April 23, 2014, by melissayoong

Gender-Neutral Teaching

In my previous post, I invited students to consider if social pressure to conform to idealised forms of masculinity and femininity could be affecting their classroom behaviour. Yesterday, at a workshop on Gender-Neutral Teaching, I turned the spotlight to ourselves as teachers, with particular regards to the attention given to male and female students as well as the language used in the classroom.

Although we would like to think that we treat our students equally and fairly, we are all part of society and therefore have our own hidden biases and social expectations which we bring with us into the classroom. This could affect the way we perceive and respond to our students. For example, certain teachers might unconsciously believe that female students are more conscientious than males (Boys will be boys!) and consequently, spend more time developing the former while reprimanding the latter. This may not necessarily benefit the female students either since they are held to higher standards of behaviour and any attempts to push boundaries may be interpreted as greater failing than if a male student had committed the same act. While it is difficult to identify our prejudices, it is a valuable exercise to reflect on our (previously unconscious) perceptions of our students and our reactions towards them in order to reduce prejudice.

In our workshop, we also discussed the use of gender-neutral language both in our teaching materials and classroom talk. In addition to avoiding masculine generics, it is important to ensure that we do not draw on gender stereotypes – whether complimentary (Women are natural caregivers, Men are good with cars) or otherwise (Men are cheats, Women are shopaholics) . When preparing examples of language use, it is also worthwhile to check that we do not over-represent males or only have males occupying positions of power (The President claimed that he …).

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