To encourage all children to stay in school, deconstruct gender stereotypes and keep children from adhering to them as much as possible, it is crucial to put into practice a feminist pedagogy, one that ultimately aims to eliminate the inequalities existing between men and women. According to Penny Welch (1994: 156), all feminist pedagogies are based on three principles, their common goal being to:
- Establish egalitarian relations in the classroom;
- Ensure that students feel valued as individuals; and
- Use the students’ experiences as a source of learning.
To these principles, Burke and Jackson would add that “the pedagogical activity should be transformative” (Pagé, Solar and Lampron, 2018, p. 8). According to Toulouse (2016, p. 5), in an indigenous perspective, “It is critical that the space is welcoming and fosters consistency in expectations regarding respectful behavior, acceptance of difference and risk taking in learning.”
Building on these basic principles, this information sheet provides a number of general recommendations that you can integrate into your pedagogical practice to deconstruct gender stereotypes with primary school pupils. To help you target your actions, this sheet deals with seven different themes: interactions with children, proposed activities and models, reading and writing, sex education and hypersexualisation, actions on the part of the team, actions to take with the parents and self-reflection. For each of these themes, there are a series of general recommendations followed by more specific recommendations for boys and for girls. The goal is not to further differentiate between boys and girls but simply to recognise that at this age, gender-based socialisation has already had an impact and some stereotypes acquired by boys and by girls need to be dealt with differently.
Interactions with children
- Vary your teaching practices to reach as many children as possible and allow all individuals in your class to learn in the way that works best for them. For example, alternate between individual and team activities, hands-on and lecture courses, in-class and outdoor activities, directed and exploratory learning situations, etc.
- Help children to think critically about gender stereotypes by:
- encouraging reflection and raising awareness whenever you spot an opportunity;
- openly criticising stereotyped images in the public space;
- drawing attention to gender stereotypes while using web applications on their tablets and computers, or when playing video games;
- questioning the stereotypes or prejudices perpetuated by students or other people; and
- correcting the impression that there are specific activities for women and others for men.
- Create a climate conducive to learning and self-expression by:
- reacting to sexist, racist, inappropriate and discriminatory words;
- not challenging children who do not comply with stereotypes and by correcting children who make comments about these behaviours or make fun of them; and
- encouraging children to show open-mindedness regarding the choices of other children and by showing them that an individual’s gender does not limit that person’s toy and activity options.
- Teach children to respect others and that making fun of others will not be tolerated. Teach children how to respond to mockery and discuss the consequences of bullying.
- Raise your pupils’ awareness every day about the use of the following slurs: sissy, queer, girlie boy, fag, homo, fruit, dyke, lesbo, butch, tomboy, epitejijewe’k, kistalèk, l’pa’tujewe’k, etc. Intervene systematically to show that the use of such terms is unacceptable.
- Encourage all students equally.
- React verbally when faced with situations involving inequality and discuss them with the children to deconstruct stereotypes, encouraging them to change their perceptions and adopt more equalitarian values.
- Compliment the children for who they are and not for their appearance.
- In sports where gender stereotypes are highly prevalent, intervene quickly when you hear someone say something discriminatory.
- In physical education class, avoid asking two pupils to take turns picking classmates to make up their teams because this encourages intimidation and reinforces stereotypes; instead, set up the teams yourself before the beginning of class.
- Feminise texts and expressions so that everyone feels included in what you write and when you speak to pupils and their parents.
- Verify the children’s perceptions and feelings of competency regarding some subjects like English and math as well as the values they attach to those subjects to intervene discreetly:
- Girls experience more anxiety and often feel less competent than boys in math. They need support and encouragement; and
- Boys often attach less importance to English and reading. They should be encouraged early to discover the enjoyment these subjects procure.
- Reassure the children in their capacities, while recognising their preferences and especially, insist that anything is possible for girls and for boys.
- Speak to the children about equality between women and men. Transmit equality-related values.
- Allow boys and girls to speak equally, by inviting boys and girls to speak in turn for instance.
Recommendations for boys
- Find alternatives to suspension and expulsion for dealing with unruly boys.
- Stimulate their emotional learning and help them learn to express emotions more easily. Value emotions.
- Encourage their artistic talents.
- Foster their adhesion to the value of academic success; encourage them to see this as a value for both men and women.
Recommendations for girls
- Be vigilant about the invisible needs of girls. Attention must be paid to signs of dropping out in girls, who are not as often labelled as potential drop-outs and who more often internalise their difficulties.
- Try to make transitions easier, particularly the transition from primary to secondary school, since girls are more sensitive during this transition.
- Value and encourage girls to speak in class (make sure they have parity during class discussions, introduce practical tools and activities to build confidence in public speaking, etc.).
- Reduce stereotype threat by introducing a reinforcing discussion at the beginning of an activity, pointing out that all pupils can do well in the activity.
- Act preventively to foster good self-esteem and a healthy body perception in girls.
- Encourage girls to speak in class.
Proposed activities and models
- Multiply nature-inspired activities or outdoor activities as commercial books and toys are often carrying gender stereotypes.
- Invite children to take part in a range of activities involving both boys and girls (particularly in sports) since this will foster collaboration instead of competition between genders.
- Work on gender stereotypes with the children (particularly with boys who adhere to them more).
- Support and encourage the academic, occupational and social aspirations of children, in their perceptions and in real life. Help them become convinced that anything is permitted and possible, regardless of gender.
- Show children different occupational role models (for instance, a fisherwoman, a male nurse). Encourage them to see themselves doing a job that takes their own interests into account, without gender stereotyping.
- Put in place measures to encourage girls and boys to consider all educational options.
- Value all forms of employment; all are important for society.
- Encourage girls and boys to improve their strength and physical abilities by taking part in activities such as soccer, dance or martial arts so they learn to control their bodies and develop a sense of body competence.
- Offer children a variety of tasks and responsibilities and encourage them to switch them from time to time.
- Encourage children to choose toys and activities they tend to ignore.
- Offer activities that combine artistic and sport competencies to encourage boys to become involved in cultural practices and girls, in physical activities. Implement promotional campaigns to support this.
- When communicating and promoting activities, make efforts to connect with girls and boys equally. Think about using female models for posters, sports assemblies, achievement honouring activities, etc.
- Avoid gender stereotypes when designing learn and evaluation situations (LES) and exercises.
- Invite pupils to obtain copies of toy catalogues, particularly at Christmas time, ads or magazines and look at the stereotypes they transmit together.
- Encourage children to build multiple interests by offering them a wide variety of books, games and toys.
- Help children perfect their competencies by inviting them to participate in activities usually reserved for members of the opposite gender (for instance, offer girls construction games and boys, artistic creation activities).
- Avoid giving stereotyped answers, or place them into the context in which they were produced.
Recommendations for boys
- Offer all boys, including those who do not perform as well academically, opportunities demonstrate their competencies at school.
- Invite boys to play roles to help them improve their socio-affective language and capacities.
- Invite boys to do tasks stereotypically associated with the opposite sex, such as washing dishes, sweeping, tidying and caring for a young child (at the day care centre, for instance, if the context permits).
- Propose activities that help develop fine motor skills.
Recommendations for girls
- Invite girls to use building games so they can build their fine motor skills and relation to space.
- Invite girls to do tasks stereotypically associated with the opposite sex, such as finding a solution for fixing a chair or helping with the yard work.
- Teach them visuospatial aptitudes: visualisation, measurements, how to evaluate distances and depths, mental navigation, etc.
- Stimulate their visual attention, perception of space and reactivity.
- Introduce computer science and its functionalities.
- Encourage girls to participate in ideological debates and to speak in public.
- Plan activities for girls that will build their self-confidence.
Sexuality education and hypersexualisation
- Organise activities to raise the awareness of the children about the issue of hypersexualisation.
- Organise workshops and games with the children to engage in a dialogue about gender identities.
- Encourage pupils to reflect on what it really means to “have a girlfriend” or “have a boyfriend” and discuss with them their concept of love:
- rather than focussing on the individual child’s gender (you as a girl/you as a boy), adopt a non-stereotyped approach that more closely encourages discussion of interested, non-judgmental issues related to the development of feelings of love by asking, for instance: “What does the expression being in love mean to you?”
- Encourage children to think about the differences between the desire to please, being in love and the effects of peer pressure on children of their age.
- Offer to answer their questions and show them that their curiosity about sexuality is legitimate.
- Pay attention to gender diversity in your interactions with children, with regard to their own gender and that of their families. This can be done by reading stories that present different models of couples and families.
- Deal with the issue of gender roles and stereotypes and their effects on relations between boys and girls.
Reading and writing
- Keep some books containing gender stereotypes to inspire discussion with the children and help them build their critical thinking.
- Give preference to reading and activities that feature original representations and a range of characters as well as qualities and behaviours that differ from traditional models and, as much as possible, that are members of First Nations.
- Offer children books featuring characters with a variety of genders or that are gender-neutral.
- Use technology to stimulate reading and writing.
- Combine academic activities, notably reading and writing, with physical or mobility activities.
- Suggest books whose female characters are active, courageous and adventurous.
Team work recommendations
- Make a list of the pupils who participate in extracurricular or school-organised activities along gender lines to identify which activities are more popular with the boys and which, with the girls; try to offer a combination of these activities in which boys and girls both take part.
- Foster safe means of transportation to take pupils to activity venues and arrange adequate schedules to encourage girls to participate.
- Reflect on an institutional policy respecting interventions for students with non-standard gender identities and their integration.
Actions to take with parents and the community
- Make parents aware of the aptitudes children develop through the various games, toys and activities they’re offered and show that such aptitudes are beneficial to all children, both girls and boys.
- Make parents aware of the correlation that exists between adherence to gender stereotypes and academic perseverance.
- Build self-reflection practices: be vigilant and examine your own (often unconscious) attitudes towards children. For instance, one teacher filmed her class and realised that she didn’t behave in the same way with girls as she did with boys.
- Examine your own stereotyped behaviours. Be aware that you serve as models for the children in your classes.
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