Single Sex Classroom Formats:
How Do Students Benefit?
The studies regarding single-sex classrooms in elementary schools often boast shockingly positive results: a 2008 Stetson University study in Florida found that teaching single-sex math classes in fourth grade increased proficiency scores on the FCAT by 27 percent for girls and 30 percent for boys. A 2005 Cambridge University study that examined single-sex classrooms across the country found that separating genders significantly increased male performance in the language arts and significantly increased female performance in math and science.
But the benefits of same-sex classrooms do not end at improvements in achievement and higher standardized test scores. For example, both genders are more likely to explore different subjects and test their boundaries in all-boys or all-girls environments. Dozens of studies come to the same conclusion: girls who learn in single-sex classrooms are more likely to take advanced math and science courses, such as calculus and physics, as they progress through school, while boys in single-sex learning environments are twice as likely to study foreign language, art, theater, and music.
While same-gender classrooms boost achievement and broaden horizons, they also help both boys and girls gain self-confidence and focus. A 2009 study of fifth graders at Boiling Springs Intermediate School in South Carolina found that 65 percent of girls gained self-confidence while 58 percent of boys gained independence. Both boys and girls reported increased motivation, better focus, better enjoyment of school, and an increased ability to pay attention to lessons.
Why are single-sex schools and classrooms more successful than mixed-gender teaching environments?
Researchers have found two major contributing factors: students are less distracted by cultural gender stereotypes (girls can’t do math, boys shouldn’t take drama) and teachers are better able to apply best teaching practices for their sex. While it is true that not all girls learn the same way and not all boys learn the same way, there are certainly some patterns and strategies worthy exploring. Girls mature more quickly than boys but generally need more help with self-assurance, while boys generally face a larger enthusiasm gap and require a greater focus on social adjustment. In both cases, same-sex classrooms eliminate distractions and increase focus – two things that lend more time to learning.
In some cases, schools are creating same-sex classrooms only for the subjects that most assist student learning – such as math and English. This allows school systems to reap the greatest benefits of single-sex learning while also allowing for co-educational and mixed gender environments during other parts of the school day. But whether or not your school decides on some form of single-sex learning, important lessons can be taken away from the research conducted on learning in single-sex classrooms.