The differences between boys and girls in terms of dropping out of school are less marked when they reach college, although there too, girls continue to persevere more than boys. Even at college, the evidence shows that the young people most at risk of dropping out are also those for whom the differences between boys and girls are most marked; in other words, the ones who adhere most closely to gender stereotype differences (Roy, Bouchard and Turcotte, 2012a).
The reasons why girls and boys drop out of college are also very different (Boisvert and Paradis, 2008; Jorgensen, Ferraro, Fichten and Havel, 2009; MELS, 2004, 2007, cited in Roy et al., 2012b). This explains why it is important to deal with each gender differently when it comes to fostering school perseverance.
This information sheet provides a number of recommendations to integrate into your pedagogical practice so as to deconstruct gender stereotypes in your class. To help you target your actions, the recommendations focus on five areas of intervention:
- Interactions with students
- Activities dealing with gender stereotypes
- Feminist pedagogy
- Recommendations for team work
- Self-reflection efforts
For each of these areas, some of the recommendations concern students in general while others are specifically for boys or girls. The goal is not to further differentiate between boys and girls but simply to recognize that at college age, gender-based differentiated socialization has already done its work and some stereotypes acquired by boys and girls need to be approached differently in order to deconstruct them.
Interactions with students
- Encourage collaborative activities that bring girls and boys together. In classes where students collaborate more, there are fewer stereotypical attitudes.
- Encourage students equally.
- Keep in mind that all boys and all girls do not have the same competencies and capacities. Adopting an individual approach will make it easier to take into account separately the realities experienced by the girls and boys in your classes.
- Survey the parents of your students. Ask them about their realities and their needs, and try to adapt your practices to take these needs into account.
- Be open-minded regarding diversity. If some young people make discriminatory comments or behave inappropriately towards homosexuals or transgender people (acts of homophobia or transphobia), invite them to think about their conduct. A good way to intervene is to compare homophobia or transphobia to racism. All forms of discrimination are the same, regardless of the people being targeted.
- Inform your students of the existence of an institutional policy to counter harassment, and what it involves.
- Encourage all students to spend a reasonable amount of time on their studies. Encourage boys to spend enough time on their school work and encourage girls to strive for balance between school and social life.
- Pay particular attention to the vocabulary you use: for instance, avoid saying “men” for workers in the forestry or outdoor activity fields and “girls” for early childhood educators, etc.
Recommendations for boys:
- Make sure the places where boys can get help are more informal: boys respond better to informal professional support places, since they tend to fend for themselves rather than ask for formal help.
- Provide all boys, including those less academically proficient, with opportunities to be competent at school.
- Offer walk-in support services, which might make it easier for boys to access these services.
- Add a competitive element to some activities: this would make them more stimulating for both boys and girls.
- Value emotions and help boys express them more freely.
- Encourage artistic talents in boys.
Recommendations for girls:
- Be alert to the invisible needs of girls and pay attention to signs of dropping out in girls, who tend to be labelled as potential drop-outs less often and who have a greater tendency to internalize their difficulties.
- Plan activities for girls to raise their self-confidence.
- Be alert to psychological distress and the difficulties girls, more sensitive, encounter during the transition from secondary school to college.
Activities dealing with stereotypes
- Help students think critically about gender stereotypes by:
- Encouraging reflection and awareness when you see opportunities;
- Openly criticizing stereotypical images exposed in the public space;
- Drawing attention to gender stereotypes when students use web applications on their tablets or computers;
- Questioning the stereotypes and prejudices perpetuated by students or other people; and
- Correcting the impression that there are specific activities for women and others for men.
- Because tasks are often divided up between the students in a work group along gender-based lines, invite them to share tasks or try out new ones.
- React verbally in situations of inequality and discuss them with your students so as to deconstruct stereotypes and encourage them to adopt egalitarian values.
- In sports, where gender stereotypes are highly present, intervene quickly when you hear discriminatory comments.
- Feminize your written work and what you say so that everyone feels included.
- Raise awareness about the aptitudes developed when practising the various activities open to young people and show how they are beneficial to everyone, both girls and boys.
- Organize activities to raise the awareness of students about the issue of hypersexualisation.
- Organize workshops and games with students to engage in a dialogue dealing with the issue of gender identity.
- Introduce models of men and women who transcend stereotypical roles.
- Work on gender-based stereotypes with young people, particularly with boys who tend to adhere to them more.
- Encourage students to choose activities or tasks they tend to ignore or avoid.
- In situations calling for a cooperative approach or teamwork, encourage participants to use the respective strengths of the girls and boys in the group to give them opportunities to shine. This is particularly important for girls, whose self-confidence is often weaker than that of boys.
- Encourage young women to explore trades traditionally performed by men and encourage young men who wish to work in areas traditionally dominated by women to choose careers in those fields.
- Implement promotional campaigns dealing with this. Support and encourage the academic, professional and social aspirations of young people. Help them become convinced that they can do anything and that all career choices are possible.
To support school perseverance in all students by deconstructing gender stereotypes, it is important to practise egalitarian pedagogy; in other words, a feminist pedagogy that ultimately seeks to eliminate inequality between women and men. According to Penny Welch (1994: 156), feminist pedagogy is founded on three principles that seek to:
- Establish egalitarian relationships in the classroom;
- Ensure that students feel valued as individuals; and
- Use the experience of students as a source or learning.
Burke and Jackson feel that, in addition to these principles, “the pedagogical activity should also be transformative” (Pagé, Solar and Lampron, 2018, p. 8). Here are a few other general recommendations for how to put into practice egalitarian pedagogy.
- To more specifically reach girls and boys as distinct groups, vary your pedagogical approaches. In doing so, you will reach more students giving all the opportunity to learn in the way that suits them best.
- Be flexible to make it easier for students who are parents to conciliate school, family and work demands.
- Create a climate conducive to learning and self-expression by:
- Reacting immediately when you hear sexist, racist, inappropriate or discriminatory comments (zero tolerance);
- Not casting doubt on students who do not conform to stereotypes and by correcting those who make comments or joke about such behaviours; and
- Encouraging young people to be open-minded in terms of the choices others make and by demonstrating that a person’s gender does not restrict them in their choice of activity or profession.
- Encourage mixed teams, particularly for sports activities.
- In situations involving school outings and internships, make sure the tasks associated with group life are shared equitably and in a non-stereotyped manner.
- Make sure you diversify proposed models for the reading assignments and other tasks you assign (for instance, include female philosophers who deal with topics other than the female condition; female scientists; or women who have left their mark on history for things other than their work as feminists).
- Check your students’ perceptions and feelings regarding their competencies in certain subjects like French and math, and the value they attach to those subjects so you can intervene judiciously:
- Girls experience more anxiety and often feel less competent than boys in math. They need support and encouragement; and
- Boys often feel that reading and studying French/English are less important.
- Provide young people with a variety of occupational role models. Encourage them to see themselves doing a job that reflects their own interests and not one that fits in with gender stereotypes, particularly in the case of students enrolled in programs that are not traditional for their gender.
- Give priority to reading material and activities that look at original ways of doing things, which present a range of protagonists with qualities and behaviours that break with traditional role models. This is particularly important for reading assignments and guest speakers.
- Be careful with humour dealing with the skills of men and women. Such jokes, when repeated, can become stifling for a program’s minority students (boys enrolled in programs that are traditionally female/girls in traditionally male programs).
- Allow the program’s minority students to express their needs and talk about their difficulties.
Recommendations for girls:
- Put in place mechanisms to encourage boys and girls to speak out in class equitably. For instance, have boys and girls speak in turn.
- Mitigate stereotype threat by means of a “reaffirming talk” at the beginning of the activity, pointing out that all students have the ability to do the activity successfully. When working on the same assignment (a geometry exercise), girls do better if they are told it’s a drawing exercise that if they are told it’s a math exercise. This phenomenon is called stereotype threat and can be mitigated by reaffirming the competencies of all pupils at the beginning of the class or assignment.
- Support the integration of women in predominantly male sectors.
- Make sure you offer equivalent training to both men and women. Avoid assuming that students already have certain competencies, for instance, that they can drive or use equipment.
Recommendations for boys:
- Support the integration of men in predominantly female sectors.
Recommendations for team work
- Prepare a data-based table showing who participates in which activities so as to determine who is primarily drawn to these activities.
- Propose activities that combine competencies in the arts and sports to encourage boys to become involved in cultural practices and girls, in physical activity.
- Plan a policy to regulate romantic and sexual relationships between teachers and students.
- Have male and female role models in non-traditional activities or on the teaching staff.
- Hold a group discussion on the issue of gender in the workplace.
- Plan a policy for dealing with cases of sexual assault, particularly in internship settings.
- Reflect on an institutional policy for dealing with and integrating students with non-standard gender identities.
- Foster safe means of transportation, with adequate schedules, to enable students to travel to where their activities take place so as to encourage them to participate.
- Develop practices conducive to self-reflection: be alert and question your own attitudes (very often unconscious) towards young people. For instance, a female teacher filmed her class and realized that she adopted different behaviours towards the girls and boys in her class.
- Be alert and attentive to your own, often unconscious, attitudes towards young people.
- Spend time identifying your own prejudices and biases on the attitudes and skills of boys and girls.
- Take some time to reflect on: 1) men and women’s place within your discipline, 2) the experience boys and girls might have of this discipline or of the skills associated with it, and 3) on the effect that these two things can have on your students’ sense of competence in regard to the subject and the skills associated with it.
- Make sure you understand the Pygmalion effect and that you have high expectations towards all students.
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