Single sex classrooms highlight gender learning differences



Posted on March 8, 2011 at 5:25 PM

Updated Monday, Apr 11 at 10:24 AM

TACOMA, Wash. – Students and teachers at Jason Lee Middle School have been experimenting with single sex classrooms – separating boys and girls.

There is now a greater recognition in classrooms that boys and girls learn differently, and teachers are changing their traditional views.

"You know, there are boys and girls and you just have to deal with some of the things that go on in the classroom," teacher David Huntley said of his previous mindset. "Now, a lot of those old ideas are eliminated."

Girls in Mr. Huntley's humanities class don't have to worry about noisy boys goofing off and can do what females do -- talk at great length about their subjects.

"Me and my friend we really start talking about it and it seems like we can't stop," sixth grader Hanna Shreaves said.

Boys, meanwhile, toss a ball and work out their energy by getting up in front of the class.

"It helps me learn better," Darzell Walker said, "because it isn't always easy to stay sitting down and concentrating."

Across the country, there is a growing gender gap when it comes to education. While it used to be girls lagging behind, boys now make up just 30 percent of the high school valedictorians and just 40 percent of college students. Experts now say that's largely because of what's going on with their brain chemistry.

Dr. Leonard Sax with the National Association for Single Sex Public Education says boy and girl brains are different in everything, from how well they listen to how long they can sit still. Since the traditional classroom is geared more toward girls, boys' attitudes about education sometimes change and they can get left behind.

"Once that boy develops that attitude, that school is for girls, that pleasing the teacher is something girls do, that attitude doesn't change," Sax said.

Dr. Sax will discuss his findings Tuesday, 7-9 p.m. at Jason Lee Middle School. He'll take questions from the public and tell parents what they can do to help their children achieve at higher levels both inside the classroom and out. The event is free and open to the public.