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Towards gender inclusive assessment in Science. Deborah Chetcuti University of Malta. Activity. Drawing an image of: a scientist a boat a few toys from your childhood. What are little girls made of?. Sugar and spice and all that’s nice... That’s what little girls are made of.

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towards gender inclusive assessment in science

Towards gender inclusive assessment in Science

Deborah Chetcuti

University of Malta


Drawing an image of:

  • a scientist
  • a boat
  • a few toys from your childhood
what are little girls made of
What are little girls made of?

Sugar and spice and all that’s nice...

That’s what little girls are made of...

what are little boys made of
What are little boys made of?

Snips and snails andpuppy dog tails...

That’s what little boys are made of...

teacher perceptions
Teacher perceptions
  • The way in which we look at the students in our science classrooms influences their experiences of and attitudes to science.
  • The messages we give students regarding gender and science can influence their engagement with science.
Teachers who become aware of their own sex stereotyped behaviour and who are willing to change it can make a difference...

(Roger & Duffield, 2000, p. 371).

the aims
The aims:
  • To look at the achievement of Maltese boys and girls in science.
  • To explore the perceptions and views of teachers regarding learning, teaching and achievement in science.
  • To identify the characteristics of gender-inclusive assessment.
discuss in groups
Discuss in Groups:
  • Does the school culture in any way have different expectations out of boys and girls? What are these expectations?
  • Do boys and girls achieve and aspire towards similar careers?
  • Do we as teachers adapt our teaching according to whether we are teaching boys or girls?
the study looked at
The study looked at:
  • Statistical data of examination results obtained from MATSEC. The data included the results of all students who sat for the May SEC examination in Biology, Chemistry and Physics between 2001 and 2005.
  • Data from an electronic questionnaire sent to 14 science teachers who were part of a Master’s program in Science Education offered by the Faculty of Education, University of Malta.
the participants included
The participants included:
  • 8 female science teachers.
  • 6 male science teachers.
The aim of gender-inclusive assessment is not to make girls and boys the same but to celebrate the difference and allow them both to experience science constructively.
state schools
State Schools:

Primary mixed, State secondary single-sex

church schools
Church schools:

Primary and secondary single-sex

compulsory physics
Compulsory Physics
  • Physics compulsory for all students between 1979 and 2000.
  • Led to a widespread dislike of the subject.
  • Could have led to an increased uptake of physical sciences by girls (Darmanin, 1991).
gender and achievement
Gender and Achievement
  • International studies show that the gender differences in science subjects have grown smaller and in some countries girls outperform boys.
  • In Malta research has shown that there is no difference in achievement of girls and boys in physical sciences.
achievement between 2001 2005
Achievement between 2001-2005
  • In Physics SEC girls are achieving almost at par with boys.
  • In Chemistry SEC girls are achieving better than boys.
  • In Biology SEC boys are outperforming the girls.
Physics is the science which is taken up by the majority of students in Maltese schools.
  • One reason why girls are doing well in physics is that in Malta schools are single-sex schools.
The profile of the girls taking Chemistry is usually that of the high achieving girl.
  • The format of the Chemistry exam which emphasises recall of knowledge and requires study can be advantageous to the girls.
In Biology boys do better than girls which differs from international research.
  • This could be due to the profile of the boys opting for Biology.
  • It could also be due to the content of the exam which focuses more on environmental rather than human biology.
girls perform better than boys 4 teachers
Girls perform better than boys (4 teachers):

...girls are more organised and persistent in their studies. They work harder and manage to get better results in doesn’t mean that they know more science... they are more meticulous in their work and make less mistakes attributed to carelessness...they also put in more effort...

(female teacher girls’ Church school)

boys perform better than girls 4 teachers
Boys perform better than girls (4 teachers):

...boys tend to achieve higher scores because in Biology they have to give concise answers with specific key words. I also feel the majority of boys are more capable of analysing data and comprehension questions...girls tend to perform badly because they are less able to extract and give an answer which is straight to the point...

(female teacher boys’ Area Secondary)

This is similar to international literature which suggests that girls are better prepared when it comes to examinations

(Elwood, 2005; Elwood & Carlise, 2001).

no gender difference 6 teachers
No gender difference (6 teachers):

In my current situation I don’t think they do. It is a matter of ability. I have boys and girls who achieve very well because they are highly motivated, and have a high ability. But then I also have both boys and girls who are either not at all interested or who have extremely low learning abilities...

(male teacher mixed school)

...I believe that both can achieve high. I’ve noticed that a class is made up of different individuals. Each individual has his own abilities, motivations, problems, etc...and in the end it’s the teacher’s job to highlight their abilities and help them tackle their problems in the subject. I believe one has to adapt to the type of student...

(male teacher boys’Junior Lyceum)

The focus is on the individuality of the student.
  • Assessment is a complex issue and connot be viewed outside social context (Ivinson & Murphy, 2003).
gender and learning
Gender and Learning

Learning is happening all the time – whenever a person engages in activity in the world. Learning is unavoidable. It is what is required in the process of becoming a person.

(Brickhouse, 2001, p. 286)

Within a constructivist social framework it is important to explore whether girls and boys have different learning patterns and how we as teachers can provide opportunities to cater for these differences.
no gender difference in learning
No gender difference in Learning:

2 out of the 4 teachers teach in a mixed Independent school.

This could be because in co-ed schools since the children are brought up together since age 3, gender stereotyping and indeed gender differences in ways of learning tends to be less than in girls only and boys only schools... (male teacher)

boys take more risks
Boys take more risks:

I think boys prefer taking risks and love competition – who is the best, fastest, highest, etc. On the other hand girls are more meticulous in their work and don’t mind spending more time on task as long as they get good exam results, boys are content with getting the bare minimum results...

(female teacher boys’ Junior Lyceum)

girls are more passive
Girls are more passive:

I find girls to be more passive in their learning. For example during a practical session boys take the lead and want to do the experiment themselves while the girls have to be pushed to get them to handle apparatus themselves. They prefer a demonstration and then write the report in their lab books...

(female teacher girls’ Area Secondary)

predominance of different intelligences
Predominance of different intelligences:

Boys tend to be more kinaesthetic, more hands-on, more spatial-mechanical. They tend to learn more when the teacher begins the lesson with a practical example and then come up with the theory behind the example...Girls understand more when the teacher begins by explaining the theory and then introducing more practical examples...

(female teacher)

individual differences rather than gender differences
Individual differences rather than gender differences:

4 out of the 14 teachers believe that there are no gender learning differences.

For these teachers there are much more differences between individuals than there are between boys and girls.

I do not think that there are gender differences in the learning of science. What I observed were differences in student interests. Some enjoyed one topic more than another. Some chose to write about one project, others chose a different project. I had both boys and girls obtaining very good marks and others obtaining less good marks...

(male teacher girls’ Area Secondary)

I believe that there exist more differences between boys and girls themselves than between the sexes. In a group of boys there are more differences than one can actually find between a boy and a girl. Every one of them is unique and different from other persons. After all in a class of 25 boys every boy learns in his own personal way...

(female teacher)

we need to have
We need to have:

“an insight into the way students feel about the topic, how they view learning, science, other students and the teacher and how all these elements combine in unique fashion for each individual”

Hodson, 1988, p. 83

gender and teaching
Gender and Teaching
  • Teachers alter their teaching style depending on individual differences.
  • They try to cater to the needs of individuals rather than responding to any particular differences between boys and girls.
we need to have1
We need to have:

As I teach in a co-ed and mixed ability school I must cater for the individual needs of students. I alter teaching styles more to cater for mixed ability than gender. I just make sure that the examples used are appropriate. Like I don’t just mention football but I mention dance. Most of the children are active and enjoy doing things together...

(female teacher mixed school)

The teachers use a “context-based/humanistic” (Murphy & Whitelegg, 2006, p. 20) approach.
  • They place a great deal of importance on the social, cultural relevance of their teaching.
I give more importance to the culture they are coming from and tend to use examples which they know about from everyday life such as selective breeding will be focused much more on farm animals when the majority of children come from a farming background...

(female teacher boys’ Area Secondary)

Examples used are made relevant to both girls and boys.
  • Examples also place science within its historical context and include narratives of both male and female scientists.
I use pictures of male and female scientists doing experiments...I also mention discoveries by both male and female scientists...I also like to use examples from cooking like why the turkey is covered when cooking even though I teach boys but most of them are generally still interested in cooking...

(female teacher boys’ Junior Lyceum)

I learnt that girls prefer examples which are more stereotypical...For example when covering electricity they prefer problems about hairdryers, kitchen appliances, irons...When I asked the reason for this they said that they can relate more and understand better when speaking of things they know well...

(female teacher girls’ Area Secondary).

gender inclusive assessment
Gender-Inclusive Assessment
  • Multi-sensory approach.
  • Use of imaginative contexts.
  • Matching activities to students’ literacy and numeracy capabilities.
  • Teaching and learning strategies which promote independent learning and self-esteem.

(Bancroft, 2002, p. 19-25)

1 cater to individual needs
1. “Cater to Individual Needs”:

Learning, teaching and assessment should be an integral part of every science lesson. In order to ensure individual needs are being met constant questioning, self-assessment and qualitative feedback needs to take place.

2 provide for different learning styles
2. “Provide for different learning styles”:

Muti-sensory teaching strategies need to be accompanied by multi-sensory assessment methods. This can be done through practical, oral, drama, creative writing, use of ICT. This will ensure that all the different talents of students emerge.

3 use relevant contexts
3. “Use relevant contexts”:

Assessment tasks can be developedwithin a relevant context. Thiscontext needs to be constantly changing and flexible according to the individuality of students. Thecontext needs to be established in dialogue.

4 use of role models and narratives of scientists
4. “Use of role models and narratives of scientists”:

Insights into the lives of role models and scientists can lead to class discussion and provide a means for teachers to assess students’ understanding of the nature of science and the importance of particular scientific discoveries. The use of both male and female role models is important.

5 discuss learning goals and criteria for assessment
5. “Discuss learning goals and criteria for assessment”:

Learning goals and assessment tasks need to be made explicit to students. When they are aware of what they need to achieve students perform much better.

6 give qualitative feedback
6. “Give qualitative feedback”:

Feedback is an essential characteristic of any form of effective assessment. Feedback is the tool which promotes further learning. It requires constant dialogue and reflection between student and teacher.

The teacher needs to constantly think about what she is doing and rethink, re-evaluate and change teaching style, assessment strategies, and the context of learning depending on the students in the science classroom.
the emphasis on individuality and diversity
The emphasis on individuality and diversity
  • The teachers who participated in the study emphasise the individuality and diversity of students.
  • They suggest that for better learning to take place it is important to construct a personal framework of learning for students.
However the teachers themselves still express a number of stereotypical views about the ways in which girls and boys learn science and achieve in science.
  • They encourage strategies which are gender-inclusive but have their own personal constructs of gender.
The call to look at diversity is admirable but sends out warning signals.
  • We need to question where the emphasis on individuality is coming from and whether it is really catering to the needs of students or is it an insensitivity to gender.
Our responsibility is to provide opportunities for all students. Can we achieve this by saying that gender does not matter or do we really need to take gender into account?
  • When we say that gender does not matter are we denying the social and cutural context of learning for our students?
As teachers we need to constantly reflect on our constructs of gender and our perceptions of student learning and achievement in science.
  • We need to provide pre- and in- service gender sensitive training for all teachers.