Hey girls, speak up!

I just watched this video clip posted by Upworthy, and it reminded me of how we helped our 6th grade girls find their voices.  

While we were self-contained in the morning for math and literacy, we switched for science and social studies, keeping homerooms together. It didn’t matter which homeroom group I had.  The girls were more than willing to let the boys take over all class discussions and do the science labs. My teammate noticed the same thing in his social studies classes.  

At wits end, I tried all the usual methods to draw them out- name sticks, mixing up lab groups, self-evaluations of group participation as part of their lab grades,  jigsawing, but the girls continued  passively learning while the boys took over. Something had to be done because the girls were every bit as knowledgeable as the boys, more so in some cases.  Their reluctance to participate was simply not acceptable!

My solution- split them up!  We would create gender specific classrooms for science and social studies for a period of time.  Since our boy/girl ratio was about 50/50, class sizes wouldn’t be a problem.

My teammate and I were both nearing the end of our current units, so that was the best time to make the change.  We needed to get the OK from our principal.  He was skeptical, but we assured him it wasn’t going to be forever and only in afternoon switching of science and social studies. We wrote a note home to parents explaining our plan and reasoning; they were fine with it.  

We kicked things off by bringing both classes together to announce the change in organization.  We wanted them to know we valued the thinking of all learners and wanted to encourage everyone’s participation.  We felt this change would be like starting a new year, where everyone gets a fresh start.  Classes would be split for at least one science unit (which typically lasted about a month) and then we would revisit how things were going.  Did we need to go longer with this setup, or could we switch back?  It wasn’t our goal to have the classes split like this for the whole year.

Some interesting things happened in both science and social studies.  As we hoped, the girls opened up and discussions were lively.  Everyone participated and all were willing to help those that were struggling.  The boys had some changes, also.  Their levels of participation seemed to balance out, with the vocal leaders from both classes stepping back to let the quieter boys participate.  From this standpoint, we achieved our goal.  

However, the best part was when we put the homerooms back together.  No longer were the girls willing to let the boys do all the work, have all the fun, or answer all the questions!  Girls were now equal, if not greater participants, determined to be active learners.  They found their voices, and that confidence carried over in all the subjects for the rest of the year!  

I'm curious.  Has anyone else struggled with this?  What are some of the ways you’ve helped students find their voices?

Learning is not attained by chance, it must be sought for with ardor and attended to with diligence.  Abigail Adams

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