Eighteen Ways to Warm Up the Chilly Climate
Bernice R. Sandler

Good teachers obviously want to be fair to all of their students. Many of the recommendations listed below are directly aimed at helping faculty members treat male and female students equitably. Some could be described as ideas for helping teachers become better teachers; others are aimed specifically at ensuring that females receive encouragement and opportunities to participate.

However, many of the recommendations are useful not only for females but can help warm the climate for everyone and can be adapted for use with other diverse groups.

1.  Examine your teaching behavior to see which students get the most and best responses from you. Have someone video your class if possible, or use a tape recorder. Analyze who talks the most, who talks the least, whom you call on to speak, who gets praise, criticism and feedback, who gets called by name, who gets coached, who gets credit for a contribution, etc., and develop a plan to increase participation of those who need to participate more.

Examine how you use the following:

   praise for a specific achievement

   criticism or evaluation (feedback on performance)

   remediation or correction (help and suggestions for improvement)

   acceptance (such as "OK" or "uh-huh."

The first three are important in student learning; the last, acceptance, merely acknowledges that a student has spoken, and passively implies that nothing very good or very bad was said.

2.  Use praise as a deliberate strategy, coupled with feedback about the quality of work and what if anything needs to be done. Praise about appearance, or "uh-huh" or "OK" does not count as praise and bears little relationship to learning or intellectual self esteem. Praise good answers for all students. Sometimes males are praised for their talents ("You're really smart,") and females for their hard work ("I can see you put a lot of work into this.")

3.  Give criticism in the form of a question, where possible. ("How would your answer be if you took into account the environmental impact" rather than "Your answer is wrong because you did not mention the impact of the environment.") Include praise along with criticism and include specific ways to improve, such as "I know you can do better. You need to redo the experiment and keep an eye on the fluid levels," or, "This isn't up to your usual standard of very good work. You need to include more descriptions of the problems."

4.  Don't always call on the first hand that goes up. Tell everyone to think about the answer and not to raise their hand until you tell them to do so. Alternatively, ask students to write down their answer for themselves (or one element of the answer) and only then ask for their comments. (Males are more likely to raise their hands quickly and organize their answer as they speak, while many females, along with some males, are more likely to organize their answer first and then raise their hand.) Many students are more willing to participate once they have worked out their response.

5.  "Coach" females as well as males, especially in mathematics, the sciences and computer usage. Coaching conveys the belief that the student is bright enough to say more. Use questions such as "Why do you think that is?" or statements such as "Tell me more about this." Using questions that have no "wrong" answer, such as "What kinds of questions do you have about today's [yesterday's] lesson?" also encourages students to participate.

6.  When you ask the class a question, look at all students, not just males, not just the students you consider bright, not just the white students or those you expect to respond.  Be sure to look at females as well.

Eye contact often indicates to students that you expect them to respond and often they will.

7.  Listen attentively to all students when they speak, even if their answer is wrong, even if they speak slowly or hesitantly, or speak English as a second language. Listening attentively to males, such as nodding and gesturing, but shuffling papers, looking elsewhere and avoiding eye contact, is a common form of differential treatment of female students.

8.  Intervene when male students show disrespect for female students (or the reverse) through overt comments or negative body language.

9.   Do not allow students to interrupt each other. (Male students often interrupt female students.) Examine your own interruptions of students.

10.  Use small groups to foster cooperative, rather than competitive learning. Tell all students that one of the aims of working in small groups is for everyone to encourage each other to participate, to take turns speaking, and to respect each others' contributions; otherwise, the groups replicate sexual stereotyping, with males as the more active participants. Students need to know why it is important to learn to work in groups. (One teacher tells students how that many decisions in the workplace and work itself are often accomplished by groups.) Leadership should be rotated, with group leaders told that part of their responsibility is to encourage everyone to speak. (Note: females are not singled out.)

11.  Avoid stories, jokes and comments that denigrate women and girls. Most jokes about women demean females. Talking about sex or women in a humorous way makes many females uncomfortable. Comments that lump all females (or males) together can often be harmful. Even positive comments, such as "The women in this class are much more responsible and they all turn in their assignments on time." can create a chilly climate, especially since it is likely to untrue for all females and likely to be true for some males. It is better to single out individuals for praise, feedback and criticism/remediation, and to characterize or group students in ways other than by gender, race or ethnicity.

12.  In giving credit to students' contributions, be sure to give it to females as much as males and to the right person. Often males get more credit for their contributions, and sometimes even get credit for something a female said. Giving credit ("What Mary said summarizes the issue perfectly." is a very powerful form of praise.

13.  Judge females' (and males') contributions to the class by the contents of their ideas rather than by the style of their speech. Do not assume that an incisive, assured style equals knowledge, or that a hesitant style equals ignorance. Do not assume that females (or males) who preface their remarks with an apology ("I don't know if this makes sense but...) are not bright or do not know the materials.

14.  Use parallel terminology in describing both genders, such as "men and women," or "boys and girls," not "girls and men." Use "he or she" rather than the generic "he" or words such as "mankind." Doing so communicates a concern about gender equity, and shakes up stereotypes about gender behavior. Additionally, research shows that the use of the generic "he" is typically viewed by listeners as pertaining to males only.

15.  Do not group students by gender, since such groupings often imply that females are not as qualified as males. Do not group people by gender in order to have each gender compete with the other. In most instances, grouping students by gender violates Title IX, which prohibits sex discrimination in education.

16.  Do not make seemingly helpful remarks that disparage females' abilities, such as "I know that a lot of females have trouble with math so I'll be happy to help anyone who needs extra assistance."

17.  Ask males and females the same kinds of questions; avoid asking males the critical thinking questions and females the factual and easier questions.

18.  Call females by name as well as males.  Often teachers are surprised to learn they know more names of male students than those of females, and call males by name more often.  Be sure to use parelell names, such as all last names or all first names.  Calling males by their last name and females by their first name implies that the women are seen as less serious students.

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These recommendations are from The Chilly Classroom Climate: A Guide To Improve The Education Of Women by Bernice Resnick Sandler, Lisa A. Silverberg and Roberta M. Hall, published by the National Association of Women, 1325 - 18th St., NW, Suite 210, Washington, DC 20036-6511. It can be ordered for $10 at www.nawe.org.

The book describes more than 50 ways in which males and females are treated differently in the classroom, and examines key issues such as how gender afects the classroom, the influence of teaching style and pedagogy, intersections of race and gender, the importance of including women in the curriculum, and how gender affects faculty evaluation. More than 270 recommendations for action that administrators, department chairs, and faculty members--and even students themselves--can take to improve the classroom climate for females and other groups are also included.

Bernice R. Sandler, Senior Scholar in Residence at the Women's Research and Education Institute, consults extensively with institutions and others about women's equity, including sexual harassment, discrimination, and the chilly climate. She has given over 2000 presentations, written many articles, and serves as an expert witness in discrimination cases. Sandler can be contacted at:

Bernice R. Sandler
Senior Scholar, Women's Research and Education Institute
1350 Connecticut Avenue, Suite 850, Washington, DC 20036
Phone: 202 833 3331   Fax: 202 785 5605
E-mail: sandler@bernicesandler.com
Website: bernicesandler.com