Gender-based classes at Takhini Elementary School have exposed something interesting about male behaviour: take the girls away and there’s no point cracking jokes.
The class clowns in Grades 5 and 6 have all but become studious scholars now that there’s nobody but other guys to impress.
That was all part of the master plan behind segregating students based on sex.
“We wanted to remove that element of clownishness,” said principal Kelly Collins. “The classroom is not a place of clowning around, but learning.”
Don’t worry. Your sons won’t lose their sense of humour while attending Takhini.
“The funny thing is, the second you put them back together, the class clowns revert to type,” said Collins. “Even with one girl around.”
Takhini’s experimentation with gender-based classrooms has been a success, said Collins. Marks have generally gone up and the students are highly motivated.
“The attendance rate has gone up by three per cent,” he said.
The school plans to extend the pilot project, keeping those students in gender-based classes this year in the same kind of classrooms next year.
The boys don’t miss the coed classes, said Collins. Teachers say boys develop a team mentality toward projects, he added.
However, the girls miss the goofing around.
“The girls found there isn’t that much joking around anymore,” said Collins.
Classes in Grade 1, 2, 4, 5 and 6 participated in the experiment, which was inspired by the Glen Merry school in Trail, BC.
Collins sent two staffers to visit the school last spring after hearing about the success of its gender-based Grade 7 class.
Girls’ and boys’ brains develop differently and at different rates. Separating the sexes allows the teaching method to be modified while the curriculum remains the same.
Boys learn mathematical skills earlier, according to the research Collins used.
“But the girls do learn that later on,” he said.
Boys will rely more on pictures to learn because their brain’s right hemisphere is more developed than girls.
And girls might stick more to texts.
The optimum learning space is also different for each gender.
The girls’ classrooms were more traditional with single, pair or quadruple sets of desks stuck together with supplies tucked under their desks.
In one of the boys’ classes, all the supplies were stored in a large bin in the middle of the classroom.
“That way they don’t end up fiddling around with all the stuff in their desk,” said Collins.
Boys generally spread their work out and need more space, he said.
“Most of the research on gender-based classrooms is from the United States,” said Collins. “And the results (of switching to gender-based classes) is never anything less than neutral.”
Teachers weren’t sent away to train to teach differently, but the school held discussions and shared literature on gender-based classrooms.
“If the research was overwhelmingly positive, I think there would be a revolution in education,” said Collins. “We’re not looking for a panacea.”
In a sense, gender-based classrooms are hardly an experiment. Many religious or private schools still operate with gender-based classrooms.
“We weren’t consciously thinking about that,” said Collins. “We just kept looking at how to improve our school and we didn’t like what we were seeing.”
A big push came from the teachers themselves, said Collins, some of whom had asked if they could just teach boys.
The students had plenty of co-ed projects to work on together, including an overnight camping trip to Chadburn Lake.
But even when given the choice, the kids don’t always flock into each other’s worlds.
“They get plenty of time to be with each other during the breaks at school,” said Collins. “But the boys don’t usually hang out with the girls then anyway.”
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