by Katherine Bradley, M.ED, ED.S.
Imagine a classroom tailored in accordance with the likes and dislikes of your child. In your son’s class competition, physical activity and choice activities dominate the learning environment—even for math and language arts!! In your daughter’s class, she and her friends sit in groups; they collaborate and have the opportunity to be creative and inquisitive without the distraction of rambunctious little boys. These are the characteristics of the single-gender learning environment.
The classroom is alive with movement, noise and learning. There are 22 six and seven year old boys that appear to be not only engaged in active learning, but totally absorbed in the learning process. It’s as if the classroom and the activity are teaching and the teacher is just facilitating. This teacher is the conductor in a great symphony of learning. What makes this orchestra unique is that it is an all-boys class in a single gender experiment.
The lesson for the time is math. All the boys are seated on a mat, on their colored squares eagerly awaiting their turn to catch the ball and answer the question. The teacher tosses the ball. A student catches the koosh ball and strains to see the card that the teacher is holding. The tension is mounting as the student calculates on his fingers. The excitement in the other boys is also building to a breaking point just as he blurts out the answer. The boys and the teacher erupt in congratulations at having answered correctly. The student stands and hurls a MLB pitch at this dediated single-gender teacher. All hands are up pleading for a chance to answer and pitch.
The room is busy with random activity. The subject is science. Some boys are huddled in groups or as individuals reading science related books. The teacher and a few other boys are in the center of the class room assembling a science project on planets consisting of inflatable planets previously prepared. He periodically sends a boy away and calls for another boy to help from elsewhere in the room. This single-gender teacher manages to lead the boys through the assembly, questioning them about the size, color, unique characteristics and placement of each planet. Once complete, all of the other boys leave their satellite activities and gather around to marvel at the class project.
There are boys engaged in computer math and chess games, boys working with blocks, boys reading and others doing other miscellaneous activities. The room hums with busy activity. Periodically there are requests for the teacher to check out something made or just to hear about something the boy did or wants to do. The conversation is causal and comfortable. Both the teacher and students engage in exchanges of experiences and ideas.
This teacher, having been trained in single-gender strategies, has a special connection and understanding that allows him to orchestrate such a masterful learning environment. It is as if he fools all of those rambunctious little boys into thinking they are supposed to be having fun instead of learning. The classroom runs like a well-oiled engine. There are occasional instances of redirection, but no raised voices, no attitude standoffs and no discipline referrals—just learning.
Engaging elementary students and helping them to develop more positive attitudes and perspectives on school is essential in helping them to become successful in school and in life. No, there is no one-size-fits-all prescription in education. Single-gender education is not for everyone, which is the reason that the new legal guidelines on single-gender education mandate that parents have a choice. However, research and anecdotal reports certainly paint single-gender education as an effective instructional strategy for many children. You know your child and the learning environment that will best suit their individual personality--read, experience, question and investigate.
As a Parent—
BEFORE you decide
- Read any literature on single-gender education available on the internet, in magazines and newspapers and at your child’s school.
- Experience the single-gender environment--Visit some single-gender classes at your school or other schools. Make a list of questions or concerns.
- Question the administrators and teachers at your child’s school after you visit.
- Investigate on your own. Speak to the parents of who have children in single-gender learning environments.
*This article was adapted from Mr. O, The Man in the Know, by Katherine Bradley.