Final - Gender in the Classroom

This topic submitted by Sarah Sobel, Liz Marconi, Becca Ellison ( ) on 4/30/04. [ Human Nature Team: Sarah Sobel, Liz Marconi, Becca Ellison-Section: Blaisdell/McPhail]

Gender Bias in the Classroom


Human nature is perceived through interactions between people. Almost all of these exchanges include meaningful interactions between people of different roles. These interactions can be between people of the same or different social roles. Our responsive behavior is guided by degrees of interaction depending on our role. Degrees of interaction come into play in areas such as education through gender bias and gender equity.

The purpose of our experiment is to determine the degree of gender bias within Western classes. Although there are numerous factors that affect gender bias in the classroom, we will narrow our focus on teaching styles and student-teacher interaction. Regarding teaching styles, we will observe how each professor conducts his or her class depending on his or her gender. We will analyze student-teacher interactions to determine how male versus female professors interact with male versus female students. We hypothesize that gender bias will occur through interactions between professor and students.

We decided to further examine the problem of gender bias because of personal interests in problems with our educational system. One of our group members attended a single-sex high school, so we wanted to draw on her experiences being in a classroom without male students. After reading into educational differences with respect to female and male students, we came across the topic of gender bias and equity. Upon researching gender bias further, we decided upon examining teaching styles and student-teacher interactions.

At the end of our experiment, we plan to accomplish a complete analysis of gender bias in Western classes. We plan to achieve data and observations that will provide cues and trends as to the differences in teaching styles between male and female professors. We also plan to obtain data that will reflect how female and male students learn differently in response to female versus male professors. We will look for tendencies in gender bias in teaching styles as well as the potential for gender equity in the classroom. Lastly, we plan to propose ways in which teaching styles may be improved to promote gender equity within the classroom.

Our project is interdisciplinary because it draws on many fields of study with the ultimate goal of understanding one central issue: human nature. We will use information and methods from the social sciences such as educational studies, gender studies and development, and social psychology. Our study will also have implications for humanitarian issues such as how to remove gender bias from classrooms. Once gender bias is removed and gender equity is present, there will be the potential for creating learning environments that are fair to each gender.



American Association of University Women. “Course-Taking Patterns.” The Jossey-Bass
Reader on Gender in Education. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2002. 277-300.

In summary, this essay breaks down the educational system into subjects such as mathematics, social studies, and the fine arts. For each field, the authors discuss the differences for female and male students in that area. They also discuss how gifted students are treated differently based on their gender.

Bailey, Susan M. The Jossey-Bass Reader on Gender in Education. San Francisco:
Jossey-Bass, 2002.

This book contains essays written by prominent scholars within fields such as education, psychology, and gender studies. The reader is organized into sections such as “Negotiating the Classroom,” “Gender Equity in the Curriculum,” and “Simple Sex Versus Coeducation.” Essays on how girls and boys learn in the classroom will be useful in comparing students’ reactions to their professors’ teaching methods.

Canada, Katherine and Richard Pringle. “The Role of Gender in College Classroom
Interactions: A Social Context Approach.” The Gendered Society Reader. Ed.
Michael S. Kimmel and Amy Aronson. New York: Oxford University Press,
2000. 229-255.

This essay, published in The Gendered Society Reader, provides an example of research studying how interactions in college classrooms are different based on gender. It discusses single-sex versus coeducation styles, gender equity, and the social construction of gender roles. Canada and Pringle’s research was a longitudinal study of a women’s college transitioning into coeducational schooling. They used the INTERSECT scale to code the interactions in the classrooms they observed throughout their study.

Chapman, Amanda. “Gender Bias in Education.” 2004. 3/2/04.

This essay comes from the EdChange Research Room, which is an educational resources website that includes tools to promote multiculturalism. Chapman’s article covers the basis of gender bias in the classroom. Her article is also useful because it provides a list of sources that support the presence of gender bias in academia.

Childs, Ruth Axman (1990). Gender bias and fairness. Practical Assessment, Research & Evaluation, 2(3). Retrieved March 3, 2004 from

This online article by Childs briefly introduces the definitions of gender bias and gender fairness. Childs mainly discusses gender bias in testing contexts such as aptitude tests and achievement tests. While this article does not implicitly discuss classroom gender bias, it does suggest the possibility of gender bias in teaching methods. We can use this article as the basis for how male and female professors conduct their classes.

Diller, Ann., et al. The Gender Question in Education; Theory, Pedagogy, and Politics. Boulder: Westview Press, Inc., 1991.

Written by three education professors and one philosophy-women’s studies-bioethics professor, this book examines how gender is presented in education. This subject is analyzed through theory, pedagogy, and politics as presented in the title. Maryann Ayim’s essay titled “Genderized Education: Tradition Reconsidered” questions the possibility of gender-free education. Kathryn Pauly Morgan’s essay titled “Describing the Emperor’s New Clothes: Three Myths of Educational (In-)Equity” will also be useful for revealing gender bias in the classroom.

Duffy, Jim, Kelly Warren and Margaret Walsh. “Classroom Interactions: gender of
teacher, gender of student, and classroom subject.” Sex Roles: A Journal of
Research November, 2001.

This study used a larger sampling group of 597 high school students and thirty-six teachers, of mixed gender in Newfoundland, Canada. It used a modified version of the INTERSECT Observational Scale to record interactions between students and teachers in different subject matter classes. This study found that male teachers are more authoritative and instrumental while female teachers are more supportive and expressive. It also found that interactions were influenced greatly by gender of both teachers and student and the subject matter. The background information provided will help us to form a discussion and relevance for our own project.

Epp, Dr. Juanita Ross. “Making the University a more Equitable Place: Stories and
Strategies” in Achieving Gender Equity in the Classroom and on the Campus: the
Next Steps. Washington, D.C.: American Association of University Women,
1995: 69-73.

This essay by Dr. Epp was presented at the AAUW’s Pre-Symposium Convention in 1995. Under the header of gender equity in the classroom, this article focuses specifically on strategies that universities can take to improve gender equity. Dr. Epp provides her university, Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada, as an example of the methods used to create gender equity. Dr. Epp presents several suggestions such as special courses on women’s issues, different teaching methods, and workshops for male professors. This source will be useful in comparing Miami’s teaching methods with the ones presented in Dr. Epp’s paper.

Fredrick, Terri. “Constructing Authority Relationships in the Technical Writing
Classroom.” 2/28/04.

This dissertation online uses ethnographic studies of classroom behavior to conduct a study almost identical to ours. She claims that, “Although influenced by external discursive structures such as institutional status, professional expertise, and gender, authority relationships manifest locally based on the interactions of individual instructors and students.” We should be able to draw information for methodological procedures as well as substantial qualitative evidence from her study.

Grossman, Herbert and Suzanne Grossman. Gender Issues in Education. Needham
Heights, Massachusetts: Allyn and Bacon, 1994.

This book focuses on the emotional responses, interpersonal relationships, moral development and communication and learning styles with respect to gender. It poses the question whether we should accommodate gender differences or strive to eliminate them. It also asks whether the student or teacher should determine which goal, accommodation or elimination to pursue. It criticizes many studies done on this subject for making broad assumptions based on limited sampling size. This book will help to broaden the interdisciplinary perspective of our project.

Jones, Kelly, “Gender Equity Training and Teacher Behavior.” Journal of
Instructional Psychology v.27 no.3, 173-177. September, 2000.

This is a study done of four teachers, two elementary and two high-schools from a mid-sized urban city. It poses that a gender resource module can be used to modify teacher behavior to reduce problems faced by female students in a classroom. It uses the INTERSECT Observational Scale and the Louisiana Gender Equity Quiz, and Chi-square analyses to observe and interpret student and teacher behavior. The results show that teachers can become aware of gender bias and with proper education, can work to reduce it. We will be able to use this study as a model of our own. The background information and the discussion section will also be invaluable.

Lossee, Suzanne, Ed. D., et al. “Gender Equity through Discovering Voice” in Achieving Gender Equity in the Classroom and on the Campus: the Next Steps. Washington, D.C.: American Association of University Women, 1995: 161-164.

In the AAUW’s 1995 symposium, Suzanne Lossee and colleagues published an essay that emphasized the female student’s voice as the key source of revealing gender bias in the classroom. This essay discusses how women have been ignored and discriminated against in the classroom. Lossee and colleagues also examine epistemologies and which ones women learn best.

Maher, Frances and Janie Victoria Ward. Gender and Teaching. Mahwah, New Jersey:
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc., 2002.

This book presents four case studies of gender related issues, each followed by general responses by other readers and an interpretation by the authors. This section is followed by an overview of four current publicly held theories about gender from a conservative to a liberal point of view, along with woman-centered and multicultural views. It asks the question, when does gender really matter? This book gives us an opportunity to look at opinions and beliefs held by the public to avoid concluding an academically sheltered opinion.

Sadker, Myra, et al. “Gender Equity in the Classroom: The Unfinished Agenda.” The
Gendered Society Reader. Ed. Michael S. Kimmel and Amy Aronson. New York:
Oxford University Press, 2000. 210-216.

Written by the well-known educators Myra and David Sadker, this essay discusses various areas where gender equity is present. They discuss the education of young girls in elementary school and how their unfair treatment is reinforced as they go through school. The Sadkers also recognize that gender bias is present in student-teacher interactions as well as testing tools and textbooks. Lastly, they offer strategies for eradicating gender bias and introducing gender equity into the classroom.

Statham, Anne, et al. (1991). Gender and University Teaching, a Negotiated Difference. Stanford Learning Lab. Retrieved March 1, 2004 from

This website provides an abstract from: Gender and University Teaching, A Negotiated Difference, by Anne Statham, Laurel Richardson and Judith A. Cook. Published by: State University of New York Press, Albany, NY. © 1991 State University of New York. The study described on this site concludes that while authority is established differently by male and female professors in the university setting, each model is equally effective according to student evaluations. Therefore, a range of models and tactics for exhibiting information with authority should be utilized by educators.

Stiles, Lisa. “Gender Equity in the Classroom and the Effect of Conscious Inhibition of Gender Bias.” 2002. 02/27/04

This is a website posting of a college research project similar to our own. The subject of this study was the effect of informing a teacher that his or her teaching techniques portray gender bias. Other studies have shown that disclosing this information to those being observed would cause the teachers to modify their behavior to produce gender equitable environments while other studies deny this. One advantage of this study is that it outlines the application of the INTERSECT Observational Scale, which will be indispensable for our project. The results of this study, after Chi-square analysis showed that teachers did in fact modify their behaviors once they were informed of the purpose of the study. This is significant because it proves that teachers can be made aware of their own actions to encourage gender bias and with proper motivation can modify those behaviors.


Gender bias has been widely studied by educators over the years. In a classroom setting, gender bias is where one gender is preferred over the other. Amanda Chapman of D’Youville College writes, “Girls and boys today are receiving separate and unequal educations due to the gender socialization that takes place in our schools and due to the sexist hidden curriculum students are faced with every day” (Chapman 3). Once it has been established that gender bias exists in a classroom, gender equity becomes the goal of the educator. Professor Herbert Grossman of San Jose State University and Suzanne Grossman of the Gay Austin School believe gender equity is defined differently based on whether gender equity is associated with sameness or fairness. When gender equity is associated with sameness

...gender equity is achieved when males and females participate in the same
courses of study and extracurricular activities to the same degree, their
achievement is the same, they are treated the same by their teachers, and they are
prepared for the same societal roles. (Grossman 119)

When gender equity is related to fairness

...educational equity is achieved when both genders have an opportunity to
participate in whichever courses and activities they prefer and to achieve up to
their different potentials, when they are treated in accordance with their needs,
and when they are prepared for different societal roles. (Grossman 119)

Regardless of how gender equity is defined, it is the desirable context for classroom interactions at any level. Although there are levels of gender bias present at every grade level from preschool through college, educators strive for gender equity through their teaching methods as well as through student-teacher interactions.

Research has been done to show that gender bias is evident in classroom settings. Professor Jim Duffy and colleagues of the Memorial University of Newfoundland recognize that gender bias is present in classrooms based on student-teacher interactions as well as the subject matter taught to the students. According to a 1992 American Association of University Women report, “...females receive less attention from teachers [in the classroom], and this attention is more often negative or contradictory” (qtd. in Jones 173). There is a tendency for teachers, regardless of their gender, to pay more attention to male students in the classroom. Referring to the Sadkers’ research on gender bias

Males consistently receive more praise and remediation than females. And
females consistently received more acceptance and criticism...Thus, when females
consistently receive accepting interactions they are not receiving an equitable
education in comparison with the males. (qtd. in Stiles 4)

Grossman argue that even behavior and discipline methods are treated differently with respect to the gender of the student (83-86). Gender bias is evident in classroom settings due to the various uncontrollable factors involved in student-teacher interactions.

Studies have shown that gender bias also manifests itself in teaching methods. According to Worrall and Tsarna’s essay on teachers’ approaches towards each gender in science and language, “It has been suggested that teachers hold higher expectations of males in the sciences and females in languages” (qtd. in Duffy 581). Because educators teach their subjects differently to female and male students, each gender receives a different quality of education on the subject matter. In Duffy and colleagues’ research study on classroom interactions, they

...found a tendency of teachers to interact more with male students than with
female students. Teachers were more likely to comment (sometimes accepting,
sometimes criticizing) on the academic responses of male students than of female
students. (Duffy 591)

Duffy and colleagues’ results were dependent on the Sadkers’ INTERSECT scale, which codes student-teacher interactions through types of responses such as praise and acceptance. In general, educators tend to call on male students because they are more vocal in classrooms. Frequently, teachers are unaware they are gender biased through their teaching methods.

In addition to classroom settings and teaching methods, gender bias exists in the teaching tools used in classrooms and to evaluate students. One teaching tool to show gender bias is textbooks. Sadker and colleagues inform us that

...history textbooks currently in use at middle and high schools offer
little more
than 2 percent of their space to women. Studies of music textbooks have found
that 70 percent of the figures shown are male. A recent content analysis of five
secondary school textbooks revealed that more than two-thirds of all drawings
were of male figures and that not a single female scientist was depicted. (Sadker
in Kimmel 213)

Because students use textbooks for learning material, they receive a biased body of knowledge. If students only read about the successes of men, they will believe that only men are intelligent and flourishing. In addition to textbooks, evaluative tests exhibit gender bias. According to an article written for the Office of Educational Research and Improvement, “A test is biased if men and women with the same ability levels tend to obtain different scores. The conditions under which a test is administered, the wording of individual items, and even a student’s attitude toward the test will affect test results” (Childs 1). Furthermore, gender bias is implicated differently in aptitude and achievement tests. For achievement tests

If one gender’s scores on the test being considered are higher or lower than the
scores of the other gender, but their grades in the classroom or their scores on
similar tests are comparable for both genders, it may be that the test is biased.
(Childs 2)

Because tests are a type of teaching tool in which gender bias is present, it is difficult to determine whether a test is a necessary form of student evaluation. In the 1989 court case of Sharif v. New York State Education Department, the prosecuting team accused the New York State Education Department of only using SAT scores to determine state merit scholarships. They felt that gender bias was present because girls were not being awarded scholarships as frequently as boys due to their test scores. After the court weighed all of the evidence of gender bias, they ruled in favor of the plaintiffs (Childs 2). In this case, gender bias moved into the public judicial realm. Gender bias proves to be a problem in the teaching tools that are employed by educators.

As the basis of gender bias, research has done of gender specification in the field of education. More specifically, studies have shown that learning styles are different for each gender. Studies done in the 1970s “...indicated that females were better able to delay making a decision or arriving at a conclusion about something until they had all the information they required” (Grossman 18). Grossman further contends that

Girls react less positively than boys to difficult and challenging situations. They
are less persistent when faced with difficult tasks in school and are less likely to
take risks. And they do not expect to do as well as boys following failure or the
threat of failure. (Grossman 19)

Based upon these observations, it is evident that boys and girls learn differently within the classroom because of their abilities. Grossman argues that the root of these learning differences in males and females is the formation and strength of the student’s self-esteem and self-concept (Grossman 19-20). In a 1998 American Association of University Women report, it was recognized that gifted and honor students are treated differently because of gender. According to Pat O’Connell Ross, author of National Excellence: A Case for Developing America’s Talent

Educators and administrators generally identify girls for gifted programs
at equal
or greater numbers than boys, yet students are identified for different kinds of
programs, according to gender expectations. Schools do not identify girls for their
mathematics and science talents in the same proportions as boys, who, likewise,
are not identified for their English, language, or arts abilities in the same
proportions as girls. (qtd. in Bailey 291)

Although there is evidence of learning styles for each gender, these learning styles are reinforced by educators who determine the success of the student in a certain area of study. According to Kathryn Pauly Morgan, professor of philosophy, women’s studies, and bioethics at the University of Toronto

The educational implications of assumptions of intellectual inferiority are clear:
Since girls and women cannot excel, educators should not expect that girls and
women will excel. Nor should we impose unreasonable educational demands on
girls and women or hold them to the rigorous expectations directed to white boys
and men. (qtd. in Diller 111)

Because female and male students learn material differently, they are socialized into systems of education that determine their talents for them. Because these programs have continued in classrooms over the years, gender bias persists.

Perhaps the most important tool in studying gender bias is the INTERSECT scale. The INTERSECT scale was created by Myra and David Sadker for the U.S. Department of Education. In general, INTERSECT codes student-teacher interactions to determine if gender bias is present. Since its documentation, many studies have applied the INTERSECT scale to their research. One such research study is Jim Duffy and colleagues’ study titled “Classroom Interactions: Gender of Teacher, Gender of Student, and Classroom Subject.” This study was published in November 2001 in the online journal Sex Roles. Duffy and colleagues modified the INTERSECT scale to discover if the variables of gender of teacher, gender of student, and subject matter would deliver different types of coded interactions. For their subject matter, they chose mathematics and English courses. In general, there were more interactions between male students and professors. Because more interactions involved male students, there were implications of gender bias present in their classroom observations.

Another application of the INTERSECT scale is Kelly Jones and colleagues’ research titled “Gender Equity Training and Teacher Behavior.” This study was published in September 2000 in the Journal of Instructional Psychology. They used the INTERSECT scale to reveal behavioral patterns in teachers for gender bias. The goal of their study was to “...determine whether strategies designed to modify teacher behaviors toward more gender equity in the classroom would actually do so” (Jones 174). Before proceeding with their research, the authors produced a series of three hypotheses. Jones and colleagues believed that the

...application of the strategies would result in: (1) female students moving from a
position of relative deficiency toward more equity in total interactions with
teachers, (2) female students moving from a position of relative deficiency toward
more equity in positive interactions with teachers, and (3) female students being
subjected to fewer negative interactions with teachers. (Jones 174)

After recording their data using the INTERSECT scale, Jones and colleagues produced results that were mostly in agreement with their hypotheses. Their first and third hypotheses were supported by their data. Their second hypothesis, however, was not supported by their data.

A third among many studies done using the INTERSECT scale is Lisa Stiles’ research on “Gender Equity in the Classroom and the Effect of Conscious Inhibition of Gender Bias.” Stiles, a psychology major at Lyon College, “...investigated whether or not teachers would consciously inhibit gender stereotypes if they knew they were being observed for gender bias in the classroom” (Stiles 1). Having done research on the Sadkers’ work on the INTERSECT scale, Stiles used chi-square analysis on her results to provide a successful conclusion. Having known that their teaching was being coded for gender bias, the teachers in Stiles’ study made a successful effort toward gender equity.


We hope that our project will be able to be used in some way beyond this course. Because our focus is on the field of education, we feel that our experiment will further educational research on gender equity in a university setting. We hope to provide a basic understanding for further research in studying student-teacher interactions based on gender.


We observed six separate forty-five minute classroom discussions using the INTERSECT observational scale. First-year students in the Western College Program at Miami University, Oxford, OH were observed in Social Systems, Natural Systems and Creativity & Culture. These form three of the four foundation courses mandatory for first-year Western students. A teacher of both genders was observed for each subject. We contacted the authors of INTERSECT: Interactions for Sex Equity in Classroom Teaching, which is an unpublished document available by request only. The INTERSECT scale was designed to monitor elementary and high-schools. We therefore modified the scale to better suit the experiences of college students. We tailored the coding system to reflect indications of student conceptual growth, interjections of personal experiences and evidence of course reading (see appendix 2). The scale required us to create a seating chart indicating the position of males and females, assign numbers to each student, record detailed aspects of all interactions, and also record ancillary teacher behavior. Refer to appendix 3 for a sample INTERSECT observation form. The purpose of using the INTERSECT scale was to observe the gender differences in the interactions between professors and students. The professors were evaluated for the number and extent of positive or negative responses to student comments. The students were evaluated for the nature and content of their comments.

In addition to the INTERSECT scale, we developed an ethogram to observe the environment in which professors and students interact. The ethogram included categories for whole group discussion, written work, reading, use of multi-media, non-traditional work, etc. (see appendix 1). The ethogram is used to measure the proportion of time teachers devoted to each activity. This allows us to differentiate the settings that teachers of opposite genders utilize. This also gives us insight into the educational philosophies teachers embrace when choosing which activities to engage their classes in. The social sciences, natural sciences and humanities activate different areas of a student’s mind, requiring varying styles of teaching. The ethogram was a method for us to determine the degree to which male and female teachers directed their students to activities conducive to learning.

We believe the observational methods used offer us the best chance of disclosing sex differences in teaching styles and student participation. Because of the anonymous and unobtrusive nature of our observations, informed consent forms were not deemed necessary. Our experiment was designed to test several things. First, the INTERSECT scale tests the degree in which teachers bias their responses to male and female students. The second component of our experiment was designed to illustrate sex differences in the teaching styles of our subjects. Combining our empirical results with the published data collected in our research gives us a whole picture of sex bias in classroom settings. We consulted advisors with statistical backgrounds to determine if our experiment was designed to expose significant differences in our data. While we realize our data pool is not fairly representative of the typical college setting, we still think our experiment is capable of showing significant differences that would be useful for our immediate academic community.

The bias of our results has been a concern of our group. We took careful precautions to keep our presence in the classrooms as unobtrusive as possible. When observing and collecting data, we arrived early to the class, took seats in a corner of the room and kept social interaction with students and teachers to a minimum. We did not deceive our subjects, but we kept the purpose of our experiment as undisclosed as possible. It was necessary to obtain permission from the teachers to observe their classes, but we did not indicate we were studying sex bias. The INTERSECT scale is quite complex, therefore we established clear guidelines for each of the codes (see appendix 2). We studied sample classroom interactions that were provided with the INTERSECT scale and reviewed methods for completing ethograms. Our group spent ample time refining our observational skills to ensure data recording was consistent for each class.


Before Spring Break, all materials such as books, ethograms, and INTERSECT scale should be collected for project. By April 2nd, all data will be collected in preparation for analysis. By April 23rd, all data will be analyzed. Paper and presentation should be in rough copy. By April 28th (presentation date), power point should be ready to be presented.






Graph 5-1 Graph 5-2

Graph 5-3 Graph 5-4

Graph 5-5 Graph 5-6

Graph 5-7



The first set of ethograms (graphs 2-1 and 2-2) reveals similar results between both professor genders. The observations were taken during a class dealing with a variety of social sciences. The results could show that social science is a subject that is currently taught using solely discussion among the entire group. The seating arrangement in these classes supports this teaching method by facilitating easy communication with all members of the class (see appendix 4). There does not appear to be any difference in the teaching styles of male and female teachers in social systems courses.

The set of ethograms for the natural sciences course, graphs 2-3 and 2-4, proves to be more remarkable than the first set. In addition to group discussion, both teachers included differing amounts of written work and also activities that we did not anticipate. Despite the larger variety in activities, the natural systems classes did not require nearly as much time for transitioning between activities, especially the female professor’s class, who spent only 2% of the time transitioning. The female teacher spent nearly twice as long proving written work for her students than did the male teacher. She also devoted more time to other activities. However, the male teacher focused 22% of class-time, the second largest amount, to presenting multi-media material. The female teacher did not provide multi-media for her students.

The last set of ethograms, graph 2-5 and 2-6, shows observations during a humanities course. It reveals the greatest variation among teachers thus far. The male professor employed the same techniques as the social systems teachers. He used solely group discussion to teach the material. The female professor used nearly half of her class time for group discussion and devoted a large portion of time to written work. She also had the students read as a group for a small amount of time and presented multi-media materials for merely 1% of class-time. She, like both natural systems teachers, used class-time for activities that we did not foresee. The students used less time for transitioning between many activities for the female-led class than did the students who only had one activity in the male teacher’s class.

While attempting to interpret our data in terms of what other scholars have done, it is necessary to understand both the shortcomings and the unique qualities of our study. Most of the research we studied dealt with students in elementary through high school. Secondly, we observed classes in the School of Interdisciplinary Studies (Western College Program), which is founded on different teaching philosophies and methods than many traditional programs. We assume that much prior research was done in these settings, so comparing them involves some explanation of the concept of interdisciplinary learning.
Associate professors in the Western College Program William Newell and William Green define interdisciplinary studies as “Inquiries which critically draw upon two or more disciplines and which lead to an integration of disciplinary insights”(Newell and Green 23). A central principle of interdisciplinary education is active learning among students, the narrative and personal experience aspect to problem solving. John Dewey (1916) believed that the components of active learning—experience, reflection, integration, and application – would allow students to develop their own ideas and generate explanations (Blimling 25).
Robert Kegan (1994) asserts that situating learning in student’s experience “validates them as knowers” and lets professors and students develop mutually constructed meaning (Blimling 27). We believe that the percentage of class time spent engaging in whole-group discussion is a reflection of this educational ideology. Also, the degree to which professors react in an excepting way to personal narrative in the classroom is probably a result of placing such high value students incorporating past experience into learning. It is impossible for us to know whether more traditional schools use this form of learning, and since it accounts for so much of our data, we feel it is important to note this study’s deviation from what might be seen as conventional.
Although we used a formal coding system to evaluate participation, teacher response, and gender equity in the classroom that provided us with real numerical data, we were unable to show statistical significance for our findings. Because of our limited time, we only observed six classrooms, and therefore were advised not to claim statistical significance due to small sample size. Although we did not report P-values, we calculated means for the totals of each category. They are not statistically sound, but they are diverse and interesting, sometimes with great variance in relation to gender. This evidence goes to show that a more extensive study regarding gender equity in college classrooms would yield statistically sound and culturally valuable results.
We observed six classes (three subjects taught by one male and one female), and recorded ethograms for each. Time transitioning between activities, use of multi-media, and other types of classroom activity can be observed in our ethogram data sheets, but here we will focus on whole group discussion, as it yielded all of our interactions between students and professors that could be broken down into praise, acceptance, remediation, or critical response to evidence of reading, conceptual growth, personal experience/narrative, or other.
In six sessions of 45 minutes, we recorded female professors, on average, spending 57% of their class time engaged in whole group discussion. Male professors spent slightly more time using this mode of teaching—69.6%.
Within six 45-minute classroom observations, we witnessed a total of 109 interactions between professors and students. In four instances, a professor responded to two students at the same time. Thus, we have 113 student comments, but only 109 total interactions between students and professors. Of these 109 interactions, 46 were in a class taught by a female and 63 were in classes taught by male professors. The discrepancy between time spent in whole group discussion and the 17 more comments made in classes taught by male professors seems to mirror each other, suggesting that in a seminar style class, male and female professors are similarly accepting towards comments from students. Thus, neither gender of professor seems to dominate conversation while teaching more than the other.
The more important question in regard to gender equity, however, is how many of those comments came from male versus female students, and how the professor responded to them. It must first be taken into account that all together, the classes had more female than male students. On average, a class was 58% female, and 42% male. One would assume from this information that females would be called on about 58% of the time if teachers were being fair and equal in regard to gender. In fact, with 65 of the 109 comments being made by female students, females were called on 59.63% of the time, while they make up 58% of the total students. The difference in these numbers is a mere 1.63%-- hardly statistically significant, but it is actually a small bit of evidence against the research and writings of Duffy, Jones, Sadker, and Kimmel, who all thought that male students receive more attention than female students in classroom settings. Duffy specifically declared that whether it was praise or criticism, females receive less attention than males. Although we discovered no such findings, we did look further into the types of interactions between each gender and their professors.
Referring to the Sadkers’ research on gender bias Stiles claims that:

Males consistently receive more praise and remediation than females. And
females consistently received more acceptance and criticism...Thus, when females
consistently receive accepting interactions they are not receiving an equitable
education in comparison with the males. (qtd. in Stiles 4)

We found that, indeed, two out of two critical comments made by professors were directed at females. Males were criticized 0% of the time while females were critical targets 3.07% more often. However, females were also praised slightly more often, with 23.8% of the total interactions being praised in the end. Just below that number, 22.72% of male’s comments were praised. The greatest difference between teacher’s responses to males and females was in acceptance versus remediation. Female students’ work was accepted most often (65.07%) and remediated only 11.11% of the time. Male comments were accepted 8.26% less than females with a total acceptance rate of 56.81%. This difference is made up primarily in the remediation category that was 20.45% of the total for males—9.34% more than female. From this information, it can be understood that while each gender is praised similarly (22-24% of the total), females are accepted and criticized more often than males, who are remediated much more in relation.
The conclusion to this data can be taken in a number of directions. We could agree with Stiles that females, though “accepted,” are not receiving an equitable education, or we could claim that the dominate female presence in the classroom makes professors more inclined to aid them. Also, it should be noted in a very cautionary manner that many of the topics being discussed in the classes we observed were being presented in a way that is stereotypically seen as “female.” Environmental issues, the holocaust, and women’s modern role in the economy are topics that deal with “caring” for the earth, “sympathizing” with people in the past, or women’s issues blatantly. Without delving into the validity of these social conceptions, many people would agree that it has been considered easier for females to grasp these ethic-laden, value-dependent, emotionally charged concepts than males. It could be possible that professors feel the need to offer remediation to males in these types of discussions more than females. We do not attempt to say this is right or wrong, or what the implications of this explanation could be, but feel obligated to note the nature of these topics in relation to gender studies.
We also coded interaction in terms of type of intellectual work being done by students. In the category of conceptual growth, male and female professors responded equally in regard to both each other (professors of the other gender) and students of each gender. The only types of exchanges in which our interaction line plot showed crossing (indicating a drastic difference in numbers) were in the categories of reading and personal story or narrative.
In classes taught by male professors, there were 65 total comments made showing evidence of reading, conceptual growth, personal storytelling, or other. In these male taught classrooms, 34.37% of the total comments were showing conceptual growth. 10.93% of all comments were personal narratives, and 54.68% were drawing upon class readings. Thus, most comments made in classrooms taught by males were related to reading. The second most common comment was one of conceptual growth while the least common was personal story telling.
In classrooms taught by female professors, 34.69% of the total comments were conceptual, 34.69% were based in the reading, and 26.53% were personal storytelling. 4.08% were in the “other” category. The break down in terms of the most and least common is the same, going from reading to conceptual to personal. However, comments in male-taught classrooms are 19.99% more likely to be about reading material than in female-taught classrooms. In male-led classrooms, storytelling is 15.6% less likely to occur than in female-led classrooms. These differences around 15-20% are the biggest difference as the difference between conceptual comments in each class is only 0.32%.
It is clear, then, that male professors receive more comments about reading and less personal narratives, while female professors receive much more stories and fewer literary-based comments. This might say something about their method of teaching, possibly alluding to a question of praise versus acceptance versus criticism. Do female teachers praise storytelling more than male teachers do, making the students more inclined to tell stories in female-taught classes? Do male professors give more positive responses to reading than they do to stories, therefore having an influence on the type of comments made by his students?
In both male and female-taught classrooms, no professors praised or criticized a narrative comment. Almost all narratives were accepted, except one narrative told by a male student to a female professor, who responded with a remedial reaction. However, of all the male professor’s responses to reading, 22.85% were praised while 65.85% were accepted and 11.42% were remediated. Of all female teacher’s responses to reading, 29.41% were praised, 52.92% were accepted, and 11.76% were remediated. Therefore, female professors gave 6.56% more praise to reading than males did. So, the great quantity of storytelling happening in female-taught classes was not a result of the professor praising narratives more. Also, male professors did not praise reading more than females. But for some reason unknown to us, female professors attract much more storytelling in their classes, especially from female students.
The greatest percentage difference appearing anywhere in our study is the abundance of female-to-female narrative exchange. Out of 20 total narrative interactions, female students told ten personal accounts. Male students made only 35% of the total narrative accounts in all classes combined while females accounted for 65%. 70% of all storytelling happened in classes taught by females, and only 30% of stories were told to male professors. We now know something about male versus female teaching methods: female teachers somehow invite more storytelling than male professors, who promote reading related comments above other types.
Of all male student comments, 47.72% were about reading material, 13.63% were personal narratives, and 38.63% were conceptual. Of all female students, 44.92% of all female comments were about reading while 20.28% were narrative. 31.88% of female students’ comments were conceptual in nature and 2.89% fell into the “other” category. Comparing male and female students in these terms, we can see that female students tell 6.65% more stories-- in total, regardless of the professor’s gender-- than male students, and male students comment on reading 2.8% more than females. These numbers are small, but they do hint at the idea that females tell more stories than males; furthermore, males rely on comments showing evidence of reading as a way to express their understanding.
A possible explanation for this trend is one we previously alluded to, but goes deeper into issues of ethics and gender. Connelly and Cladinin, scholars of narrative explain that humans are “Storytelling organisms who, individually and socially, lead storied lives. The study of narrative, therefore, is the study of the ways humans experience the world…education is the construction and reconstruction of stories: teachers and learners are storytellers and characters in their own and others’ lives” (Connelly and Cladinin 2-4). Stories and narratives allow students to empathize with each other’s experience and invite a type of subjective knowledge and understanding. Stories can be seen as “thick descriptions” as defined by Geertz. These descriptions have been placed within an educational and cultural system of binary opposition where subjectivity, emotion, and personal story telling has been typically grouped with the feminine. On the contrary, the male epistemology and methods of learning and thinking have traditionally been thought of as adhering to the text, being objective, and valuing rationality over emotion.
"The ridiculing of the 'touchy-feely,' of the 'Mickey Mouse,' of the sentimental (often associated with teaching that takes students' concerns in to account), belongs to the tradition...[of] the denial of emotion. It is looking down on women, with whom feelings are associated, and on the activities with which women are identified: mother, nurse, teacher, social worker, volunteer." (Tomkins 1092)
We propose that our evidence in regard to storytelling and personal narrative tells the most about teaching methods and learning between the genders. Though we were able to validate claims made by previous studies—finding again that females are accepted and criticized more often than males, and that males are offered remediation more often than females—we think that the teaching-and-learning technique difference seen in reading versus narrative-related interaction tells the most about human nature.

From our data, it is reasonable to argue that it is more in women’s “nature” to use storytelling as a means of learning and communicating, relying more on emotional and subjective information than men do. Objective evidence backed up by text and references seems to be a male’s most comfortable way of expressing understanding. Whether this difference is a result of cultural construction over time, regenerating itself due to different (and possibly unequal?) education, or an inherent and genetic ability, is very debatable. Regardless of the cause and reciprocal nature of such methods in education, we argue that in an interdisciplinary classroom setting, largely comprised of whole-group discussion, males are slightly less likely to comment on subject matter at all. Yet, when they do offer comments, they rely on reference-based knowledge to express understanding. Female students comment more often then male students, basing their evidence on subjective and personal experience.


To answer the question “what is human nature” in regard to teaching and learning, it is clear to see from the findings of our study that what is “natural” for males is less “natural” for females and vise versa. However, we studied very few classrooms in a very unique setting, and our claims should by no means attempt to assess human nature in contexts other than the very specific one we studied. To really understand this issue, one would need a clear definition and distinction between objective and subjective evidence. They would need to study a college environment that was indicative of the greater whole (as opposed to our distinctive setting), and most importantly, they would need to observe many more classrooms, code many more interactions, and be able to produce P-values that show statistical significance.

Despite the shortcomings of our study, we think we have gained and provided some valuable evidence about the ways male and female students relate to male and female professors in small seminar discussions focused on interdisciplinary issues on a residential campus. For its scope and size, we think our study is central to the most basic questions about human nature.

Based on our results, we proved that our hypothesis was correct. However, the differences in percentages between female and male interactions were not as strong as we had hoped. Because we did not receive strong differentiation between interactions, it is difficult to conclude that there was significant gender bias present. We can certainly conclude that there was a degree of gender bias within each classroom based on our analysis of each classroom interaction.


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Whole Group Discussion
Small Group Discussion
Individual Written Work
Individual Reading

Use of Multimedia


Non-Conventional Work
Transition between activities



Code Description
Praise, P A teacher responds in a clearly affirmative way to a student’s comment. Emphasis is given to the tone and expression of the comment rather than the content. Indicates obvious teacher approval and positive reinforcement.
Acceptance, A A teacher implies approval of student comment, but not as strongly as to be coded as praise. A lack of an explicit response and continuation of discussion indicates acceptance of student comment. Again, emphasis is given to the intonation of response.
Remediation, R A teacher responds to indicate a deficiency in student’s comment, but not overt rejection. Purpose is to imply or explicitly state that corrective revision is needed for student comment to be deemed acceptable.
Criticism, C A teacher responds to blatantly reject a student’s comment. Expresses clear and obvious disapproval. Harsh intonation required to be coded as criticism.
Conceptual Growth, I A student offers a comment that illustrates an ability to synthesize and internalize subject matter.
Personal Experience, C A student offers a personal story to clarify argument or solve a problem.
Evidence of Reading, A A student quotes from course reading, assumes role of author of reading or comments directly about course reading.
Other Contribution, O A student makes a comment that deviates from provided codes.
Attribution A teacher response meant to encourage student to continue with line of reasoning. These interactions occur infrequently. A statement that attempts to explain why a student experiences success and/or failure.
Ability Attribution, A A statement indicating the presence or lack of ability in a student necessary for academic progress.
Effort Attribution, Eff A statement indicating the presence or lack of effort in a student necessary for academic progress.
External Attribution, X A statement indicating the reason for success or failure is due to outside circumstances.
Short Circuit A teacher takes over a student task instead of providing student instruction.
Physical Short Circuit Interaction is physical.
Verbal Short Circuit Interaction is verbal.



Teacher Initiates To By Student Initiates Praise Accept Remediate Criticize

B W H A O Hand
Call Out M F GR


Ancillary Teacher Behavior
Attribution A Eff X
Short Circuit Physical


Graph 4-1 Graph 4-2 Graph 4-3

F Creativity & Culture
F Social Systems F Natural Systems F=13, M=4
F=6, M=3 F=10, M=9

Graph 4-4 Graph 4-5

Male Social Systems Male Natural Systems
F=8, M=5 F=9, M=5

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