Gender neutral

Single-sex classrooms no ticket to student success

Date published: 2008-02-25 1:08:10 PM

For years educators have debated whether single-sex schools help children succeed. But according to education professor Roch Chouinard at the Université de Montréal, gender-specific classes have little impact on the quality of instruction, students’ motivation or their academic performance.

In single-sex and co-educational high schools across Montréal, Chouinard studied the motivation levels of boys and girls in mathematics and language arts—two subjects where one gender stereotypically excels.

“My study confirmed that student motivation isn’t influenced by whether a school or classroom is co-ed or single-sex,” Chouinard reports. “No matter what, students who are supported and stimulated by their teachers always have the best chance for academic success.”

In fact, he says it is the teachers, not the gender mix of the class, which creates a good learning environment. Teachers who show their students they have confidence in their ability to succeed, who emphasize developing students’ skills and their interest in the course material—while explaining the importance of the material taught—and who use diverse methods of teaching and evaluation, usually end up with highly-motivated students.

Allowing students to manage their own time—while discreetly guiding their choices—and helping students establish and work towards their own objectives also help improve student motivation, says Chouinard.

But it’s not all teachers. Parents who take a real interest in their children’s studies also have a positive influence on student motivation, he says. For example, by encouraging their children to read outside of school and by being readers themselves, they demonstrate the value they place on language and literature. And this can be a most powerful motivation, even inspiration, for their children to do well in these subjects.

Other conditions can produce just the opposite effect, such as when classrooms leave students without a sense of belonging, when the teacher or principal is not clear or consistent about discipline, when students disparage one another’s academic success, or when teachers encourage unhealthy competition among their pupils.

“It is essential to understand how student motivation—or the lack of it—affects academic success,” says Chouinard. “If we know what motivates students and what inspires them to persevere, it’s much easier to develop curricula and teaching methods that meet their needs—and that help prevent students from dropping out.”

Roch Chouinard’s research on motivation and academic performance is supported by SSHRC’s Standard Research Grants program.