Successful Single Sex Classrooms: A Practical Guide to Teaching Boys and Girls Separately
by Michael Gurian, Kathy Stevens, and Peggy Daniels
Reviewed by Laura Reasoner Jones, NBCT
School-Based Technology Specialist (Virginia)
Teacher Leaders Network
Let me start by saying that I am a little conflicted on this subject. I am definitely pro single-sex classrooms because I firmly believe (from my experience with all-girl afterschool clubs) that girls do better in them. But the problem is that I also agree with the AAUW position that single-sex classes can be a tunnel we don’t want to go down, as it can lead to segregation and “separate but not equal” programs.
So, I accepted this book with a little skepticism, thinking that it would gloss over the issues, blame female teachers, and try to make all classrooms better meet the needs of boys, as that seems to be the politically correct concern these days. But I was pleasantly and professionally surprised.
This book is very useful for all teachers, in that it really describes excellent instruction, with one of the best summaries of techniques and strategies for teaching and classroom management I have seen in a very long time.
The authors begin by stating that “girls are better able to meet expectations in the traditional classroom,” a fair statement. They then go on to summarize brain research, highlighting its application and implications in classrooms. I particularly liked the way they describe how and why girls internalize while boys externalize, and what this means in education.
The book starts at the beginning with the theory and research behind setting up single sex classrooms, suggesting questions to ask and data to analyze. If this is something your school or district wants to try, this is a good guide. A short section on working with parents is included, along with survey tools for evaluating programs. The book also sets some guidelines for choosing and training teachers, although this section could be a book in itself.
Successful Single-Sex Classrooms then gets to the heart of the matter—helping the two genders to succeed with different approaches and strategies. The authors recommend specific things for each: using movement, controlled space and light, flexible seating and tables for boys; and working on the emotional environment for girls. They then go into specific strategies for teaching each of the core subjects for each gender—helping both boys and girls to study their own learning styles and creating good learning environments using manipulatives and experiential learning for both groups.
To be perfectly honest, there is nothing magical about this book. But it does present a case for good solid instruction and classroom management, and many of the suggestions are applicable whether boys and girls are taught separately or in the same space. It summarizes how to set up classrooms that work and how to plan and set expectations that can be met by both teachers and students.
It would be well-placed on any teacher’s bookshelf. I like it very much and will keep it close while recommending it to other staff in my school.