Doug Lemov's field notes

Reflections on teaching, literacy, coaching, and practice.

12.21.17“It’s How We Do Gender-Equitable Teaching”

Image result for peace Corps africa classroom girls gender


Erica and I just spent an hour on the phone with a group of amazing colleagues–Audrey Spencer, Becky Banton, Jomara Laboy and Francis Vernyuy–who train Peace Corps volunteers working in education in Africa- either as teachers themselves or as teacher trainers.

They use TLAC quite a bit, which made me very happy to know, but they use it in a specific way I hadn’t really reflected on enough- but when they told me about it, suddenly there were light bulbs-

“We use TLAC–especially Cold Call, Wait Time and No Opt Out–in our gender equitable teaching training.  They help engage all students equally.TLAC is a core part of their Gender Equitable Teaching initiatives, . If we can get them to use those techniques, they’re almost being gender equitable without even realizing it,” Becky noted.

This may sound counter-intuitive. Cold Call and No Opt Out are sometimes portrayed by skeptics as ‘mean’ techniques- demanding of and just maybe harsh on students.

Of course most TLAC users don’t see it that way. I’ve argued many times that Cold Call is inclusive, a way to saying to a student who may doubt her own importance to the conversation, “Your words matter. We have to hear from you. I care about your ideas and would be interested to know what you are thinking right now.” This tells a student that you value her opinion and are thinking.Especially when you deliver the Cold Call with a smile and a tone of caring.

But this is exactly the point Audrey and Becky and Jomara and Francis were making. That and the notion that seeing yourself able to do it–being caused to see yourself contributing successfully–was a game changer. This is a powerful moment for any marginalized group but for girls in Africa it’s critical.

‘Many times girls are not called on. They sit quietly in the back of the room knowing the answers but not actively participating.  Not raising their hands.  Not going to the board,” Becky noted.  This is especially true when class sizes are 70-100 students as they typically are in some African countries.

“I’ve seen it and heard form our volunteers,” Audrey said, “When they Cold Call, especially when they know a girl has a good idea by having circulated first and they say, ‘Come forward. Tell us your thinking,’ the girls answer and they succeed and you see it in their faces. It’s so fast. In the micro space of a single class class it builds their confidence and then we see an increase in their achievement.”

Becky said something similar about No Opt Out. “It helps in the creating a safe space for girls to begin participation in class. Especially after years of their participation being negated. No Opt Out allows a Volunteer to coax them a little at a time. Helping them find their voice in the classroom.”

In other words by insisting that girls engage fully teachers make it safe for them to engage fully. They are not allowed to do otherwise. And seeing themselves do so allays their fears. T

“We also use Wait Time for allowing time to girls that might take longer to answer questions because they are afraid to be wrong,” Francis noted.

“Girls are shy,” Audrey added. “They’re afraid to be wrong. The boys will raise their hands. They’re wrong but they don’t care. The girls are afraid but the extra time makes them feel safe and comfortable. Thought thru.”

They even play a game with their trainees in the Gender Equitable Teaching program. A teacher teaches to a room full of other teachers who are playing the role of students.  Each student has a role- from the boy who is wrong but has to have his hand up to the girl who will never raise her hand but is quite knowledgeable to the girls who wont raise her hand and isn’t yet knowledgeable.  Each kid is different.

“First the teacher teachers the lesson without Wait Time.  The boys dominate and the discussion is poor. Then, just adding a bit of Wait Time they teach again and the lesson is transformed completely.  Same kids, same lesson same content.  They never doubt it again.

Anyway, Gender Equity is such an important issue in classrooms, especially in Africa, I was inspired to hear about how these great Peace Corps staff members were using TLAC to help make a difference and thought you’d enjoy thinking about it too.





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3 Responses to ““It’s How We Do Gender-Equitable Teaching””

  1. Julia Treen
    December 27, 2017 at 9:11 pm

    Some of the boys might be unsure too. Let’s not pigeonhole them just because society does. GET is good for everyone.

    • Doug Lemov
      January 2, 2018 at 2:37 pm

      Thanks for the reminder. 🙂

  2. Garry
    January 5, 2018 at 2:20 pm

    In our time this is a very urgent issue. I am always happy with the fact that there are people who are engaged in such matters. I always support such initiatives. We have opened a center in our city to help students of other nationalities. Writing helper is a new kind of help for those who did not have time to adapt to the new requirements that the school program puts. Any student can ask for help!

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