How One Teacher Handles The Gender Divide On Arguing
Reader, and teacher, Jeff Symonds responds to my post about the pros and cons of arguing to learn:
“Interesting reading—thank you. I’m so glad to see [Diana] Senechal’s rebuttal here [to Carl Wieman’s contention that debate among students is the best way to learn]. Arguing for ‘arguing’ as a learning tool has, I believe, some unfortunate gendered implications about the ‘right’ way to learn. (Perhaps it’s coincidence, but it’s a male professor used to lecturing and expecting immediate retention here who lauds arguing as a learning tool, and then a female professor (and writer, after some reflection) who suggest a more internal, alternate approach).
Speaking very generally of course, that’s a gender pattern I’ve witnessed in my classes for over two decades; my male students love to talk, loudly, sometimes before they have their thoughts fully formed. My female students tend to wait until their thoughts are more organized, and then will present a more complete, articulate argument. My gut tells me 1) there are both social and biological factors at work, and 2) that both approaches have merit and deserve support and encouragement.
The answer has been (for me) to teach to both styles of learning in class: I’ll ask a question mid-class and have them break down into small groups and hash it out, but then have them come back together and report out those discussions to the full class and come to a larger consensus. In so doing, boys learn to slow down, revise their initial opinions and push beyond their first impulses, and girls learn to be less inhibited to speak on the fly and feel more comfortable thinking out loud.
I guess I’m saying that I think both professors are right, and that they should both try a page out of each other’s playbook.”
(Full disclosure: Jeff, in addition to being a very experienced and talented teacher, is my brother-in-law.)