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Single-Sex Classrooms

Education Expert Advice from Peggy Gisler, Ed.S. and Marge Eberts, Ed.S.

Q: I just wanted to know how you feel about classrooms being split boy/girl. I teach in a small Catholic school and the school is considering having one classroom for girls and one for boys. Do you know of any books I can read on this issue or any advice/opinions on this topic?

A: It is well documented that girls and boys behave differently in the classroom and have different learning styles. Boys are louder and more aggressive and get more attention, both positive and negative, from teachers. Girls like to learn by talking things over while boys like to just go ahead and get things done. There's also a different tempo in learning between the sexes with girls demonstrating reading and writing proficiency earlier than boys do.

When you put girls and boys in single sex classrooms, girls get equal treatment with their peers, have more leadership roles, and enjoy a rise in self-esteem. They also say that they prefer single sex classrooms. Boys are more willing to learn through cooperation and teamwork. Because their learning styles and learning tempos are different, we see both boys and girls benefiting from classrooms slanted toward gender differences.

Research on the advantages of single-sex classes and schools has typically been done at the middle school and high school levels. For younger children, much of the research is simply anecdotal tales from individual teachers. Some schools have found rising test scores in single-sex classes and schools while others have found that these programs run smoother with fewer discipline problems. Many reports, however, show that single-sex classes are usually no better than mixed-sex classes.

At the present time, single-sex education is a fairly hot topic. Much of this interest stems from a 1992 report "How Schools Shortchange Girls" by the American Association of University Women (AAUW). Since then, several states have set up single-sex classrooms and schools. You can read more about this issue by looking at the previously-mentioned AAUW report and these sources: Failing at Fairness by Myra Sadker and David Sadker, the AAUW report "Separated by Sex," and "Boys and Girls Together" an article in the American School Board Journal, December 1998.

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Peggy Gisler and Marge Eberts are experienced teachers who have more than 60 educational publications to their credit. They began writing books together in 1979. Careers for Bookworms was a Book-of-the-Month Club paperback selection, and Pancakes, Crackers, and Pizza received recognition from the Children's Reading Roundtable. Gisler and Eberts taught in classrooms from kindergarten through graduate school. Both have been supervisors at the Butler University Reading Center.

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