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Small Changes, Big Results, Part I: Getting to Know Students as Gendered Learners

There is nothing more productive that teachers can do at the beginning of the school year than get to know their students. The more educators know up front, the more they can meet their educational needs. And, there's getting to know them as people, as members of families, in relationship to their cultures and ethnicities, their burgeoning interests and passions, what makes them laugh, what they think about relationships with adults and their peers...etc.

Where teachers often fall short is discovering who students are as learners. Many teachers have incredible strategies to understand how their students learn best. Students, as young as three, have lots of insights and information to share regarding this part of their identities. They do not arrive into our classrooms tabula rasa, as blank slates. The strategies that teachers have can also be easily shaped to gather data that may reveal already emerging biases, based on gender, that can either hinder or enhance their educational journeys.

I want to share one approach shared with me by Erin Jackson Ed.S on Twitter/X that can very easily be transformed to give significant data upfront, even on the first day of school.

This simple chart gives a teacher mountains of information regarding the learning environments that student feel helps them function at their best. This was given to classes of elementary school students, but it can easily be adjusted for middle or high school students as well. I found it interesting that students had chosen partners or diads, a very old, ancient form of learning strategy, as their preferred configuration. It spoke to their desire for collaboration as well as perhaps their need to not be overwhelmed by the distractions of large group dynamics.

Now imagine if you gave students different color options. Perhaps at the elementary level it could be more binary, divided by red for boys and green for girls. Or, in MS and HS more colors could be added for students who wish to identify outside of traditional binary notions of gender. Then, have them do this exercise. Teachers could easily just have students put their first names on their dots as well.

The information might reveal important information you never would have thought of otherwise. This exercise could also be repeated throughout the school year as teachers begin to introduce other learning configurations. This continuous self reflection would update teacher information, seeing what students enjoyed and what they want more of in the future. A simple way to understand your students and to see how gendered attitudes, if any, are playing out in their learning attitudes.

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Jason is flexible and attentive, yet remains committed to his high expectations of my work in tackling tough situations and tasks.  With a sense of humor and compassion for the rigor of a leadership position, he knows how to guide me with just the right amount of productive stress.  I appreciate that.

Daphne Orenshein - Elementary School Principal: Hillel Hebrew Academy

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