This chapter treats one element of diversity—gender—as a case study, to illustrate how unexamined behaviors and beliefs can perpetuate discrimination or create environments not conducive to learning. Because much research has been done on the effects of gender in the classroom, we include a separate chapter on this topic. We recognize that gender is but one of the various factors which influence your students’ academic performance, but find the body of research on this subject to be broad enough to fill a chapter of its own.
Gender is one of the most fundamental ways we categorize people, whether consciously or unconsciously. Often, gender expectations or stereotypes shape our thoughts and interactions with others in subtle yet perceptible ways. As a result, gender dynamics in the college classroom paradoxically remain both obvious and often overlooked. Since the American Association of University Women (AAUW) published the hallmark study How Schools Shortchange Girls: A Study of the Major Findings on Girls and Education (1992), the effect of gender on classroom dynamics has become an even more prominent topic of educational research and discussion. Although this was not the first study, it was one of the first to garner widespread attention and to emphasize how gender influences not only what we teach, but also how we teach, and how our students learn. As more and more of our students have grown up in a time where gender equality is “both taken for granted and not yet a reality” (“Tips for Teachers” 1), classroom gender dynamics have become even more complicated to identify, much less address. Nonetheless, being aware of the patterns of behavior described below, as well as the teaching strategies that follow, will help you treat your students equitably and encourage wider participation in your classroom.
As you read the following chapter, please keep in mind that many of the research studies summarized below focus on gender differences in the aggregate. Though some of these generalizations can help us understand how gender affects classroom behavior of students and teachers, it is important to remember that differences in linguistic styles or learning preferences often associated with a particular gender are neither innate nor specific to every man or woman. Thus, many female students will not exhibit the behaviors or speech patterns described below and some male students will. As a good rule of thumb, be sensitive to the following patterns of behavior, but don’t assume they will hold true for every male or female student.