As we have seen in the previous sections, young people who adhere most to gender stereotypes are also those who drop out the most. Gendered socialization leads them to develop different attitudes and behaviours according to gender. Moreover, boys, in addition to having a higher dropout rate than girls, also adhere more closely to gender stereotypes than girls. Their relationship to learning is therefore different. At the same time, school team members, like other adults, also demonstrate behaviours that change depending on the gender of the student. Finally, the reasons why boys and girls drop out of school are different. Fortunately, neurobiology has shown that brain plasticity allows the brain to transform and learn throughout life (Gausset, 2016). Thus, intervention by the community, particularly the school team, can help mitigate the effect of gender stereotypes on young people’s beliefs and learning, even in high school.
In order to act on gender stereotypes, we have put together several recommendations to integrate into your pedagogical practices, the goal being to:
- Distance yourself from practices that reinforce gender stereotypes;
- Develop tools to deconstruct gender stereotypes among students; and
- Adapt to address the gender needs of adolescent boys and girls.
In order to help you target your interventions, the focus here is on five areas of intervention:
- Interactions with students
- Activities dealing with gender stereotyping
- Working with parents
- With the work team
- Self-reflection activities
For each of these areas, there are recommendations aimed at students in general and others aimed more specifically at boys and girls. The objective is not to further differentiate between boys and girls, but simply to recognize that at this age, gender-based socialization has already taken place and that the effort to deconstruct certain stereotypes already acquired in boys and girls requires different interventions. Since it places respect and acceptance of each student’s individuality and specificity at the forefront, this approach is consistent with caring school guidelines that seek to make with the adult a model of caring, and falls within the spectrum of inclusive pedagogies.
Interactions with students
- Keep in mind that not all boys and girls have the same skills and abilities. Take an individualized approach: it will then be easier to take into account different motivational profiles or cognitive styles, regardless of the student’s gender.
- Make good use of collaborative and competitive activities. Encourage collaborative activities that bring girls and boys together. In classrooms where students are more collaborative, there are fewer stereotypical attitudes. Conversely, introducing a competitive component into some activities will help to stimulate some young people who respond well to this.
- Encourage all students to devote a reasonable amount of time to their studies. For boys, allow sufficient time, and for girls, maintain a balance between school and social life.
- Pay special attention to the vocabulary used to refer to people in certain trades: for example, “boys” for construction workers, and “girls” for health or education professionals.
- To reach boys and girls more specifically as distinct groups, vary your pedagogical approaches. This will allow you to reach more students and allow them to learn with the method that suits them best.
- Promote universal practices that make services and activities available to all students. Such practices should be accompanied by individualized support adapted to each young person’s strengths and difficulties.
- Be open-minded about diversity. If some young people have discriminatory comments or behaviours towards gay, lesbian or transgender people (i.e., homophobia or transphobia), invite them to reflect on this behaviour. A good way to intervene is to compare homophobia or transphobia to racism. Discrimination will always be discrimination, no matter what group of people it attacks.
- Since group work tasks are often assigned to students based on gender stereotypes, invite students to share tasks or try new ones.
- In general and in the discipline you teach, make sure you present and value diverse male and female role models.
- In the context of school outings ensure a fair and non-stereotypical distribution of tasks related to the life of the group.
- Put in place practises to counteract your blind spots. For example, now that it is known that teachers tend to respond less to girls’ questions, it is possible to put up a question box in an easily accessible location to ensure that there is space for their questions to be heard. Other ideas:
- hide students’ names when you mark exams and assessments,
- draw names for speaking assignments,
- use social media to facilitate questions and answers (by setting your limits for response times).
- In order to support the academic perseverance of all students by deconstructing gender stereotypes, it is important to put into practice an egalitarian pedagogy that seeks to:
- establish egalitarian relationships in the classroom;
- make students feel valued as persons; and
- use the students’ experience as sources of learning.
- Create a climate for learning and self-expression by:
- reacting immediately to sexist, racist, inappropriate or discriminatory language (zero tolerance);
- avoiding challenging students who do not conform to stereotypes and by correcting those who comment on or make fun of such behaviour; and
- encouraging young to be open-minded about the choices of others and by demonstrating that a person’s gender does not limit their choice of activities or professions.
- Promote mixed teams, especially in sports activities.
- In the context of a cooperative approach or teamwork, encourage the use of the respective strengths of the girls and boys in the group to enable them to develop their potential, particularly in the case of girls, whose self-confidence is often lower than that of boys.
- The use of peer support groups, where students work together on certain concepts, but not necessarily in a formal team setting, can be an enriching practice for students and support peer learning. This gives students the opportunity to decide together on the working methods they wish to use and to discuss and reformulate content with each other. If you use this practice, make sure you have mixed groups and encourage the participation of all group members. Please make sure that it is not mainly the girls who are in a helping relationship with the other group members.
- Especially in science subjects, integrate your own experiences into your classroom exchanges to reveal yourself as a person to the students. Positive and negative school experiences, difficulties in learning processes, social roles in science and technology, and interests outside the classroom can make the subject more accessible to many students, especially girls.
- Check students’ perceptions and feelings of competency and the value they place on certain subjects such as English/French and mathematics in order to intervene judiciously:
- Girls experience more anxiety and often have a lower sense of competency in mathematics than boys. They need support and encouragement; and
- Boys often place less importance on learning English/French and reading.
Recommendations for dealing with boys:
- Make sure that places of help are more informal: Boys respond better to informal professional help places, as they are usually more likely to fend for themselves rather than seek formal help.
- Since motivation is linked to feelings of competency, provide opportunities for all boys, including those with lower academic performance, to demonstrate competency in school.
- Offer walk-in support services, which may make it easier for boys to access these and other services.
- Value the verbalization of emotions and take a non-directive approach (Trépanier, 2014).
- Encourage artistic talents in boys.
- Make sure you evaluate form as carefully as content.
- Organize activities with people who apply the content learned in the course to their work or community involvement. Since some boys tend to place less value on formal, school-based knowledge, knowing how it can be used in the real world can bolster their motivation. This is particularly true when it comes to language learning.
Recommendations for dealing with girls:
- Be alert to the invisible needs of girls and pay attention to their specific signs of dropping out; girls are less labelled as potential dropouts and whose difficulties are more internalized.
- Plan activities for girls to build their confidence.
- Be vigilant about psychological distress. Depression is a major predictor of dropping out of school and girls are up to twice as likely to experience it.
- Make sure you assess content as carefully as form.
- Maximize autonomy in girls by avoiding doing the activities and/or exercises for them when providing explanations.
In the case of vocational training programs
- Provide young people with a variety of models of workers. Encourage them to project themselves into work based on their own interests and not on gender stereotypes, particularly in the case of vocational students in non-traditional programs for their gender (i.e. girls in the construction trades).
- Pay attention to humour targeting the skills of either men or women. These jokes, when repeated, can become stifling for students who are in the minority in their program (boys in traditional female vocational programs/girls in male-dominated vocational programs).
- Allow students who are a minority in their training program to express their needs and share their difficulties.
- Make sure you offer equivalent training to men and women. Avoid assuming that students already have certain skills, such as being able to drive vehicles or operate equipment.
- Support the integration of boys in female-dominated sectors.
Activities dealing with gender stereotypes
- Help students acquire critical thinking about gender stereotypes by:
- encouraging reflection and awareness when you see them;
- openly challenging stereotypical images in the public space;
- drawing attention to gender stereotypes when students are using web, tablet and computer applications;
- questioning stereotypes or prejudices expressed by students or others; and
- correcting the perception that there are feminine and masculine activities.
- Remind students often that there are no activities that are just for girls or just for boys.
- React verbally to situations of inequality and discuss them with students to deconstruct stereotypes and shift their perceptions towards egalitarian values;
- In sports, where gender stereotypes are very present, intervene quickly when discriminatory comments are made.
- Feminize your words, in the texts you write and when speaking to your students, so that everyone feels included.
- Raise awareness of the skills developed through the various activities offered to young people and show that they are beneficial to all, girls and boys alike.
- Organize activities to raise awareness about the issue of hypersexualization. In particular, dress codes can be a relevant subject around which to organize discussion; it might also be a way to involve students in updating these policies.
- Organize workshops or games with students to engage in a dialogue around the issue of gender identities.
- Present models of women and men who break out of stereotypical roles.
- Work on gender stereotypes with young people, especially with boys, who are more likely to adhere to them.
- Encourage students to choose activities or tasks that they tend to ignore or avoid.
- Implement promotional campaigns in this regard. Support and encourage young people’s educational, vocational, and social aspirations. Help convince them that anything is allowed and possible.
- Teach about the “threat of stereotyping” and put in place measures appropriate to your discipline to counter it when relevant.
- Put in place mechanisms to ensure that boys and girls are encouraged to speak equitably in the classroom. For example, rotate speaking turns between boys and girls.
- Mitigate the threat of stereotyping by a “reinforcing speech” at the beginning of the activity in which you emphasize that all students are capable of doing the activity well.
- In the readings and role models provided to students, ensure that you have diverse role models (e.g., women athletes, women scientists, or women who have made history).
Working with parents
- Raise awareness among parents about the link that exist between the endorsement of gender stereotypes and academic perseverance.
- Share your sexuality education tools with your students’ parents to make sure they know which concepts are being taught to their children.
- Make sure to use an inclusive language in your communication pieces with parents to include homoparental families.
- Educate parents on the issue of gender stereotyping and on the importance of parental support in building confidence in all activities that interest young people.
With the work team
- Draw up a table of the young people who participate in activities (e.g., extracurricular activities), adding data to pinpoint which students are most targeted by individual activities.
- Take the time to observe the school materials: textbooks, multimedia tools, library content, etc. Use analysis grids to assess whether gender stereotypes are present.
- Offer activities that combine arts and sports competencies to engage boys in cultural practices and girls in physical activities.
- Have male and female role models in non-traditional activities. These role models can help young people become more flexible in their social representations. For example, why not invite a man who writes poetry or a woman physicist to talk about their respective disciplines.
- Think about an institutional policy to involve and integrate students with a non-compliant gender identity.
- Promote safe transportation to activities and appropriate schedules to encourage girls to participate.
- Develop reflexive practices: be vigilant and question your own (often unconscious) attitudes towards young people. For example, one teacher filmed her class and discovered that her behaviour was not the same towards girls and boys.
- Take time to identify your own biases about the abilities and aptitudes of boys and girls.
- Take the time to reflect on:
- the place men and women occupy in your discipline;
- the experiences boys and girls have in terms of this discipline and the related competencies; and
- on the impact these two elements may have on the degree of competency felt by the students in your class with respect to this discipline and its related competencies.
- Take the time to fully understand the Pygmalion effect and have high expectations for all of your students.