As a rule, when I split my students up into groups, I don’t like boys just working with boys and girls just working with girls. It’s my philosophy that mixed-gender classrooms add and create energy, interest, perspective, challenge, and depth for all students in a given lesson, especially in English classes where I think traditionally it’s thought that girls excel naturally and boys, especially at this age, begin to lag behind. So I try to work with as many mixed gender groups as possible.
That said, I often allow my students to design how they will arrange their groups. It’s also my philosophy that if students have a say over what the class will look like (literally who sits where) they’re more likely to take ownership of the work they do within the classroom. So today, in preparation for the vocabulary quiz tomorrow, we played vocabulary games, working with spelling, part of speech, and definitions. I told students to study the words for ten minutes and then I’d split them up into their two respective teams for the Crazy Vocabulary Competition. (I just named it that.)
The kids decided to split up by gender and, since we’ve been together for five months anyway without ever having done that before, I allowed it. What I saw was fascinating. The girls, eager to share and help each other study, clustered together in little groups, quizzing each other first on spelling, then definitions, approaching my desk when they had questions, which they did, often. They were very efficient, pulling their desks together, working in pairs or in triplets, asking me that if the word “frustrate” could be used as an adjective and saying that the word “scrimp” should be an adjective.
The boys on the other hand each sat at their own desks, facing forward with their faces smushed into their desks. Of the ten minutes I gave the class for studying, maybe six of them the boys used individually, finally rushing to quiz each other once I announced there were four minutes left of study time. They were either completely shy and reluctant to work with one another or else they much preferred to work on their own, gathering their own knowlege within their heads to mull over.
I know there have been dozens of studies done on gender in the classroom. But this is the first time I’ve seen it with my own eyes. For the three years I’ve been teaching, this is the very first time I’ve ever split a classroom up by gender. I just sat back and watched them and was so amused by how different they were from each other. I could picture them all ten years from now or twenty years from now–as women working together to figure out problems or as men working hard as individuals.
In the end…we had the competition. I wonder if you can guess who won? The boys or the girls?