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Do boys and girls learn differently?

(18 Posts)
MsAwesomeDragon Thu 08-Feb-18 12:53:08

I'm part of an educational discussion group and this weeks topic is "do boys and girls learn differently?"

My gut feeling is that they do, BUT with the huge caveats that the reason they do is because we've socialised them (and us) to think that they do, AND there are more differences between individuals than there are between the 2 groups.

I'm really interested if any of you have any different/more solid ideas which I could pass off as my own and sound clever

MsAwesomeDragon Thu 08-Feb-18 12:54:44

I will report back with what the group comes out with this evening (we will be meeting about 5pm)

Tanaqui Thu 08-Feb-18 12:58:01

I honestly don’t know, but it sounds fascinating! What I do know (or think I know, after years of teaching!) is that there are categories of learner, and you can see different things working for different groups. Sometimes those groups (hmmm- the fast sloppy ones perhaps) are dominated by boys, but it is never 100%. I know the “learning styles” stuff has been debunked, but definitely some kinds of teacher/teaching work better for some learners than others.

CannotEvenThink Thu 08-Feb-18 13:01:46

Yes I agree with you that it is socialised. Male and female brain stuff has been debunked but we know social influences matter. I remember hearing about a study where they did a maths exam and in the one where girls and boys just sat the test they did equally well but in the one where they had to state their sex before sitting the paper the girls did much worse than the boys.

MsAwesomeDragon Thu 08-Feb-18 14:46:15

Tanaqui I agree that there are different types of workers, slow and neat/quick and messy, risk-taking/risk-averse, shows every step of working/shows no working just an answer (I teach maths), etc. And yes some groups are dominated by boys and others are dominated by girls, although never exclusively. I just don't know how much of that is down to people (lots of teachers do this, I'm guilty of it myself at times even though I am aware of the issue of stereotyping and try very hard not to) saying things like "he's a typical boy, just wants to rush through it" or "well, girls are often perfectionists". If we do that a lot we can reinforce our own stereotypes, and if we say this stuff in front of the kids we reinforce their stereotypes too. Then we, and they, notice certain traits more in boys and others in girls, even if they are fairly equally balanced in reality.

noblegiraffe Thu 08-Feb-18 14:50:22

I think the question 'do boys and girls behave differently in learning environments' would certainly yield a 'yes' but learn differently I think would be a no from me.

MsAwesomeDragon Thu 08-Feb-18 14:54:40

Cannot thanks for reminding me of that study!! I have used that one a few times in this discussion group but had forgotten about it for this week. Of course social influences matter, both the influences they get within school and the wider messages they absorb from society as a whole. Behaviour can be quite different between boys and girls as they absorb all these messages. Girls are "supposed" to care about appearances so they do tend to try to conform (not all of them, but a lot), whereas boys aren't expected to care to the same extent so they frequently don't. Boys are "supposed" to be outspoken and engage in riskier behaviour, so they often do shout out more/get into more trouble, whereas girls are more risk-averse, having been socialised into it.

I suspect if we could manage to treat all children the same (without ignoring biological differences) from very early babyhood then we would find these behavioural and educational differences between the sexes would disappear or at least become less noticable.

MsAwesomeDragon Thu 08-Feb-18 14:55:50

I think that's sort of what I want to say noble. Their behaviour in a learnign environment does affect the way they think they learn though doesn't it?

noblegiraffe Thu 08-Feb-18 14:59:03

If you look at the data, girls outperformed boys in maths until they scrapped coursework, from which point boys outperformed girls.
It was always said that coursework suits girls because they are diligent, are better at producing extended pieces of work over a long time period where boys slap it together at the last minute. It's suggested that boys do better in exams because they are more willing to take risks and slap an answer down that may be wrong where a girl might hesitate.

But none of that is to do with actual learning.

MsAwesomeDragon Thu 08-Feb-18 15:01:06

I actually think "learning" can be broken down to a very simple concept. You only learn something by practising it.

You can only learn to play football by playing football and being shown how to do it better.
You can only learn to cook by practising cooking, tasting the food and deciding what to do better next time.
You only learn how to solve equations by solving equations, checking they're right and finding out how to do it properly next time if it's not.
You only learn how to write an essay by practising the techniques and being shown where you are going wrong, in order to improve next time.
You learn to play an instrument by practising and getting advice on how to improve.

MsAwesomeDragon Thu 08-Feb-18 15:02:54

I agree with you completely noble but I do think I'm going to have to argue my point in this group, knowing how some of them think and latch on to all the fads. Some of them still bang on about VAK even though that was debunked years ago.

Daffydil Thu 08-Feb-18 15:03:58

From the little I've read I suspect there is more variation within each group (boys/girls) than there is between the two.

noblegiraffe Thu 08-Feb-18 15:04:26

I think what's interesting about maths is that we don't see the effects that the huge difference in literacy levels between boys and girls must have in other subjects. That must lead to task preference in other subject that gives the appearance of different learning styles. If a history teacher (I've no idea if this is true) said that boys prefer to get their information from films and would rather debate an issue where girls are happy to read information and write essays about it, then is that about how boys and girls learn, or about boys avoiding reading and writing because on average they're much weaker at it?

noblegiraffe Thu 08-Feb-18 15:06:53

but I do think I'm going to have to argue my point in this group

It sounds really interesting, but also frustrating. How can you be a member of an educational discussion group, therefore be interested in education, yet still go on about VAK??

MsAwesomeDragon Thu 08-Feb-18 15:13:17

God knows noble. I think it's because they don't really understand the science at all, they were trained that way in their PGCE and they just like it. I do my best to educate them every time (we meet about once every half term).

We've had some really interesting discussions about various topics. Sometimes I change other people's minds to my pov, other times I've changed my perspective. It really is interesting. I do wish it was internet based so more people could join the dsicussion and so I could go home earlier tonight, but sometimes the points are made more easily in person.

Daffy that's my perspective. I wouldn't say there is a massive difference between the two groups in general.

MsAwesomeDragon Thu 08-Feb-18 15:21:52

Your point about reading is well made too noble. I know the reading ages of all the kids in all my classes because I'm given that information. But it doesn't affect the way I teach because even the longest answer in maths doesn't require much in the way of writing, and even the longest question is only a paragraph long. I would imagine that those differences are much more pronounced English/Geography/History/etc.
Boys do generally have lower reading ages and find comprehension more difficult, so avoiding those tasks would make sense. It's less a preference for learning in one way, it's an avoidance tactic. Again I would say that boy's lower reading ability comes from their socialisation and behaviour before they get to secondary school. Boys are expected to be active and resist doing homework even from very young, so they do, whereas girls are expected to be sedate and enjoy reading and colouring, so that's what they're pushed into doing. Writing in the early years is very obviously linked to girls being given pens and pencils earlier in toddlerhood more than boys are (as well as boys' wrist joints taking a bit longer to mature and be ready to do much int he way of early mark-making).

tafftum Thu 08-Feb-18 15:26:08

I'm not sure if it's a distinct difference as in girls vs boys. But I know theres different categories of learners; visual, audio & kinesthetic from memory (not sure if theres any more). I imagine the difference would be between these groups, although you may find boys are typically one group more than the others and same for girls! Very interesting though! smile

MsAwesomeDragon Thu 08-Feb-18 19:02:29

We had a really interesting discussion, but didn't come to any huge conclusions. We pretty much all agreed that in order to learn you need to practise, and we discussed what stopped the kids from practising and if that differed between girls and boys. We sort of drifted from just education, where girls outperform boys in most GCSEs, to the workplace where we end up with more men at the top. Some men were completely "unaware" of any societal issues which could hinder women in the workplace, and were surprised that having children could possibly impact on women's careers in a way that it doesn't impact on men (do these men walk around with blinkers on???) We also talked about wider societal influences on children, like clothing, media, toys, etc

We did agree that there are stereotypes ingrained in society, education and in the minds of the kids that we should be challenging.

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