Posted by: justineswalton | February 27, 2020

The “All Girls” Classroom

Most public school classrooms you walk into today are co-ed; both boys and girls learning in the same classroom.  In some states and districts, however, schools have implemented the option for single-gender classrooms. These classrooms have come out of theories on how best to teach little girls and boys in school.  There is actually some interesting research done behind why this could be a beneficial thing, while at the same time looking at its downfalls. The National Education Association has a research article posted on single-gender education.  In 1993, there was a study conducted by Myra Sadker and David Sadker in which over 100 elementary classrooms were studied over three years and across various east coast states. These findings may point to the reasoning behind promoting single-gender classrooms.

In the study, the researchers concluded that boys called out eight times more than girls in the classroom.  Although most teachers use the “raise your hand to talk” rule, most teachers ended up ignoring the rule when boys yelled out.  However if a girl were to call out, the teacher would usually respond with a reminder about the rule. The study also looked at how teachers responded to boys and girls’ comments.  For the boys, the teacher would typically praise, correct, provide feedback, and encourage individual problem solving. The girls typically received minimal responses and received additional help from the teacher when they were stuck on problems.  

This idea of males dominating a room should not sound like a new concept.  This connects to class readings and discussions we’ve had this semester thus far on gender expectations and roles that are perpetuated even at a young age in an elementary school classroom setting.  In the Carli & Bukatko reading it was noted how young boys in school tending to talk more and tried to take the floor. Even as adults, women are interrupted more. This starts happening for women when they are just little girls in schools.  Connections can be made to how women do not receive as much praise as men do for being self-advocates and self-promoting. This starts in the classroom with simple, small societal cues like ignoring the “raise hand” rule for boys and not for girls.  We’ve also talked about how boys can fail in their answers, whereas girls feel they cannot. These kinds of things don’t end after elementary school. They carry on into the rest of their education, into college, and are reinforced as women enter the labyrinth to find leadership and representation. 

So what happens when learning is conducted in separate classrooms for boys and girls?  The research shows that both genders can benefit from eliminating the differential treatment (probably often done subconsciously by teachers) through single-gender classrooms.  Boys are found to be more successful and more willing to try new things. Girls are found to be more comfortable in their learning environment leading to a willingness to share in class discussion and interact with the material more.  They are also more likely to pursue ‘non-traditional’ subjects like math and science.  

These benefits are not always true, however.  Some cases argue that good learning happens as long as there is good education being provided, regardless of whether the classroom is co-ed or single-gender and research has backed this up. But another positive research study shows that the academic gap between girls and boys has narrowed greatly, and some contribute this to single-gender classrooms.

My mom taught an all girls class for fourth graders for about 10 years.  I asked her if she could sum up what she observed to be the biggest benefits and the biggest drawbacks of the single-gender classroom, she said:

“I can only speak about the girls.  The biggest benefit I saw for the girls was their willingness to take risks.  Often the shy quiet girls are not going to be as willing to speak up and answer questions or ask questions with the boys in the room, and they really don’t need to because boys are usually answering questions anyway.  Boys tend to be more vocal in a classroom and girls often are more comfortable letting them do all the talking. Boys are more active in a classroom and need more movement whereas girls are usually more comfortable in a calmer setting.  Having all girls was beneficial for me as a teacher because I could identify the girls who were having issues with attention and staying focused because the boys weren’t distracting me. It was also nice having books that showcased girl characters.  Of course these are all generalizations and there are exceptions with every classroom. The most challenging part for me was dealing with the parents. Girl parents are more overpowering. They don’t want to hear that their daughter is making poor choices or having attention issues or struggling in school, etc. and they are quick to attack.  [The all-boys teacher] and I could send the exact same email to parents and they wouldn’t hear one complaint. I was never that lucky. Boy parents seem to be more willing to let the boys go and ‘be boys’. Girl parents are definitely more cautious and protective.”

I encourage you to do some additional research on studies about how gender influences the way people learn and education in general.  If you had this option at your school or went through a single-gender class, I would love to hear your thoughts on your experience! If you never knew this was a thing, what is your reaction? Do you think you would have benefited from a single-gender class or would have liked it as an option in your primary school?  

Additional questions to consider:

Do single-gender classrooms empower young girls and give them the space to grow into women leaders? Or do you think it would have the opposite effect and by prohibiting interaction with males actually promotes a self-fulfilling prophecy of women taking a back-seat in the leadership realm when they become adults?  What role does public education play in how we see leadership playing out today?

National Education Association article:


  1. This topic is SO important to me, especially because I want to become a teacher. After my time in college studying classroom behaviors, I have realized how poorly school-aged girls are treated in class. I have actually chosen this discussion as my topic, it has been coined as the term, “chilly classrooms” in college environments.

    However, for young girls in elementary, middle, and high school, the affects are more detrimental. The way that girls and boys are taught in primary and secondary school is completely gendered, with young girls receiving the shorter end of the stick. According to Karin Martin, in her article, “Becoming a Gendered Body” girls are negatively gendered from the time that they enter preschool. She explains how preschool has an academic curriculum, but also a “hidden curriculum” in which girls are subliminally taught the roles that they should enact in society (at three?). She also explained how girls voices were constantly silenced by teachers, and how talkative girls were described as “chatty” but talkative boys were just maintaining what was expected of them. This gendering and the differences in expectations between young boys and girls affects the ways in which they learn and engage in a classroom behavior. it becomes endlessly frustrating that girls are the ones who are disadvantaged the most from this gendering.

    Therefore, to answer your questions:
    Do single-gender classrooms empower young girls and give them the space to grow into women leaders? Absolutely, yes. Any environment of all women or all girls is empowering. That’s why there are all female colleges (although, yes, there is competition that comes with this – I’m not ignoring that), that’s why there are sororities, all women’s clubs, etc. Women and girls crave these kind of environments where they are practically ensured success because they are granted equality. I do not think that it would prohibit interaction with males, causing women to take a back-seat in leadership positions when they become adults. Taking a back-seat is a learned behavior that girls are raised with. Every time that a boy shouted over her, or laughed at her while she gave a presentation, or every time he asserted himself over her, caused her to learn her role in society to be that of less than a man. This learned behavior is also enforced by teachers (as I have described above from Martin’s article). Therefore, if young girls are raised with the confidence and ability to learn and grow and interact without being held back, then she will be more assertive and sure of herself as an adult. She will have had the experience of leadership as growing up and will have the tools and skills necessary to succeed.

  2. This is such an interesting topic. Coming from a school that was co-ed, it is very interesting to hear the perspective of a teacher who teaches an all-girls class. I definitely agree that there are many benefits from allowing both girls and boys to experience a classroom with only their gender. Considering many insecurities girls have tend to form in the early ages of the classroom, being able to learn in an environment that doesn’t have the added pressure can be extremely beneficial. Additionally, being able to adjust the lesson plans so that the children can benefit more is a great idea. In an all-girls classroom, a teacher has the ability and freedom to make activities more welcoming and exciting for everyone in the class.

    While I think it is important to remember that while girls should have that experience in a classroom, it won’t be like that forever. While we can choose for our children to have a specific kind of education, once they graduate, they are back in “the real world.” Our little girls will have no choice but to work with men after they get out of school and it is important that they have experienced it beforehand. Additionally, girls should be equipped at a young age to be put in such situations. The education children receive plays a crucial role in molding character and if we are able to introduce positive habits to younger generations, it can help as they grow older.

  3. I think that single-gender classrooms provide an area for young girls to be able to express themselves without feeling intimidated by young boys who tend to answer all the questions or are more active in the classroom. Personally, I get frustrated sometimes when a really “deep” question was asked during class and before I can think twice about my answer, someone else immediately responds without coherent points to share. When discussing the empowerment of young girls’ development into women leaders through single-gendered classrooms, I initially thought of my annotated bibliography topic of the leadership development of young girls through Girl Scouting. Much like single-gendered classrooms, Girl Scouts is an activity geared toward supporting the growth of young women to adopt leadership qualities, such as sharing your opinion, speaking up in a public setting, or gaining educational knowledge. Many articles I have analyzed, argue that children’s literature plays a large role in shaping the leadership development of youth. For example, many children’s stories have male leads and female supporting roles, where the boys are seen as independent and active, while girls are portrayed as passive participants in the situation of the story-line. The Girl Scout leadership development books, much like the books your mom mentioned, have girls as lead characters, participating in the community and solving problems within the story through an active role. Incorporating both types of literature into the classroom, I think will be a game-changer in the socialization of future generations because it shows that girls and boys can both be leaders. I do not know if it would be beneficial for girls to only receive education in a single-gendered classroom for all of primary schooling, because it is always good to learn the social skills and cues presented by the opposite sex. Yet, I think it would be a good option for girls to have at least a few classes be single-gendered because it creates an outlet for girls to gain leadership skills that can later be applied in a mixed-gender setting.

  4. I have never heard of single-gender classrooms but I really like the idea of this. I know people who have gone to single-gender schools and I was unsure of this at first. However, I see a lot of the benefits of having girls with girls and boys with boys. Young boys are often very difficult to teach because they get distracted so easily and need to be constantly moving.

    My mom was an assistant kindergarten teacher for several years so I got to observe her classroom and the kids in it many mornings when I was volunteering. I noticed a lot about the boys and girls in her classroom and how even as 5-year-olds they would demonstrate gender roles and do gender according to what they saw in their own lives. For example, the boys were almost always louder than the girls and also were more violent. The girls would get involved in each other’s drama more often and would make each other cry. However, there were times when gender did not make a difference and the boys would cry while the girls hit each other. I thought it was interesting that the boys and girls acted so differently and how this would often reflect their parents’ behaviors.

    I think when girls are given the chance to speak out, they will. Oftentimes when boys are in the presence of girls, they will make extra efforts to appear more dominant. In the same vein, girls will defer to their male counterparts and will let them speak first because they feel inferior. Research shows that girls have more confidence in themselves when they are learning in a boy-free zone. I read an article that stated how girls feel less competition with boys in science and other “manly” subjects when they are not doing them in the same environment. In another study, it was found that classrooms with a higher percentage of girls were more successful academically whether the entire class was co-ed or not. I think that putting boys and girls in separate classrooms can be very helpful for their development as individuals and can empower them to love what they love, with no regard to whether it is too “girly” or too “tomboy”.

    While I understand why people would be against single-sex classrooms, I think that I would want my daughters to get the chance to work in an environment with only girls. When girls are with other girls, they can notice their strengths and similarities, thus encouraging them to care for one another. Another great aspect of single-sex classrooms is that with the absence of boys, there is less reason for girls to fight and they can focus on their education. I wish I had been given this chance to learn without boys around because I think I would have been able to focus better.

  5. I think this is a really interesting concept. I went to a co-ed high school, but there is an all-boys private school and an all-girls private school in my state, and I can see the difference in how the girls from the coed school act vs the private school. The girls who went to the all-girls school were considered to be smarter, and they had what can only be described as having less of a filter. The girls were also less concerned with what boys thought of them, especially at sporting events such as track meets. I think that I would want my daughters to be in single-sex classes, however, I feel like this would make them ill-prepared for the world, as the behaviors that boys exhibit in the classroom often translate to adult life and the workforce. I think that we need to first address the issues of boys talking over girls and girls not speaking up before we can have single-sex classrooms that are truly beneficial, although if we address the problems then single-sex classrooms would no longer be necessary, so it is kind of a double-edged sword there.

  6. Prior to this blog post I had not heard of single-gender classrooms as these were not an option in my elementary, middle, or high school. However, after reading about it, I think that they are a great idea. Growing up, I was a very reserved and shy student and I definitely remember the boys in the classroom being the ones who answered most of the questions and weren’t afraid of being wrong. Therefore, I think separating boys and girls would allow girls, as your mom mentioned, to have their opportunity to answer questions or have their opinions heard. Additionally, being in an all-girls classroom might give girls the confidence to speak up without the fear of judgement by their male counterparts. I would also be curious to learn if all boys’ classrooms would be beneficial for boys and girls in the long run. Would these classrooms be a room full of boys who are trying to talk over one another, making the classroom environment unproductive? Or would having all boys who are outspoken and all willing to answer questions teach these boys that they must wait their turn to speak and make them more aware of what girls go through in mixed gendered classrooms?
    As for the point you made about how some teachers do not correct the boys for breaking the “raise your hand to speak” rule, however they do correct girls; I feel like there are different expectations for the behavior of boys versus girls and I feel like boys can get away with a lot more than girls. We discussed this briefly in class, however we focused on men and women. I feel like society feels like girls should “know better,” and I even felt this way growing up with a brother. I felt that I was held to a higher standard than my older brother, for example if I didn’t do a chore it was out of the ordinary, but this was usual for my brother, so it wasn’t as big of a deal. Now how can we as a society break this trend? I think it starts as far back as elementary school and equal discipline, something that perhaps these single-gendered classrooms could help with.

  7. As someone who volunteers frequently in a kindergarten classroom, it is apparent to me everyday how certain gender roles and expectations are taught and enforced. I constantly have girls telling me they can’t do something because “girls don’t do that”, ore vise-versa for the boys. It is typical to expect that the girls will behave better and be quieter than the boys. This is a stereotype that I even notice myself subconsciously applying without meaning to. Whenever I work with a group of all girls I just kind of assume that it will be easier and calmer than when I work with a group of all boys because the boys are expected to be rambunctious while the girls are expected to be well behaved.
    I have heard of schools having same sex classrooms, even though this was not offered at any of the schools I attended. While I definitely think that having activities that are co-ed is important for both boys and girls to get experience being around and working with each other, I also think that having an all girls classroom option could be very beneficial. The point your mom made about girls being more willing to take risks is something I could definitely see as being true. In my experience, I always felt a lot of pressure to have the right answers on assignments and only speak when I was positive about the answer for fear of ridicule if I was wrong, which mostly came from boys. If I messed up in a presentation or an assignment or something, I remember boys teasing me about it and making jokes about it to my peers. Having a classroom of all girls may help to alleviate some of the pressure to do everything perfectly all the time and encourage students to try things that they may not otherwise try and not feel so afraid of failure.
    I also found the point your mom made about having the opportunity to showcase books with female protagonists. Representation in media and literature is so important, especially in elementary school when students are so impressionable. Many books do feature male protagonists with the females serving in more secondary roles. The fact that the girls in the all girls classroom are getting more exposure to literature with female protagonists is awesome. I do also think that having more books with female protagonists should be more common in all classrooms, including co-ed ones. Boys and girls both should have greater exposure to female protagonists to know that the female can be the hero or the central part of the story. I think having a greater degree of this sort of representation in the classroom could also at least help alleviate some of the gender norms at play in the classroom.

  8. This concept of single-gendered classrooms is new and very interesting to discuss and see. Touching on the questions you posed I think that there are great benefits and some drawbacks with the sing gendered classrooms. As stated by both the article and your mom’s first had experience, being in a single-gendered classroom give girls more opportunities to take risks in an environment where they feel supportive to take those risks. I think that it is so important from a young age to be teaching this sort of lesson to young girls. Elementary school age is fundamental in the overall cognitive development of a person and so I think it would be great to promote environments that have benefits such as risk taking. However, a down side as stated by some previous comments as well would be that that is not the way that the world is going to be forever. I think a good compromise would be to have certain classes or subjects that are single gendered or certain days where there would be single gendered classes and then the other days there would be co-ed teaching going on. While I am unsure of the way to go about this sort of scheduling or if it would be effective at all, it would allow for there to be exposure to the benefits seen in single gendered classes but then also prepare students of both genders for what classes may look like after elementary school or closely similar to the interactions needed in everyday society.

  9. Although I knew that there are some classrooms that are all girls or all boys, it was never something I paid much attention to. I had never really considered the positives and negatives of having a single-gender classroom.

    Firstly, I think it is important to acknowledge that classrooms do play a huge part in shaping children into who they become in the future. Outside of your family, the teachers and peers you have in your classroom also shape what you grow up to think and behave. What you are taught and learn in the classroom shapes who you become in adulthood. This is why it is so important to have conversations about the education system. We learn who we are and how we behave in the classroom and that shapes how we possibly behave as a leader.

    Secondly, I think it is important to acknowledge that the double bind and expectations of perfection also are harmful for little girls in school. Personally, I know there were plenty of times in school where I was afraid to raise my hand and answer a question in fear of being wrong. I think there is a double standard when boys answer a question wrong it is funny and a joke but when young girls answer something wrong it is because they are ditsy and don’t know the answer. It the gender expectations we talk about in class all the time: men can be wrong and not face any consequences, but women face ridicule whenever they mess up.

    I think something that should be considered is maybe starting kids off in single-gender classrooms then transitioning them into co-ed classrooms. I do think girls would be more outgoing and willing to take risks and answer if they started in classrooms with just girls. If they started in an all-girls classroom they would possibly gain confidence and get rid of some of the gender expectations placed upon them. Then, when you transition into a co-ed classroom, they are not as hesitant to speak up.

    Another concern with having separate classrooms based on gender is students who are trans or non-binary. I volunteer at an elementary school every week and there’s a little girl in the first grade classroom I work with that transitioned from a boy into a girl this year. My concern with separating classrooms by gender is that if that girl had grown up in an all male classroom they would have been more pressured to be masculine rather than embracing their feminine side. I feel like the benefit of co-ed classrooms is that kids are exposed to a spectrum of genders so they can find where they fit.

    All in all, I think there are positives and negatives to separate gender-classrooms. I think they could be beneficial by giving girls a more comfortable space to speak up more and try and overcome some gender norms. But at the same time, I think it takes away from seeing the whole spectrum of genders which can be harmful.

  10. I believe that it is beneficial to allow young girls to learn and develop in independent classrooms, however there need to be opportunities for boys and girls to mingle. Keeping boys and girls completely stratified would perpetuate gender biases because boys would continue to think they are superior and only need other men to work with. Having boys and girls working together on projects would allow for them to see how they can work together in the real world. Additionally, in these independent classrooms, boys and girls should be educated on proper treatment among their own sex as well as the opposite. Girls should be taught what behavior they should and should not tolerate, as well as ways to seek help if they feel unsafe. Boys should be taught ways to process their emotions in a healthy way and how to treat women. Teaching these ideas among their own sex allows for a safe space to talk as well as a way for boys and girls to communicate effectively among themselves.

  11. I am both for and against separating boys and girls in the classroom. While I do agree that this would enhance learning in some aspects, I believe it could also reinforce that boys and girls are different into the future with girls forced to take feminine classes like cooking and boys taking classes like shop. I think the school day would benefit most fully by having some aspects such as math class divided by gender, but having others integrated to keep the day diverse. I know in my small southern town, PE was always divided by gender. However, my second year, the school made the decision to integrate the PE classes, having boys and girls together. Parents were completely unhappy with this concept and while the class was integrated, boys and girls basically ended up divided in the activities they participated in. I think there are benefits to it but there will always be negatives so it is a balancing act for schools to figure out with is best for their students. I think single sex classrooms have the potential to empower young girls as they don’t have to compete as highly with other boys, however, I worry that the clear divide will make boys feel they are better than the girls classes causing more prejudice. Children will continue following the models they see in their primary education so if girls feel they can speak up at a young age, they will continue to speak up. If they continue to be spoken over by boys, this will become the norm.

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