25th September 2009 at 01:00
I have started a job in a girls' secondary. When pupils come into class they are loud and unruly. I previously worked in a boys' school and classes were regimented - what strategies should I take with girls?

Encouraging the girls to take collective ownership of what happens in the classroom is crucial, according to Kay Taylor, assistant head at Davison High School for Girls in Worthing, West Sussex.

"Girls respond differently," she says. "It is not a case of asking them to do something in a regimented way - it is more getting them to make the right choices."

You could say: "We're not making the best use of our learning time because some of the class are making a noise," and ask the girls for their ideas.

Once you have alternatives, you can spell out the consequences of each course of action. "It is about choices and consequences," says Mrs Taylor. "You give them opportunities to correct the situation."

Mrs Taylor, who worked in a mixed school before Davison's, says it is important to get off on the right foot with girls. While boys will often accept being told off, girls are more likely to respond by putting up a barrier that then needs extensive work to be broken down.

Girls can flick their off-switch if they feel they're not being listened to, she says. Working to raise their self-esteem and showing you value their comments appeals to their better nature.

Boys and girls react differently to a telling off, agrees Kaz Cooke, author of The Rough Guide to Girl Stuff, a guide to teenage girls. While boys can shrug it off, girls can become defensive or withdrawn.

Ms Cooke, who surveyed 4,000 girls for her book, says girls need encouragement and affirmation, and to understand why you need them to settle quickly. Seeking out a colleague experienced in teaching girls and asking for settling techniques is also a must, she adds.

Elizabeth Guinney tries to get her classes into a routine where they know what to expect, and what is expected of them at the start of a lesson. "They know that they come in, open their books and copy down the lesson aims in silence," she says. "I always have a starter activity on the whiteboard and I find that works well."

Although she trained in a mixed school, Mrs Guinney has worked in girls' schools for the past three years and is now head of geography at The Marist Senior School, an independent school in Sunninghill, Berkshire. She was named outstanding new teacher of the year for the South of England in this year's Teaching Awards.

She says her approach leaves her free to deal with pupils who arrive late, forget their books or haven't done their homework, knowing the rest of the class is working well. "Girls have a tendency to be chatty. They like to have a gossip but they don't necessarily need a firm hand, although they do respond well to routine and structure," she says.

"Boys often don't need to explain in quite so much detail, but girls like to be heard and they want you to understand where they're coming from." says Mrs Guinney.

Getting to know the girls as individuals seems to be the key. Mrs Taylor says that encouraging them to take ownership of the class, as well as improving behaviour and helping your lesson get off to a good start, also gives you an idea of what makes them tick. "If you involve them in their own learning and give them an opportunity to show what they can do, you will be finding out more about the girls," she says.

Kaz Cooke agrees. While classifying techniques into those that work with boys and those that work with girls may be useful, in the end nothing works so well as treating them as individuals.

"You're not just teaching a class, or even a class of girls - you're teaching a bunch of individuals," she says. "The best advice is probably to get to know them."

Next week Homework collection


- Get the girls into a routine for the start of lessons and make sure you have something for them to get on with as soon as they arrive.

- Ask for their contribution to tackling whole-class behaviour issues.

- Getting to know them as individuals will help you know what approach works best for each one.

- Don't get off on the wrong foot by adopting a confrontational approach.

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