Improving the Progression, attainment and enjoyment of KS3 students in Mathematics using single sex classes in a co-educational, comprehensive school

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1 TEFP1011 Susanne Hashmi-Lewis - Kings College Guildford Improving the Progression, attainment and enjoyment of KS3 students in Mathematics using single sex classes in a co-educational, comprehensive school 1. Summary The Mathematics Department of Kings College Guildford wanted to see if single sex maths classes would have an impact on the progression and enjoyment of Maths of its female pupils. The project begun by creating two single sex top sets in Year 8 in September In September 2010 all Key Stage 3 Maths classes were streamed and single sex. Student grades for end of term assessment tests and homework were recorded. This enabled us to compare and contrast student s progress accurately with data collected the previous year from the mixed sex sets. Teachers, students and parents were surveyed on their perception as to the benefits of single sex classes; all felt that the segregation of boys and girls would have positive benefits. From a more recent interview of students, it appears that boys and girls have benefitted; with increased confidence and participation from both. Analysis of the data collected to date has shown an improvement of the girls progression. For our project to be fully assessed, we must wait for the GCSE results of our current Year 9s and see whether the girls manage to diminish the gap between the number of boys and girls that achieve Grades B, A or A*. 2. Research aims The Mathematics Department at Kings College Guildford were concerned at the discrepancy in the progress of its female students compared to the boys at both Key Stage 3 and 4. Historically at GCSE boys have been outperforming girls; analysis of the past three years have shown that though both achieve comparable percentages at Grade C and D combined, the majority of Grades A* to B were achieved by boys. (Appendix 1) Further, not only was there a higher percentage of boys that continued on to take Mathematics at Key Stage 5 but the majority of students that dropped out from the course were girls. This was the driving force behind the decision in Spring 2010, to pilot single sex Maths classes with the aim of Improving Progression, Attainment and Enjoyment of Mathematics at Key Stage 3. As a department, we wanted to explore the impact of creating learning environments best suited to each gender, in order for each student to attain, or better, their target grade. We wanted to investigate teaching styles and methods individual teachers would develop and how they would adapt to the challenge of teaching single sex classes. We were interested in whether being in single sex Maths classes would enable students to break from traditional stereotypes. Page 1

2 3. Context There has been much research and debate over the years on whether boys are indeed better at Mathematics than girls. Mathematics, along with the Sciences, is mainly viewed as a male domain. Indeed when asked most girls did not like Maths because it is too hard (Hyde, Fennema, & Ryan, 1990). A study performed by Villanova University in Philadephia concluded that there was no difference in ability between the two genders and attributed the variation in progression to the girls lack of confidence in their abilities. My personal experience in mixed classes has been that class discussions, question and answer sessions were dominated by male students. Girls were reluctant to offer answers for fear of being wrong. Some female students were hesitant to commit to an answer due to lack of confidence, and were often only seeking assurance when they asked for help. In contrast to this, some male students were reluctant to show their working out, being content with a single number as an answer and subsequently not being able to explain the method they had employed to obtain the answer. As a female Mathematics teacher that attended a single sex school, my initial interest was in improving the confidence and enjoyment of Maths for the girls. However, as the project advanced it became clear that the impact of single sex classes on the behaviour in the lower ability boys classes would have to be addressed as well. 4. Your research approach In September 2009 the single sex pilot project began and the two top sets in Year 8 were separated into male and female classes. Following this, in January 2010 all Year 7 students were set by gender and ability. After the summer break, in September 2010 all Key Stage 3 Maths classes were streamed and single sex. Each half term, every student was assessed with one piece of homework and an end of unit test. The results were stored in the department Online Student Target Tracking System, and the data used to analyse and compare student progression with previous years. Students and parents were surveyed at the outset to gauge their opinion. In January 2011, classes were observed and students interviewed to determine what effects the project has had on students Progression, Attainment and Enjoyment. 5. What happened? A survey was carried out in January 2010, upon implementation of the scheme, asking parents and students their views. The feedback was overwhelmingly in favour of the scheme, once a justification for its implementation had been presented. The majority of parents felt that improved concentration and confidence would be the main beneficial factors. The majority students felt that single sex classes would improve their confidence as well as raise their grade. Page 2

3 Sukhanden, Lee & Kelleher identified staff who are not only capable of implementing the strategy but who support the theory behind single-sex classes and are therefore willing to modify their teaching approaches accordingly (Sukhanden, Lee, & Kelleher, 2000, pg 39) as a key factor to the success of a single-sex class system, and a pre-requisite was that the project had the support of all members of the Maths department. The Online Student Tracking System data for and was used to compare student progress from September to December for these two school years (Appendix 2). For Years 7 and 9 it shows that the percentage of girls that are 2 or more sub levels below their target grade had dropped. For Year 8, though there has not been a significant improvement, the data does show that for this school year , the girls are performing slightly better than the boys. The biggest impact of single sex classes has been in Year 7, where a higher percentage of girls than boys are two or more sub levels above their target. In Year 9, the progress of boys and girls is now on a par for this school year as opposed to the previous year. In January 2011, the views and experiences of participating Maths teachers were collated. All teachers felt that the impact of single sex classes had been positive, and that the majority of students were showing a more positive attitude to Maths in general. One teacher commented that as less time now needed to be spent on behaviour management subsequently more teaching and progress could be made. Students were surveyed again in January 2011, which found that almost all students were overwhelmingly still in support of single sex classes. Both sexes said that they found it easier to concentrate. Surprisingly, both sexes found the other groups distracting and annoying. Most students felt they were making good progress and, interestingly, for Year 8 it was the girls that were more confident of their progress. The few students that were not in favour of single sex classes cited the boisterous behaviour of boys in their class was now not being moderated by the presence of the girls girls were chatty which reduced the amount of work that was done. 6. What have you and your colleagues learned from the project, in relation to your focus and more generally? In the short space of time that the pilot has been running, it seems that the original hypothesis, that single sex classes will improve the Progression, Attainment and Enjoyment of girls in Mathematics has been proven. Forming all girls classes has created an atmosphere where girls feel secure and supported, allowing them to move towards a more personal learning experience. Girls appear to be benefitting most from the separation, with increased confidence and participation. The segregation seems to have also been beneficial for top set boys. All top sets for each of the year groups in Key Stage 3 have shown positive work ethics and an enjoyment in the learning Page 3

4 process. In single sex classes, both girls and boys were able to be more open about their understanding and questioning. The shift in attitude was especially noticeable within the lower ability girl classes, where there was an increase of participation in class discussions and questioning, as their fear of being wrong dissipated as the project proceeded. All teachers had concerns about one group, the lower ability boys classes. They were anxious that the progress of some boys in these groups would suffer as a result of being in a single sex class. For these classes, it was essential that they were taught by a strong teacher who was able to manage class behaviour and adapt their own teaching style to best suit these groups. In small groups with such a teacher and the right support in place for students, this group can also benefit from being in a single sex class. We found, as other research projects and schools have, that boys and girls have distinct behaviour and learning styles. Teachers used a variety of strategies for different genders, for example Page 4 The use of more collaborative learning in girls classes. Incorporating games and competitive elements which boys respond to well. Practical work that integrated Mathematics into the real life situations. 7. Impact In observations of lessons, it was noted that some teachers adapted to the single sex classes whilst others taught without attention to gender, choosing to remain in their comfort zone by adhering to their own style and strengths. In order for the project to reap its full potential, the next step will be for colleagues to share their strategies and to arrange for observations within the department to showcase gender tailored lessons. Good practices that were observed being used by all teachers included: Close attention to correct use and explanation of vocabulary, strengthened visually and by modelling. Pupils were encouraged to use the correct vocabulary to enhance their learning. Clear explanations with cross-curricular links. Involving pupils in questioning which required explanations of how they got to the solution rather than a one word answer. Both genders have distinct literacy issues that needed to be addressed. The low levels of literacy within the lower ability boys classes means that though they may have the numerical skills to solve problems, when presented with a page full of worded problems their immediate response is to shy away. Girls can comprehend written questions but lack the confidence to translate them

5 into mathematical instructions. These are, of course, generalisations of what we have found. We commenced by sharing the reasons for segregating the classes and in so doing gained the support of pupils and their parents, the project then had a positive impact on students. Students will all make progress if provided with well planned and executed lessons. A teacher who is able to monitor the progress of their students and have a good grasp of what each has learned, is better equipped to adapt their teaching styles to suit a class. Both boys and girls need to be given clear instructions of what they are expected to learn. With teachers giving these instructions, all pupils should be able to engage and enjoy the learning in a suitable environment. For our project to be fully assessed, we must wait for the GCSE results of our current Year 9s and see whether the girls manage to diminish the gap between the number of boys and girls that achieve Grades B, A or A*. As our society heads towards gender equality, we need to dispel the now out-dated myth that boys are better than girls at Maths, and we should all be striving to help our pupils achieve their full potential. 8. Advice to teachers who may want to try something similar: The support of teaching and support staff, parents and pupils in participating in the project is essential. All need to fully comprehend that the reason behind choosing to segregate genders is to promote confidence and progression of all students and is not being employed solely to modify behaviour. Other schools that have run single sex classes have found that having different gender teachers and students is the most effective model, and we have found that with our two top set Year 9. Ensure that teachers are given the opportunity to share and observe good practice at the earliest opportunity. Allocate strong teachers to the lower ability boys classes; who are capable of delivering lessons with short, structured tasks with clear aims, vocabulary and high expectations of behaviour. Page 5

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