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Gender and confidence
- Research shows that gender stereotypes play a significant role in shaping the ideas that children and young people have about what boys and girls are good at, their choices, interests and aspirations.
- Children will often adhere to gender roles when self-selecting in a play based environment (e.g. boys to construction, girls to home) and evidence shows that different types of play can lead to different types of skill development. (Fine, C. 2010)
- Down the line, the awareness of prevalent stereotypes about one’s own social group can have a negative impact on performance, even if we don’t consciously believe the stereotype. (Moss, G. & Wasbrook, L. 2016)
- Representation and associated perceptions of some subjects as ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine’ and ‘clever’ or ‘easy’ can impact on learner’s self-selection. (Archer, L., Moote, J., MacLeod, E., Francis, B., & DeWitt, J. 2020)
- Identifications with ‘cleverness’ are not solely derived from academic attainment but are racialised, classed and gendered – cleverness is aligned with middle-class, white, masculinity. In other words, girls, working-class and minority ethnic students found it hard to be recognized as ‘clever’ regardless of their attainment. (Archer, L., Moote, J., MacLeod, E., Francis, B., & DeWitt, J. (2020)
- Confidence and self-concept can be built or undermined by learning environments.
- For example, within science and maths, girls often have lower confidence, in part due to prevailing stereotypes about who is ‘good’ at science/maths. This difference can be amplified when the context of questions is stereotypically associated with one gender (e.g. when asked to calculate the trajectory of a football). (Master C. et al. 2017) Confidence and self-concept can be built or undermined by learning environments.
- For boys, engagement with literacy (particularly reading for enjoyment) is again often influenced by expectations about who enjoys reading. Having a choice of texts of varying levels, types and subject matters can help build enjoyment. In early and first levels, the provision of texts in different areas of the learning environment is also important i.e. thinking not only about ‘who’ likes to read but also ‘where’ we read and ‘what’ we read about.
- In general, gender neutral contexts and/or a variety of contexts can be used to help increase engagement and to allow young people to feel that the subject is ‘for’ them. (Master et al, 2017) (Archer, L. et al., 2013)
- In addition, girls have often learned to avoid taking risks in their learning. Girls tend to be more risk averse in environments where they are in a minority, where they feel the stakes are high and where they feel they have not previously succeeded. For example, they can be less willing to apply thinking and skills to unfamiliar contexts. In same sex environments or where girls have previously succeeded they are no more risk averse than boys. Rather than reinforcing a single-gender approach, this suggests that low-risk opportunities to succeed and fail in a mixed gender environment are important in combating this particular issue. (Booth, A.L. & Nolen, P.B. 2009)
- Representation of people in different job roles in media, stories, adverts and in everyday life can impact a young person’s willingness to engage. E.g. girls and working-class boys are less likely to consider becoming a scientist because of the prevalent stereotype of a scientist as a white man in a lab coat.
- Exposing learners to a diverse and positive representation can help motivate young people to consider a wider variety of careers and help challenge stereotypical ideas. (Archer, L. et al. (2013)
- Young people may not realise the transferrable skills they are developing within a particular subject, how the skills might cross over into another curricular area and the links to learner pathways. Therefore, highlighting in everyday teaching the skills being developed, how they link to other subjects across the curriculum and the wider opportunities available may be of benefit.
- Many learners may also be unaware of the variety of different entry points and ways to embark on a career or further education.
- This short clip looks at boys’ toys and girls’ toys – it isn’t always easy to overcome our assumptions.
- This first episode of the BBC’s ‘No More Boys and Girls: Can Our Kids Go Gender Free’ is worth watching in its entirety if you have time. Of particular relevance here is the clip from 11.45 – 14.00 on girls’/boys’ tendency to under/over-estimate their ability.
- This video looks at critique and feedback – which we will revisit in module 3 – but is also useful to reflect on here.
- This graph explores confidence amongst boys and girls asked about different mathematical problem solving tasks. The girls in general expressed lower confidence in their abilities when the questions were put into context (rather than just being asked as a mathematical equation), but some contexts were ‘worse’ than others. This perhaps suggests that we need to consider the contexts we use, but also, importantly, that we need to consider ways to help all learners develop resilience.
The image is a graph displaying the percentage of students who self-report as being able to solve applied mathematics tasks, disaggregated by gender. The results show that girls are significantly less confident when being asked to apply mathematical concepts outside of typical classroom content.
“Gender difference in self-confidence are particularly large when considering the ability to solve applied mathematics tasks that have gender-stereotypical content. For example, across OECD countries, 67% of boys but only 44% of girls reported feeling confident about calculating the petrol consumption rate of a car, and 75% of girls (compared to 84% of boys) reported feeling confident or very confident about calculating how much cheaper a TV would be after a 30% discount. However, no gender differences in confidence were observed when students were asked about doing tasks that are more abstract and clearly match classroom content, such as solving a linear or quadratic equation.”
- ShawMhor Early Years Centre created this document as part of their commitment to address gender stereotypes and unconscious bias in the early years setting and to achieve equality of choice and development for all learners. This document contains an outline of some of the practical approaches they used in the early learning and childcare setting. This is an important read for all practitioners – not solely those based in ELCs.
- A school biology department wanted to “broaden [learners’] knowledge of careers, as we didn’t want them thinking that biology was simply about becoming a doctor, dentist or vet.” They created one slide for every topic, to incorporate into their weekly teaching. They made a conscious effort to include a range of skills levels and to make sure the images reflect the diverse workforce.
- The My World of Work lesson inserts have been developed to help make explicit links between learning and the world of work. The lesson inserts are short activities which link subject content to relevant labour market information, job profiles and videos on My World of Work.
Explore the My World of Work lesson inserts here.
This section contains some prompts for reflecting on the themes above. You might like to consider, for your context:
- Are there ways in which we engage with boys and girls differently? Does this change as they develop and learn?
- How might gender stereotypes play into learners’ and/or our own ideas about what their interests should be?
- Do the contexts we use reinforce or challenge stereotypical ideas about subjects?
- Are there sufficient opportunities for experiencing failure in low-stake situations, and celebrating that failure as part of the learning process?
- How diverse are images on the walls, in resources etc?
- How can a range of skills be embedded in different areas of the environment/learning?
- Are young people aware of the skills they have/are developing?
- How can links to skills/learner pathways be embedded in the environment/learning?
Please try something out in your classroom/setting. This can be anything you choose. The questions/ideas below are prompts but are not exhaustive or prescriptive. You might want to spend time observing patterns, reflecting on contexts across a scheme of work, trying a new approach etc. Please feel free to use the IGBE toolbox for ideas and resources.
- How long are children of different genders spending in the various areas of a play-based environment? What skills are they developing? Are there skills they are not developing?
- How might the types of play we engage in with children of different genders influence self-selection?
- What contexts are currently used?
- Are young people more confident in applying problem solving skills in some contexts compared to others?
- How might we increase confidence to take risks for those with lower confidence?
- What are the gendered barriers and dynamic within your subject/topic?
- Observe how different jobs are represented in the different areas/topics. If necessary, how could you ensure diversity and inclusivity?
- How might you help learners become more aware of opportunities available to them through your subject?
- Consider the skills that are being developed in each area of your setting/topic/subject.
- Consider how you could make cross-curricular links to a range of skills and learner pathways.
- How might you help learners better understand the skills they are developing as they develop them?
Recording What You Did
- What did you observe?
- What did you try?
- What worked well?
- What were the challenges?
We would love to hear what you’ve observed/tried this module. You can contact us any time. We will try to reply quickly, but will ensure we set aside time to respond during the feedback week to discuss. Please use the email address given to you at the introductory day.
Please also make time to share your reflections/activities with the rest of the group & read what they’ve been up to. Click on the relevant link below