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Old 08-12-2007, 09:00 PM   #1
Jesse
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Single-sex classes may come soon to a school near you

Why do so many action movies, such as current box office sensation The Bourne Ultimatum, start with chase scenes and then retrace to build the plot?

Answer: Look around the theater. See all those guys in the audience?

Males prefer stories that open with action, a research finding that teachers in all-boy classrooms have adapted to make reading more appealing to their students.

That kind of practical advice should come in handy later this month and next, when an estimated 300-plus districts across the USA begin experiments with single-gender classes or schools.

Those experiments arise from Education Department regulations issued last fall that cleared a legal path for single-sex public education. School leaders who are following that path say they are looking for a way to jump-start academic performance, particularly among boys.

Given how boys as a whole are lagging behind girls in almost every measure of classroom achievement, the experiments are worthwhile. Simply separating the sexes, however, is not a recipe for success. Single-sex classes thrive only with a lot of planning and the application of research that shows how boys and girls learn differently.

That research generates scores of practical tips, in addition to the one about using narrative tension or action to hook boys on reading. Others include setting different temperatures (boys prefer chillier classrooms), encouraging girls to be a little more noisy, allowing boys to move around more, and being tolerant of boys who want to write about things such as space warfare.

Unfortunately, when the Education Department issued its single-gender guidelines, it offered no guidance on how to make them work.

So it has been up to principals such as Skyles Calhoun, at Woodbridge Middle School in a Virginia suburb of Washington, to be pioneers. At Woodbridge, which will begin offering single-sex classes this fall, girls outperform boys in all subjects, except for upper-level math and upper-level science.

To prepare, Calhoun spent a full year researching the issue with his teachers and tracking down the experts. All the teachers who will handle single-gender classes have now been trained in gender learning differences.

Unlike Calhoun, however, many of the principals involved in these experiments appear to have done little planning and just a few months of research. Schools with untrained teachers and uninvolved parents aren't likely to achieve much, says Leonard Sax, founder of the National Association for Single Sex Public Education.

Single-sex classes or schools aren't the only way to address the educational gender gap. Some coeducational schools have found ways to push up academic performance for boys and girls alike.

There is, however, considerable evidence that many students can do better with gender-specific learning approaches and without the distractions of the opposite sex. Many boys-only and girls-only private schools have long traditions of success. Only careful planning and research will determine whether separating the sexes becomes a useful tool in public schools, or yet another discarded educational fad.

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