I'm really glad that siderea made a post at some point explaining that intelligence and avidity are different things. This semester I had a class of six students, three boys and three girls. It soon became clear that the girls range between fairly and very avid but aren't very bright, and the boys are reasonably to highly capable but are just coasting. It's always a little worrying when a group divides precisely along gender lines like that, but I'm fairly certain that it's just a statistical blip and not a result of my making biased assumptions.
Six is an odd-sized class; I felt I was on the brink between a large tutorial and a small seminar, a bit. The dim but avid girls asked a lot of questions, some of which were helpful because they made it crystal clear when one of them wasn't following and what information needed repeating or expanding. But one in particular kept asking almost scattershot questions, asking me to restate what I'd just said a few minutes before, or even worse, making it clear that she really wasn't grasping basic principles. She also pestered me and several of the other course leaders between classes rather a lot, asking us to go over lectures she'd missed or explain things to her, but again, it seemed more like "please pay attention to me" than actually having a specific issue that she needed help with. Cynically, I began to develop suspicions that she was trying to cajole us into giving her pre-digested exam answers that she could learn by heart and regurgitate, but if that's the case I think the motivation was panic about not understanding the material well enough to pass the course, rather than laziness.
Meanwhile, the bright but non-avid boys barely deigned to turn up to lectures, and when present, stared into space or fiddled with their phones or had to be pulled up for chatting while I was trying to talk. The inane questions from their female colleagues obviously didn't help with holding their attention. So overall it was pretty challenging to make sure that everyone got equal attention from me, keeping the girls from overwhelming the class and keeping the boys interested. Of course, if this lot had been 5% of a decent sized year group, they'd pretty much all have come away unsatisfied.
Today we had the final part of the course, the bit where I had to assess project work they'd done planning imaginary experiments. I was really pleased, because they'd all put real thought into the project and come up with something original. A great contrast to the planning session earlier in the week, when the girls kept saying "I don't understand, what can we do?" and the boys rolled their eyes and said they didn't have any questions. This hypothetical experiment planning format is really great, making the students think for themselves and apply the information they've learned. There were a couple of errors around not having a grasp of how some of the techniques they'd looked up work, but that's normal, and I was able to explain the points they were missing, so I think everybody learned something from the exercise. The girls made creditable stabs at the exercise, and the boys were stretched a bit because there's pretty much no upper limit in how well you can think out an experiment plan.
After finding the class slightly frustrating, I do feel good about the outcome by the end of the course; I made some real connections. Yay teaching!
I wasn't trying to imply that all girls are naturally dim but keen, or that it's a particularly masculine response to get bored in a class with lots of people asking stupid questions. If I had been in that class I would have just dominated it completely, because I'm both intelligent and avid, and a teacher would probably have to fight me to let anyone else get a look in.
Had you been in the position of my boys, what would you have wanted me to do as a teacher? I was definitely trying to include some sophisticated ideas, attempting to hint to the girls that they didn't need to understand the twists of the argument while giving the boys something to stretch their brains. But without them being willing to engage me directly it was that much harder to respond at a level more suited to them.
My first semester of p-chem was spent as nearly the student to whom the professor was teaching merely because I was the only one actively participating. There were students more intelligent than I but they sat like bumps on a log or didn't show at all. It really was at a point where the professor was directing his lectures to me, too. It was kind of embarrassing.
Yeah, I was really trying to avoid that happening with the confused and constantly pestering girl. I think if she had been less absolutely hopeless I'd have been very tempted, because what's more satisfying than working with someone who passionately wants to learn and is struggling with the material? As it was she was so far behind that it was plainly obvious that I couldn't do remedial work with her in the middle of a group situation.
Good suggestion, thanks. I think I went some of the way to avoiding too much disruption by taking control in a more subtle way, using voice and body language cues to make it clear that I didn't expect to be interrupted. With a small group that felt about right, but I could have been a bit more formal about it, developing a point over several minutes and then asking for questions, but not allowing any interruptions.
I wasn't trying to imply that all girls are naturally dim but keen,
or that it's a particularly masculine response to get bored in a class with lots of people asking stupid questions
Not sure I agree. Certainly, I think boys in general have a lower boredom threshold than girls in general, whatever their intelligence or facility with the subject.
My experience is that (even older and brighter) boys respond well to being fed information in quite short, snappy bites and then being given space to work things out themselves and get into a task where they have personal input. Your experiment-designing task sounds ideal - is there any way you could introduce small tasks on this model for the students to get into? Girls in the main do tend to prefer a little more teacher input at earlier stages (more "[teacher] presentation" and "[group or pair] practice" where the boys might prefer "[group or individual] production", if you use those terms.)
If you set up some kind of group or pair task, you should be able to circulate and continue explaining to those who need help, letting those who prefer to get stuck in to get on with things. That can be one effective way to differentiate in a mixed-level class.
I'd also agree with strictly limiting questions - you can do this gently, without being impolite, but make clear at the outset that you'll only have questions at certain points or a certain number of questions, and then ask the student to come and see you after class. That should prevent the pace of the lesson being dragged down by interruptions.
This is fantastic, thank you so much. I love the way that I can just post some notes about teaching and someone with loads of experience comes along with pertinent advice. I didn't know about those gender differences, and it's useful information for the future. (Obviously generalizations don't explain everything or apply universally!)
I definitely liked the way the course was set up with a mixture of lectures and these projects. It's kind of designed for a bigger group, though, but that's not a huge issue. Maybe I could make the lectures a bit more directly interactive, not just in terms of letting people ask me questions but giving people small tasks to develop their understanding of the material. This lot did seem to need to be dragged kicking and screaming into thinking for themselves, but the results were great when they finally started doing so!
When they were preparing the pair task I was circulating and explaining, so it did function as an opportunity for more individual attention. Problem was that it didn't work very well because each pair consisted of one girl and one boy (I didn't plan it that way, I let them form their own pairs), so even when it was me talking directly to two people, the girls were dominating with "please hold my hand more" questions and the boys were bored and disengaged. Things went better after the groups went off to work on their own, and removed the issue of competing for teacher's attention. From the way the final presentations went, I think they really did work together, not just do their own thing and ignore their partner, so that was good, but I don't know if I can take credit for it.
But yes, I could stand to be a bit more explicit and firm about what level of interrupting questions is acceptable. Good plan!
Obviously these things aren't completely universal - you do meet quiet, focussed boys and attention-deficit girls; but interestingly I do find the common traits are reinforced by single-sex education. ie If you put boys together with other boys, they all act like boys and ditto for girls, where in a co-ed situation you find more gradation. Again, this is a generalisation - but one that I find anecdotal evidence for very frequently.
On a much more general level, it's always good to remember that different learners have different learning styles, and some people like a lot of verbal information where other people get little from that and prefer other methods. So long as you keep giving little snippets of what everybody needs, they'll all be learning something.
I find it very offensive being defined as less intelligent only because other people had lots of educational support from the start. Intelligence is not messurable. Everybody has some weakness and some strength. I also don't think it is a gender thing. It is the society who expect boys to know more and be intellectual whilst girls don't get the same education and same expectation. It is unfortunately often the case in many families. It is hard to catch up then.
I'm sorry, I was being flippant when I described the girls in my class as "stupid" and "dim". They're not really, they're just not on top of the material, and I do know there could be lots of reasons for that. I'm sorry for offending you. I should be more careful with my language.
I was trying to be as supportive as possible, including spending quite a lot of time outside class helping them with stuff they were confused about. But they do have to take some initiative and actually tell me what their problem is; just whining that it's too haaaaaaard and they don't understaaaaaand doesn't give me enough cues to do anything except repeat what I just said. Also, I had a certain amount of information that I needed to teach in a limited period of time, I couldn't just jump back to highschool level or spend all the time explaining basic concepts to the girls. So it was a balance, it's not that I'm saying, oh well, the girls are stupid, there's no point bothering with them; it's that I had to help them as much as I could while keeping the class moving forward.
I don't think I was being sexist, either, though the possibility did occur to me. I generally don't expect girls to be less intellectual since after all, I'm a girl and I'm pretty academic! But who knows what sort of family and school background they've had.
It just sounded like lethargic_man's view of who is intelligent and who is not. He told me that I am less intelligent. Although we are friends and keep each other company I am annoyed about it. I even tried several times to break up the whole friendship with him. I wish you could explain it to him. This post seem to support his view which I don't want. My school education was rubbish and I had no support from my parents. I was always called stupid and was told I always stay like that. My brother started with enthuasism for maths and other things that my mum liked and she thought he was bright and supported him. Most of the schools he went to were not very good either. But he managed A-levels and studies physics. Consider all the support he had all the time. I liked other things which were more creative like inventing stories, music and dance. But my mother did not support this. She rather stopped it because she thought it is nothing I could live from and the way I inspired myself was too childish for her. She did not see the purpose. I did not like playing instruments (was not good at it) but I liked Ballet. My soft toys were an inspiration to write stories and plays. Your girls might have had interests that were not supported and might not have the education as the boys.