Research led by Dr. Lorena Ortega on the inclusion of girls in math classes wins best paper award

“Inclusion of Girls in Chilean Mathematics Classrooms: Gender Bias in Teacher-Student Interaction Networks” is the title of the study that won the 2021 Best Paper Award in the Applied Educational Research category of the Journal for the Study of Education and Development (JSED). For one week, the report will be available for free download here.

This journal is an academic publication with a long history, “with a high impact factor (1.077) in the field of education and one of the few that publishes all its articles in both Spanish and English. It is a great honor for us that this collaborative work is recognized by the editors of the journal. This allows us to give international visibility and local attention to evidence of gender inequality in educational processes.. We hope to contribute to improving the learning opportunities for girls in Chilean mathematics classrooms,” commented Dr. Lorena Ortegaacademician at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Education of the University of Chile and researcher at the CIAE.

The investigation covered 79 mathematics classes in 43 institutions, mostly municipal in the Capital Region, in which 57 teachers taught 2295 students. Using social network analysis visualization techniques that have been applied to analyze everything from how interactions between friends influence participation in risky behaviors or the choice of particular fields of study to the field of political science, the team examined patterns of interactions in the classroom room.

It is the first work which, moreover, analyzed interactions in Chilean classrooms according to student gender, with video analysis, detailing content and who initiated interactions, and controlling student performance and their physical distance from the teacher. By interactions we mean those exchanges with at least one verbal turn between students and teachers.

In this line, different types of interactions were explored: pedagogical (focusing on the “academic” teaching process, such as explaining the subject, evaluating a student’s contribution or asking questions about the addressed content); those of instruction (which focus on the specific management of activities, such as arranging students into groups, dictating guidance); administrative (attendance, distribution of materials); and behavioral (controlling, encouraging and redirecting behaviour).

Results

The study found that girls interacted less frequently with their math teacher in interactions with different content, as well as in those initiated by the teacher and by the student. Overall, there were 23% fewer total teacher-initiated outcomes with girls than with boys. When only teacher-initiated pedagogical interactions are analyzed, girls have an average of 21% fewer interactions. These differences are observed statistically, controlling for math performance and each student’s physical distance from the teacher in the room, that is, the row where the student sits.

In addition to girls have less personalized interactions with teachers in teacher-initiated interactions (Teachers were observed to initiate private-type interactions with children significantly more often, i.e. only between teacher and student). Student academic achievement moderates these differences only in student-initiated pedagogical interactions. In other words, the bias towards high-achieving girls is maintained when they are initiated by teachers.

The inclusion of girls in classrooms is not explained by the gender of the teacher or the gender composition of the course: female students do not interact more with female teachers, even in predominantly female courses. “Although a significant gender bias against girls was found in most of the classrooms studied, differences between classrooms were also found, i.e. some classrooms include significantly more girls than others. This means that patterns of sexist interactions can be modified and that it is important to learn from the most inclusive classrooms and teachers,” explains researcher Lorena Ortega.

The first step to eradicating these gender biases in school is for these patterns of sexist interactions to become visible and for teachers to be sensitive as early as possible.I hope in their initial training, regarding these biases, which often act unconsciously”, adds the academician.

The study was led by Dr. Lorena Ortega, in collaboration with Dr. Ernesto Treviño and Dennis Gelber of Catholic University CJE.

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