Specificities concerning the connection to school in primary school pupils

Although the socialization of children becomes gender-differentiated well before their arrival at primary school, it does not stop there. On the contrary, it continues and even becomes more accentuated as children contend with an educational experience that differs depending on their gender (Gagnon, 1999). This section deals with the ways in which gendered socialization modulates the characteristics of the children’s connection to learning.

First of all, gendered socialization translates into differentiated interactions with adults and peers. Adults, parents and educators, although they feel they do not act differently with children, change their behaviour depending on a child’s gender. This results in different learning and in different experiences for children. The older the children, the greater the influence their peers have on their behaviour. This cartoon by Sophie Labelle, about a young trans girl (assigned male at birth), illustrates some of the differences with humour:

These differentiated interactions lead children to develop connections to school and learning that differ according to gender. A thorough understanding of these differences makes it possible to see the consequences of differentiated socialization and to start thinking about our own behaviours with children. The following observations are drawn from various studies on the subject and represent observed trends rather than absolute facts about boys and girls. Individual children adhere more or less markedly to the multiple stereotypes associated with their sex.

General observations

Interactions with adults and peers
  1. Girls are more open to fraternizing with boys than vice versa
  2. In disadvantaged communities, where gender stereotypes are more pronounced, girls see boys more negatively because of their sexist stereotypes—which target girls—leading to a greater gender division. Relationships between girls and boys are therefore more difficult in such communities.
  3. Girls are clearly rejected in sports by boys, particularly during recess.
  4. Most pupils, girls and boys, prefer mixed classes at school.
  5. A number of media models associate body image and being sexy with being popular with one’s peers. This desire to be popular is not new, but today there seems to be a closer association with sexuality.
  6. Boys are encouraged more to play with trucks by their parents and girls, with dolls.
  7. The toys parents buy for their boys and girls are not the same colour.
  8. Parents are more abrupt with their sons and gentler with their daughters.
  9. Parents interpret the reactions of their daughters and sons differently (for instance, a girl who cries is sad whereas a boy who cries is angry).
Connection to school and learning
  1. Girls assign greater intrinsic value to their grades while boys see them simply as an extrinsic evaluation of their capacities.
  2. Textbooks today continue to present stereotyped views of men and women and still render invisible certain inequalities between women and men.
  3. Boys are questioned more often when new concepts are introduced while girls are questioned primarily at the end of a class.
  4. When tests and assignments are evaluated, girls are judged and congratulated for their form (neat writing, careful presentation, good conduct, work) while boys are judged and congratulated for the content of their work and their performance (skill, intelligence, giftedness, creativity).
  5. The comments concerning difficulties experienced by girls tend to refer to cognitive considerations and feedback focuses on a need to return to basics and concerns about the pupil’s general comprehension. In the case of boys, these same difficulties are perceived as being more punctual in nature and primarily related to their behaviour.

Observations concerning girls

Interactions with adults and peers
  1. Girls put more effort into their interpersonal relations.
  2. Girls enjoy transmitting their knowledge to younger children.
  3. For girls, their school girlfriends are of great importance and they often talk with them about anything at affects the school environment.
  4. Girls appreciate the human qualities of their teachers or at least, expect to see those qualities in their teachers. They perceive those qualities positively.
  5. Girls receive compliments from their teachers as much for their behaviour as for their academic performance: they would appear to be quiet, dynamic, disciplined although sometimes talkative, in accordance with female stereotypes.
  6. When it comes to homework and lessons, mothers—who are primarily responsible for overseeing these tasks—give their daughters more leeway to organize how they go about doing their work.
  7. The segregation and stereotypes that girls are subject to encourage them to adopt behaviours of resistance by seeking to build coalitions within their gender category.
  8. In terms of pastimes, parents direct their daughters primarily towards fine arts and individual sports, since such activities appear to have characteristics (for instance, quiet and artistic talent) that are perceived as being intrinsic to girls.
  9. Girls are asked to lend a hand more often than boys to tutor students experiencing difficulties or to help the teacher, which reinforces the stereotype of the girl responsible for the care and well-being of others.
Connection to school and learning
  1. Girls generally have a positive relationship with school: they love school, feel comfortable there and take it seriously.
  2. Girls see learning as something that relates to the self-actualization: learning enables them to look to the future and to value themselves.
  3. They see the benefits of what is being taught and even enjoy subjects they find difficult.
  4. Girls self-evaluate based on their academic results; for instance, their self-esteem depends on their exam results.
  5. Girls tend to blame intrinsic factors for their poor grades.
  6. In girls, the satisfaction threshold regarding good grades is very high.
  7. Girls experience a lot of stress during exam periods.
  8. Girls seek to outdo themselves in order to be recognized in the only sphere of activity where they feel valued.
  9. Girls believe more strongly that good grades will guarantee them of a better future.
  10. Girls prefer to work in teams with other girls, claiming that boys don’t work hard enough.
  11. Girls are very concerned about their success and this is why they spend as much time as possible in class. They are calmer and less impulsive than boys, and follow rules and instructions more closely.
  12. The self-esteem of girls who have poor grades suffers: they are convinced their grades will never earn them the recognition of others.
  13. Girls have higher occupational aspirations than boys: their career choices require more schooling, most often a university-level education.

Observations concerning boys

Interactions with adults and peers
  1. Boys who get good grades and have a positive relationship with school are more likely to be bullied and excluded socially, precisely because they do not fit in with the group culture of boys.
  2. Similarly, boys who do not like sports or who are not good at sports are rejected by other boys because they don’t correspond to masculine criteria concerning physical performance. In addition and as a result, these boys are subjected to homophobic slurs.
  3. Rejection is more common for boys and is often based on male gender stereotypes or transgressions, that is, behaviours deemed female.
  4. Boys do not appreciate a teacher’s authority or teachers who are considered “too tough”. They see them as authoritarian figures who are against pleasure and fun, and not as pedagogues.
  5. Stereotypes are very common in sports where boys self-evaluate on the basis of their performance or physical strength.
  6. Boys like to clown around in class. They don’t particularly enjoy being scolded, made to write out lines or expelled but such punishments earn them the respect of their peers. The more unruly boys are in class and the more they make others laugh, the more popular they are with their male peers.
  7. At recess, boys tend to instigate physical and verbal violence more often.
  8. When it comes to homework and lessons, mothers—who are primarily responsible for overseeing these tasks—give their sons more guidance than they do their daughters.
  9. Boys volunteer less often for tasks suggested by their teacher and are more selective: the tasks have to correspond to so-called masculine activities connected to recreation (like bringing in the ball after recess) or ones that require them to display physical strength (like carrying a pile of books).
  10. Similarly, boys tend to contribute more when performing physical tasks, which reinforces the belief that strength is a masculine quality.
  11. Boys are quickly introduced by their parents to pastimes that give them the opportunity to express their dynamism and inventiveness; examples include group sports, martial arts and technological activities.
  12. Adults in school environments give more of their time to boys, who on the whole receive more encouragement, criticism, listening and praise than girls.
  13. In addition to being asked to answer questions more often, boys are given more complex instructions and their spontaneous interventions earn more responses.
  14. Teachers pay attention more quickly when boys are turbulent, since they are reputed to be more agitated. Consequently, they notice this behaviour more often, which reinforces their initial beliefs.
  15. According to a quantitative study conducted in France, 80% of students who are punished are boys. They are more often punished for reasons involving people and things that belong to people than for unruly behaviour and insolence, behaviours that are stereotypically masculine.
Connection to school and learning
  1. Boys generally have a negative relationship with school; they have no or little liking for school and prefer sports and recreation. For them, school brings to mind boredom, restrictions and obligations.
  2. Boys see learning as being instrumental: it’s a tool that allows them to cope in life.
  3. Boys are satisfied with much lower grades than girls and tend to be more satisfied with them than proud of them.
  4. In the case of boys who say they like school, it’s because for them, school is primarily a place where they take part in activities. Masculine sociability, sports and recess encourage boys to enjoy school in the short term.
  5. School work is considered an unpleasant task.
  6. Boys are not as comfortable at school as girls and are more permeable than the latter to disturbances, to a change in teachers for instance.
  7. School is less important to boys and they don’t compare their grades as often as girls do.
  8. More boys don’t know what they want to do later. More boys think they’ll do the same thing as their fathers do (in contrast to girls and their mothers) and would like to have jobs in their fields of interest or connected to their favourite recreation activity.
  9. Boys worry less about doing well at school because they have opportunities to learn to value themselves socially (sports and recreation, activities connected to games, etc.)
  10. Boys overestimate their capacities to resolve the problems presented to them.
  11. The greater attention given to boys apparently helps them build their self-confidence and their ease in public speaking.
  12. Boys speak in class more often and more spontaneously in response to questions from teachers, and interrupt in class more often than girls.


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