Who Speaks and Who Listens: Cultivating Gender Equity in the Classroom

DCAL recently welcomed Janice McCabe, Associate Professor of Sociology, and Jennifer Jiwon Lee '17 to present their scholarship on the "chilly climate" that exists for women in college classrooms. McCabe and Lee's work examines whether this chilly climate, identified by researchers more than 40 years ago, persists in the contemporary college classroom. Lee, now a doctoral student in Sociology at Indiana University Bloomington, conducted qualitative and quantitative observations in nine Dartmouth classrooms across multiple disciplines. Their findings, published recently in Gender & Society (available via Dartmouth Library), reflect that men speak 1.6 times as often as women, interrupt, use more assertive language, and engage in prolonged conversations during class more than women.

During the session, McCabe and Lee reviewed their findings and shared a number of strategies for addressing this participation gap to cultivate greater equity among students.  Their recommendations include:

Change the Format

Swap full-class, open format discussions for more structured approaches: 

  • Use a "think-pair-share" discussion format to engage students in conversation with one another.
  • Collect student comments and questions on notecards during class, then use them to guide the discussion.
  • Invite students to respond to class content in written form before or after class using response journals or discussion boards.
  • Incorporate written responses into class discussion, inviting students to elaborate on or respond to their submissions.
  • Actively manage verbal participation: ask students to raise hands and wait to be called on.
  • Institute a 10-second rule requiring silent "think time" before inviting verbal responses.
  • Toss a beach ball or pass a talking stick to signify who has the floor, or ask each speaker to "popcorn" by selecting someone to speak next.

Create an Intentional Culture   

  • Build student investment in the class and in one another by co-creating class norms and agreements for participation.
  • Regularly revisit class norms and agreements to normalize holding one another accountable.
  • Share the research about gender dynamics and participation differences in college classrooms to raise awareness among students.
  • Introduce metacognition by inviting students to notice whether they tend to be more eager or hesitant to participate verbally in class.
  • Include a statement on your syllabus and/or discuss your policies and expectations regarding equity and class participation.
  • Cultivate students' sense of expertise and autonomy as co-creators of knowledge, positioning yourself alongside them as a guide.

Read More

Tanner, K.D. (2013). Structure matters: Twenty-one teaching strategies to promote student engagement and cultivate classroom equity. CBE: Life Sciences Education, Vol. 12, 322-331.

Rankin, J. and MacDowell, R. MIT Teaching & Learning Lab. (2021). How to overcome Zoom's algorithmic bias. Retrieved April 28, 2021 from https://tll.mit.edu/how-to-overcome-zooms-algorithmic-bias/.