Sunday, 24 March 2013

Are Men and Women Treated Differently in the Classroom? - "The Chilly Classroom".

I first heard of the concept/theory "The Chilly Classroom" in a Feminist talk at my university. I can imagine there are lots of people who were like me, had never heard of it. It is a study which has looked at the way faculty staff, both men and women behave towards women and girls in a classroom setting. I have found this quite fascinating and wanted to share my thoughts on the whole concept and my experience of it.

- The Chilly Climate by Bernice R. Sandler [LINK]
- List of Articles related to "The Chilly Classroom" [LINK]
  Having been in education for long time like most people I feel I have good experience of class participation and the general environment of education. For me, I have noticed that girls do tend to speak less in class. But so do some boys. Is it just that they are more introverted or shy and find it more difficult to contribute?  that I look back at the 15 years I have experienced in education, I would say that I have a mixed view. I believe I have experienced a behavour from teachers, which have dismissed my contribution. At times this has prevented me from wanting to take part in the future. Although this study looks at the whole idea on a larger scale. Those who have studied this concept, suggest that as a whole this behavour towards girls in school is reflected back in the society and is having a more detrimental effect that people may realise. 
Many may see the concept that all girls are treated negatively in a classroom setting to be generalising and it is. This theory does not suggest it happens in all classrooms, by all people, but that is happened significantly enough to be damaging to society.

My own experiences:
Throughout school, I can admit that I have enjoyed contributing in class. In subjects I enjoyed and felt confident in I have often been able to state my ideas and opinions easily. However I have found myself often putting my hand, the teacher acknowleging me and asking me to speak when someone would then interupt by speaking out. Now, I have found there is often confusion in class participation, some teachers like their students to put their hands up but then some prefer for students to just shout out ideas. This often causes more loud and confident students to speak more compared to quiter students, that may have something good to say, but aren't given the chance to.
 I have found trying to shout out quite difficult although I think I have done better as I went to A-level and University. That is one example where I see my own experiences reflected in this Chilly Classroom idea.

However recently in one of my university seminars I have noticed the way a lecturer responds to to students in class debate and have found that they are encouraging this chilly classroom effect in an alarming way. I find it quite frustrating. One situation that I found myself in. 
  • Answering a question, the response I get  "Well yes, that is basically what [male student] said" I mean! what? I found it very discouraging when someone's contribution is dismissed and claimed as just repeating someone else. Why then ask the question in the first place?
  • The lecturer/seminar leader "Come on girls, all I am hearing are the guys contributing". Saying this is not going to encourage women to speak.
  • Answers given by women in the class often criticised and dismissed. The guys can say pretty much the same but you get this response. "What do you mean?", Name of student used as encouragement. "Yes, exactly!", " I kind of see what you saying".
 Now, maybe I have just experienced a situation that is not necessarily common, and is not necessary about gender but I feel in my experience that it did play a part.  By dimissing shy people's contribution (male and female) it will make them even more likely not to participate. By highlighing that the males are dominating the discussion and turning it into a competition between men and women is not helpful. grr! 
 Although I don't think this has effected me individually. I can imagine for some girls constantly having to deal with this it will reduce their confidence and self-esteem. Which then reduces the belief in themselves to achieve highly. 

In Summary: Of the select articles written on the topic, it is not about critising those who treat women and girls negatively in the classroom. Firstly, it is clear that it is often not intentional. Many have written of ways in which to "warm up" the chilly classroom. Advice for both teachers and students to prevent women and girls being treated differently in education.
All I would ask is that next time you're in a seminar, classroom or meeting, just observe what is going on. You may realise it is more common than you think!

 If you have experienced anything similar, please comment, we want to hear! 

By Gemma Lenton - (

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