When being a girl matters less: Accessibility of gender-related knowledge in single-sex and coeducational classes and its impact on students’ physics-related self-concept of ability

Freie Universitaet Berlin, FB Psychology and Educational Studies, Germany.
British Journal of Educational Psychology (Impact Factor: 2). 07/2008; 78(Pt 2):273-89. DOI: 10.1348/000709907X215938
Source: PubMed


Establishing or preserving single-sex schooling has been widely discussed as a way of bringing more girls into the natural sciences.
We test the assumption that the beneficial effects of single-sex education on girls' self-concept of ability in masculine subjects such as physics are due to the lower accessibility of gender-related self-knowledge in single-sex classes.
N=401 eighth-graders (mean age 14.0 years) from coeducational comprehensive schools.
Random assignment of students to single-sex vs. coeducational physics classes throughout the eighth grade. At the end of the year, students' physics-related self-concept of ability was measured using a questionnaire. In a subsample of N=134 students, the accessibility of gender-related self-knowledge during physics classes was assessed by measuring latencies and endorsement of sex-typed trait adjectives.
Girls from single-sex physics classes reported a better physics-related self-concept of ability than girls from coeducational classes, while boys' self-concept of ability did not vary according to class composition. For both boys and girls, gender-related self-knowledge was less accessible in single-sex classes than in mixed-sex classes. To the extent that girls' feminine self-knowledge was relatively less accessible than their masculine self-knowledge, their physics-related self-concept of ability improved at the end of the school year.
By revealing the importance of the differential accessibility of gender-related self-knowledge in single- and mixed-sex settings, our study clarifies why single-sex schooling helps adolescents to gain a better self-concept of ability in school subjects that are considered inappropriate for their own sex.

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    • "Recently , following research that showed that single - sex education ameliorates girls ' performance , a call has surfaced to implement single - sex education for boys as well , in order to counter the latter ' s underachievement ( Warrington and Younger 2001 ) . However , our findings seem to endorse the viewpoint that coeducation seems to be the best way of organising schools for boys ( Kessels and Hannover 2008 ; Lavy and Schlosser 2011 ; Lee and Bryk 1986 ; Van Houtte 2004 ) . The presence of girls at school may encourage boys to underscore school values and conform to school rules , thereby counteracting the influence of the ' laddish ' culture ( Jackson 2002 ; Warrington , Younger , and Williams 2000 ) . "
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    • "In a randomized experiment, Kessels and Hannover (2008) show that girls reported a significantly higher self-concept of physics-ability after being taught in single-sex classes. About 400 students in Berlin were randomly assigned to mixed and singlesex classes in physics throughout the 8 th grade. "
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