptitudes of students.

Research Questions

The purpose of this research, as suggested already, is to put the matter of gender bias in the classroom into sharper perspective. Obviously, the extant literature on the subject reveals that gender bias is not only a longstanding historical issue, but a contemporary one that continues to shape educational policy and behavior. The actions of educators because of subtle and pervasive gender bias in the classroom influences the academic and potential social success of their students, in particular by limiting the options available to female students. Worse, most educators seem utterly unaware of their participation in a culture of bias, some even considering themselves progressive enough that they have successfully created gender equitable classrooms.

The reality, as suggested in the literature, paints a far different picture. Gender bias is a thriving part of modern education, and, what's more, it is an issue that will be difficult to surmount. The focus of this research study will be to examine in greater depth the nature of that difficulty. More precisely, the author wishes to develop a research project that will focus on the success or failure of specific techniques at reducing gender bias in the classroom via raising awareness of the issue with educators. It is the hypothesis of the author that these methods, while improving superficial concepts of gender inequity in the classroom, will fall far from the more difficult goal of altering the pervasive cultural of gender bias in which all educators and students find themselves entrenched.

Method

Like any good research proposal, it is important to define the methods employed, or that are intended to be employed by the researcher. Without replication and the potential for falsifiability, the research itself cannot be considered scientific by any stretch.

Participants

The participants for this study will be teachers and students in high school classrooms. Assuming a generalized ratio of 30 students to every teacher, the author would prefer to pursue as wide a sample as possible in order to reduce local variability that could taint the results. Therefore, the research should strive for a sample of at least 500 distinct classrooms consisting of 500 educators and 1500 students. A sample size of this scale will obviously present logistical difficulties, but it will help illustrate the true effects of gender bias intervention techniques in the classroom.

Measures

Two primary measures will be used to determine the success or failure of the tested techniques. The first will be based purely on the amount of time each educator affords to his or her students, male and female. Percentage of time allotted to male versus female students will be measured and tabulated to illustrate what portion of classroom time was granted to both genders. The second measure will be more subjective and will consist of two questionnaires distributed to all of the teachers, as well as to a random sampling of 500 students (250 male and 250 female). One questionnaire will be given at the start of the study and will ask respondents to evaluate the extent of gender bias in their classroom setting. The second questionnaire will be given at the end of the study, and will ask participants to evaluate any changes in bias that they perceived, for better or worse.

Procedure

The procedure will be straightforward, if extended. Because it is the hypothesis of this study that improved awareness will not result in significantly reduced gender bias in the classroom, educators will be told that the study is designed to evaluate grass-root efforts to limit gender bias. The teachers will be asked to create their own plan for improving gender equity in the classroom, or to implement no plan if they feel that their classroom is already gender equitable. In either case, documentation of the teacher's proposed technique will be required at the start of the study. The classrooms will be evaluated over the course of a semester via the aforementioned questionnaires and classroom recordings that will indicate time allotment by gender.

Analysis

It should be noted that the purpose of this study is not to test the success of a particular technique for improving gender equity in the classroom, but rather to make educators aware that they are being observed and tested on this matter. By formulating the study in this fashion, it will make the educators conscious of the potential problem and, presumably, force them into action to reduce gender inequity. The significance of the results will rest in whether or not there is any improvement in gendered time allotment over the course of the semester, as well as the altered perceptions of students and teachers over the same period.

Discussion

If the results of this study support the research hypothesis, it would imply that making teachers aware of the problem of gender bias is not a successful approach for eliminating it from classrooms. It would suggest that the issue of gender inequity runs far deeper than can be mitigated even by the concerted efforts of educators. If, however, there are changes in time allotments over the course of the semester, and the perception of equity supports this change, it might suggest that such techniques (and even perhaps which specific ones) are effective in reducing bias.

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