AWE Literature Overview

Girls' Experience in the Classroom -- Abstract

By K. R. O. Bachman, Michelle R. Hebl, Larry Ross Martinez, & Ashley D. Rittmayer
Rice University

Over the last half century, the classroom experience is one that is becoming less and less divergent for male and female students. Today, the mere presence of female students in high school and college STEM classes– sometimes equal to and often outnumbering male students – is perhaps the most impressive sign of the changing times. For instance, by 2006 women received more undergraduate degrees than did men, 58% of all master’s degrees, and 48% of all Ph.D.s in the U.S. (U.S. Census Bureau, 2006). Although some gender inequities in the classroom have faded, other inequities (both subtle and overt) continue and new ones have begun to form. In this literature suite, we include an ARP Information Sheet that presents an illustration of a typical girl’s experiences in the classroom that is informed by research, and a lengthier ARP Literature Overview in which we review the empirical research on girls’ experiences in the classroom. In this overview, we begin by describing pre-existing influences (i.e., parents), which substantially shape and continue to reinforce girls’ experiences in the classroom. Then, we focus on the influences within the classroom that shape male and female students, from kindergarten to college. We discuss a number of variables that detail the classroom experience, which include the development of interests, STEM-related self-efficacy, peer influences, teacher/student interactions, and performance. Taken as a whole, these factors explain why classrooms remain, to some extent, severely gendered. Next, we present practices that promote equality in the classroom, such as creating safe psychological spaces for both female and male students and fostering gender equity in teachers’ verbal and nonverbal classroom behaviors. Importantly, we propose that researchers and educators can make a difference. Researchers need to continue asking important questions that address why discrepancies continue and how they might be abated. Additionally, educators must be made aware and alter displays of (often subtle) discriminatory attitudes and behaviors toward students, which ultimately give rise to gender differences in course selections, choice of majors, and career paths.

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Developed by The Pennsylvania State University and University of Missouri
Funded by The National Science Foundation (HRD 0120642 and HRD 0607081)