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A guide to Outstanding practice in co-educational schools

A recent OECD report (OECD, 2015) on continuing gender disparities in achievement is clear in asserting that gender disparities in performance do not stem from innate differences in aptitude, but rather from students’ attitudes towards learning, their behaviour in school and from the confidence they have – or do not have – in their own abilities as students. Thus, confidence appears to be one of the strongest factors affecting the evident disparity found in PISA tests


A particular area of difference between boys and girls learning is in motivation and confidence. Research shows that, typically, motivation differs by gender. Male students tend to have a performance orientation, motivated by a desire to surpass their peers; while female students tend to be motivated more by a mastery orientation, wanting to increase their skill and competence and master new material. Male students tend to overestimate their own abilities (self-efficacy), whereas female students tend to show both higher motivation and lower self-efficacy. Typically, girls (particularly the academically able) show greater motivation combined with higher anxiety, with lower estimations of their own ability. The highest-achieving girls tend to be prone to a fear of failure, which affects the way they approach learning.


The similarities between girls’ and boys’ learning are greater than the differences. Self-evidently, not all girls are the same. Not all girls have a learning style that is markedly different to that of boys. Nevertheless, the weight of the research does suggest that many teachers have evolved – over time, and frequently sub-consciously – an approach to girls’ learning that is girl-friendly. In these circumstances, effective pedagogy is characterised by:

· a clearly visible structure, with a clear direction and helpful prompts, always articulated to the pupils from the outset;

· a high level of involvement and interactivity, a focus on talk, and a willingness of the teacher to create a collaborative learning environment, listening carefully to pupils’ questions and difficulties;

· there is open discussion about how the learning happens

· there is creation of a sense of confidence and security for the learners, so that girls (and boys) are willing to learn from each other, to take risks and explore, testing their powers of reasoning against and with others;

· teachers challenge, demand more and offer explanations in different ways to involve all girls (and boys) in teaching each other;

· there is a collaborative partnership between learners and teacher, fostering independent learning but within a secure and challenging environment;

· teachers are aware that, however confident girls appear, teachers need to take time and space to reassure, to reiterate, to clarify, even when girls (or boys) seem less confident in their own abilities than they ought to be;

· the teacher confronts students, to get them to gamble, to take chances, to dare, to acknowledge comfortably that making mistakes and facing difficulties is integral to learning.

· there is constant feedback from and to the girls (and boys)



BREAKDOWN OF THE CHARACTERISTICS OF EFFECTIVE PEDAGOGY FOR GIRLS

Research, based upon classrooms across the country, mentions that the most effective lessons were characterised as:

· having a clearly visible and articulated structure, with a “high impact start which takes our interest and gets us listening and involved; the teacher intrigues and captures us”;

· format of the lesson that is explicitly explained;

· tasks are set out carefully;

· clear explanations that are repeated where necessary;

· coherent summary at the end of the lesson;

· lessons that offered variety and interactive approaches;

· brisk pace but to give them time to learn;

· to give extension work which is interesting;

· teachers allow a dialogue about learning – metacognitive talk;

· there is an environment where it is OK to have a go, to push beyond comfort zone;

· where there is discussion and the teacher is receptive to the pupils’ ideas

· where students need to engage in collaborative talk to clarify and consolidate their own learning;

· where there is an environment where students can talk themselves into understanding;

· teacher praises effort rather than performance;

· there are joint or shared goals (collaboration – problem solving, projects, role play etc);

· teachers and students build on their own and each other’s ideas and chain them into coherent lines of thinking and enquiry;

· teachers and students address learning tasks together;

· teachers plan and steer classroom talk with specific educational goals in view;

· teachers are very high profile in these lessons, driving learning forward at a fast pace;

· lessons usually involve all students present;

· there is probing, reassuring, directing questions and comments to individual students by name;

· there is constant feedback from and to the students;

· where dialogue was a high profile in most lessons;

· where teachers continually encourage higher level responses and demand reasoning;

· where praise and reassurance is offered regularly and meaningfully;

· where teachers encourage risk-taking;

· there is a process of enquiry and creative thinking encouraged;

· where the teacher works as one of a team, in a collaborative partnership at work. In these lessons, the students show leadership and teamwork skills;

· where discipline issues are dealt with quietly and effectively;

· where teachers use approaches that help the students to develop a real sense of confidence and self-belief in their own skills, qualities and abilities;

· where teacher reassurance is constant, even for those doing very well;

· where teachers think aloud and offer prompts and corrections in positive ways, avoiding negative connotations, and to facilitate peer support with learning;

· where students frequently comment on each other’s work, publicly share what they have found difficult and receive help and suggestions from other students.

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