Using division in the classroom - Two Monroe teachers think splitting their sixth-grade classes has benefits for both genders

By Eric Stevick
The Daily Herald Writer


MONROE, WA-- Two Monroe Middle School teachers who temporarily separated their sixth-graders by gender for reading, writing, health and math believe the boys and girls are better focused on their learning.

"The interesting thing was we didn't think the kids would want to be separated, but they love it. They beg us," said Patty Conner, who teaches health, social studies and math to boys in the morning and girls in the afternoon.

"It's a noticeable difference in the behaviors," said Pamela Lamb, who takes the same girls in the morning and boys in the afternoon for reading and language arts.

The teachers use the same curriculum with each group.

The boys and girls share the same class for most of the year but during the last few weeks they have been separated. It began during a human sexuality unit of health class.

In other subjects, the teachers noticed girls were less hesitant to raise their hands and more involved in classroom discussions. The boys became more social with teachers and willing to collaborate with each other when the girls weren't around.

They also seem to settle down quicker.

"The class clown disappears," Conner said.

The boys also have become more interested, slightly competitive even, in how well the girls are learning their lessons, the teachers said.

"The focus shifts to what they need to do and not (on) all the external things that are going on," Conner said.

Some boys and girls reported that public speaking was easier in the separated classrooms.

Conner and Lamb are gathering research from other schools, including Thurgood Marshall Elementary School in Seattle, about single-gender classes. That school introduced single-gender classes to try to curb behavioral issues but discovered the practice has helped make academic inroads.

The teachers informed the Monroe School Board about their anecdotal observations at a meeting in April. They plan to try it again the last few weeks next school year. Eventually, if results are promising, parents like the idea and equal opportunity legal requirements can be met, they would like to pilot a few single-gender classes for a school year.

"It's not imminent," said Rosemary O'Neil, a school district spokeswoman. "... I think that any group of educators that feels strongly about a strategy for improving learning, the board would entertain what they have to say."

Joel Garrison, the school's principal, said the separation that resulted from trying to keep students comfortable during sensitive health lessons appears to be resulting in "academic windfalls" elsewhere.

The teachers plan to survey the students.

"There are things we are observing, but we want to see if they are seeing the same things through their eyes," Lamb said.

On Monday afternoon, the girls were learning about geometric concepts while the boys were working on poetry. Most of the girls routinely raised their hands. The girls said they are more comfortable.

"You aren't embarrassed they are going to make fun of you if you get the wrong answer," student Kyla Blackburn said. "More of the girls are your friends so they aren't going to make fun of you."

"You can just be yourself with all the other girls," Jordan Guthmiller said.

Boys also found their class less distracting.

"I like it because you can reveal stuff that you don't usually reveal when girls are around," Spencer Chisholm said. "I felt a little less stress, not as much nervous."

"Sometimes you need girls, but mostly it is good without them because you don't talk as much, and you can work easier," Joshua Williams said.

Support of gender-separation isn't unanimous.

"It's easier to concentrate with girls, and a lot of my friends are girls," student Alex Craig said.


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