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Girls vs boys
Why are the Dutch better at learning languages?
What the Dutch do differently
by Philippa Law
"It's not fair! Boys get all the attention!"
Girls and boys play different roles in conversation, just as men and women do. They learn what is expected of the two sexes early on, from observing - unconsciously - how the grown-ups around them behave.
In a study of children aged 2-5, parents interrupted their daughters more than their sons, and fathers were more likely to talk simultaneously with their children than mothers were. Jennifer Coates says: "It seems that fathers try to control conversation more than mothers... and both parents try to control conversation more with daughters than with sons. The implicit message to girls is that they are more interruptible and that their right to speak is less than that of boys."
"Just as men dominate the floor in business meetings, so little boys dominate in the classroom."
Girls and boys' differing understanding of when to talk, when to be quiet, what is polite and so on, has a visible impact on the dynamics of the classroom. Just as men dominate the floor in business meetings, academic conferences and so on, so little boys dominate in the classroom - and little girls let them.Research confirms what most kids would already be able to tell you. Boys are noisy, they call out answers, argue and are rude to girls. Girls, on the other hand, are more inclined on average to sit quietly, avoid joining in discussions, and ignore the boys.A study of children working on science experiments in the Netherlands showed that same-sex pairs of either sex worked co-operatively together, but in mixed pairs, the boys did most of the doing, and the girls tidied up afterwards!
Even when the teacher is chairing the conversation, boys are still in charge. Various studies have come up with the same conclusion: boys get more attention from teachers than girls do.In one example, boys made twice as many contributions as girls, and talked for longer. This may have been in part because they were getting more encouragement from the teacher. The teacher was videotaped and her eyegaze monitored - she looked towards the boys for almost two thirds of the time, and in particular, she looked at the boys when she wanted an answer to a question.The researcher also noticed that girls often put their hand up just after the teacher had picked someone to answer. Hands up who was guilty of that at school...
Dale Spender observed in 1982 that teachers find it very hard to ensure a balance between boys' and girls' contributions, but when specifically trying to achieve equal participation, female teachers were better at it than male ones. One male teacher who did manage to get girls to talk as much as boys said afterwards that he'd felt like he was giving almost all his attention to the girls. Since boys, girls and teachers are all complicit in boys' dominance, it makes sense that one of these parties would find it tough to change the group dynamics all on their own.Although Jennifer Coates believes that the differences in conversation strategies between girls and boys "limits girls' opportunities to learn," the effects of imbalance in the classroom aren't reflected in exam results - girls regularly do better than boys.
Listen to Kyle Love from Lincolnshire talk about male and female speech patterns. More...