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Such measures include providing positive examples of students and professionals who have garnered significant achievements in math, allowing students who may feel symptoms of stereotype threat to express their talent in other areas outside of math (by incorporating those areas into lessons and classroom engagement), and by downplaying differences in groups via the reframing of tasks to decrease levels of competitiveness amongst students (Singletary et al., 2009, p. 2) (Shih et al., 1999, p. 82).
In addition to considering the role of classroom and social environments that can impact middle school math students, it is also necessary to examine the type of learning styles that are typically used and which typically favor each gender. In most instances, competitive learning styles in which students are pitted against each tend to favor male students. However, by focusing on and accommodating a diversity of learning styles, instructors can actually increase the achievement of female math students by incorporating "strategies such as collaborative learning, instruction in small-group settings, inquiry based approaches, and hands-on activities have been shown to be effective in teaching math…to diverse groups of students" (Amelink, 2009, p. 15).
The effective accommodation of the difference in learning styles that is inherent in gender results in a variety of best practices. Most female learners will benefit from auditory learning styles, in which they are able to utilize their cognitive prowess in astute hearing. As such, these students benefit from math teachers who actually face them and project their voices forward when speaking. Techniques for best practices for auditory learners includes utilizing transparencies and image projectors that allow teachers to speak to their classes while composing written material for them to see as well (James, 2007). Additionally, women's ability to read body language benefits from the aforementioned best practice because it allows them to see the physical and facial reactions of instructors when the former are answering a question, which may help them in delivering a correct answer.
However, when analyzing the variety of learning styles that traditionally associated with both sexes, it is necessary to provide a brief overview of the typical method in which mathematics is taught within middle schools. Unlike other subjects, such as language arts and history, in which there is plenty of opportunity for student interaction and a sharing of ideas related to the academic subjects, math is primarily taught in an autonomous way. There are several aspects of Stephen Keats' "Learning Styles in Mathematics Classrooms" that attest to the fact that compared to the way other subjects are taught, math is
Based on an authoritative figure…giving out information in a non-contextual way without relevance to the life of most of the students. Learning is based on remembering and correctly applying often complex and complicated algorithms. The examples, exercises and problems are usually contrived and bear no resemblance to & #8230;young people (Keast, 1998, p. 54).
Although elementary school teachers usually make an effort to try to incorporate mathematical principles to analogous situations that children can relate to, in middle school the trend towards impersonalizing mathematic concepts is usually well under way. As a result of the rigid, autonomous method in which this subject is taught, it is responsible for both helping and hindering two primary learning styles: that of separate knowing and that of connected knowing, respectively (Keast, 1998, p. 53).
It should be noted that examples of each of these type of learners can be found within both genders. However, the description of the former type of learner, the separate knower, typically adheres to principles that are associated with masculinity and include the exclusion of virtually all subjective factors, opinions and beliefs that distinguishes knowledge itself from the source of that knowledge. Furthermore, separate knowers "prefer to learn their mathematical understanding individually from an authoritative perspective, critically analyzing the information supplied via formal, structured and explicit instruction" (Keast, 1998, p. 54). On the other hand, connected knowers related the absorption and understanding of knowledge to the source of that knowledge, which is oftentimes the teacher in a formal classroom environment. These learners can best grasp and contextualize knowledge by understanding where it comes from and how it relates to other facets of their lives and of life in general. These learners "value knowledge that is woven into their personal relationships, surroundings and environment" (Keast, 1998, p. 53).
There are a number of factors associated with the respective sexes that encourages males to become separate knowers and that results in female students becoming connected knowers. What is most interesting about this principle is that many of the characteristics that were previously denoted within this paper as pertaining to male learning styles (such as the fact that they are kinesthetic learners who relish in activity and have acute vision) correlate to spate knowers, while many of the characteristics associated with traditionally female learning styles (such as their proficiency at auditory processing and their ability to read body language) are typically associated with traits that relate to connected knowers.
As previously mentioned, not all males are connected knowers and not all girls are separate knowers. In fact, during the course of the study performed in Keast's article, in which these two principle learning styles were discovered after attempting to remedy the low enrollment of female math students in their final years at a secondary college in Australia by forming a single sex math class, evidence indicated that there were students who actually changed learning styles from that of an separate knower to a connected knower during the course of the observation. Additionally, the author presents the very definite possibility that students may work best with different learning styles in different classes. Therefore, someone who prefers a connected knower learning style in mathematics may actually prefer a separate knower learning style in another discipline, such as history. In fact, this mutable aspect underscores the notion that these two types of learning styles, which the other learning styles mentioned in this document can essentially be categorized into, do not apply to all males or all females. However, they provide a fundamental basis with which to view the traditional teaching of mathematics and may help to explain why the fact that despite a general parity in ability between male and female students, there are definite gender differences in mathematics score gaps. Significantly, the findings of this study adhere to the findings of ____ ," in which "men showed a greater preference than women
One of the limitations of Keast's study is the population group that the bulk of his research was based upon. By choosing to focus on collegiate students, and those that were in their final years of college, at that, this study has left open for the possibility of future research the opportunity to study learning styles between the genders of younger students, particularly those at the middle school level, since review of previous literature in this document indicates this is the time period in which the gender gap of math achievement between students is the greatest. Furthermore, by studying the propensity for students to choose to incorporate connected knower or separate knower learning styles at a younger age, greater insight may be gained as to how and why members of a particular gender happen to choose the learning style that is primarily associated with their sex -- which is typically connected knower learning styles for boys, and separate knower learning styles for girls.
In summary, the literature reviewed for this paper has accented several eminent facts in regards to the gender differences in math achievement for middle school students. The first of these relates to the nature of the differences in achievement between the sexes. The scoring gap is perceivable, yet relatively modest encompassing no more than a few percentage points between the aptitudes of boys and girls. It is due to this slight achievement gap that the focus then shifts on external factors that account for this disparity, since the relative close proximity of the achievement levels strongly suggests that aptitude and ability does not account for the disparity. Rather, there are a host of social and environmental factors that can account for the consistent difference in the aptitude of these young mathematics learners. These factors include parental and familial conceptions of level of achievement for the sexes, as well as issues that generally underscore a surplus of confidence for males and a dearth of such for females. Yet these external factors are reinforced in the classroom and depend highly on the learning styles that are endemic to each of the sexes. These inherent differences -- such as the facts that girls are more auditory learners whereas boys are more kinesthetic can account for the fact that in mathematics, girls generally learn best via interaction and group work as connected knowers, whereas boys prefer the autonomous learning style of separate knowers that most math classes cater…[continue]
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