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Teach to the strengths of the sexes

Diane Allison with tips for probationers

I was gobsmacked when my friend Michael recently let slip that he had been given a big promotion several months ago. I couldn't believe he hadn't told me sooner. I feel certain that if any of my girlfriends had had similar news, I would have heard about it almost as it was happening.

Men and women are often different in the way they deal with things and while there is much that we can learn from observing the behaviour of the opposite sex, some things will always remain a mystery. There lies the appeal!

Ladies, haven't we all been in a car with a man who is clearly lost yet refuses point blank to ask anyone for directions? Meanwhile, you gentlemen have been stunned, I'm sure, by the way some women will tell comparative strangers their life stories without hesitation. These may be extreme cases but they illustrate why men and women sometimes can seem to be from different planets.

How, though, should we handle this in the classroom?

Next time you get the chance, go out to the playground at break time and watch how the children socialise. The first thing you will see is that girls tend to keep to one area of the playground and boys to another. In the primary playground, girls are likely to be involved in some kind of collaborative activity such as skipping, singing or role-playing, all very relational and based largely on communication. The boys are more likely to be involved in competitive play such as a game of football or something combative such as tag.

Now, translate this into the classroom. Obviously there are no hard and fast rules and I'm sure there are exceptions galore but in general you will find that boys tend to prefer an active, hands-on approach to learning and are task-orientated, whereas girls are more language centred. More often than not, boys will enjoy reading non-fiction whereas girls are more likely to prefer stories centred on relationships. This makes sense when you think about how they play, doesn't it?

You will also have discovered that boys are generally more confident yet less organised than girls, who are more likely to fear taking risks. And, while girls tend to work hard for themselves, boys tend to work for praise from their teachers, even though they are more likely than girls to lose concentration and go off the task.

There are obvious implications for the way we teach. The key is to make sure that, whether you are male or female, you vary your approach so that both genders in your classes are catered for. As with everything, you really need to plan for this, otherwise it is easy to forget.

Be aware then that the girls in your class may need to be drawn out and encouraged to take more risks. The boys, on the other hand, may need to be shown how to plan and structure their work more effectively. Think too about the wording of your tasks. Adding an element of competition or providing a measurable outcome ("The first group to find five pieces of information will I") works very well with boys. Boygirl pairings can also be effective as the boys' have-a-go approach is complemented by the girls'

more organised, methodical style.

Harness natural gender differences and you can enhance the learning of your pupils.

Diane Allison teaches in Midlothian and is author of The Year of Living Dangerously: a survival guide for probationer teachers (City of Edinburgh Council, pound;4.99)

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