Saturday, March 05, 2011

Gender Differences in Ability vs. Achievement

Here's an interesting explanation for gender differences in ability vs. achievement,  from "The Trouble With Bright Girls" in the Huffington Post:

"Psychologist Carol Dweck (author of "Mindset") conducted a series of studies in the 1980s, looking at how Bright Girls and boys in the fifth grade handled new, difficult and confusing material.

She found that Bright Girls, when given something to learn that was particularly foreign or complex, were quick to give up; the higher the girls' IQ, the more likely they were to throw in the towel. In fact, the straight-A girls showed the most helpless responses. Bright boys, on the other hand, saw the difficult material as a challenge, and found it energizing. They were more likely to redouble their efforts rather than give up.

Why does this happen? What makes smart girls more vulnerable and less confident when they should be the most confident kids in the room? At the 5th grade level, girls routinely outperform boys in every subject, including math and science. So there were no differences between these boys and girls in ability, nor in past history of success. The only difference was how bright boys and girls interpreted difficulty -- what it meant to them when material seemed hard to learn. Bright Girls were much quicker to doubt their ability, to lose confidence and to become less effective learners as a result.

Researchers have uncovered the reason for this difference in how difficulty is interpreted, and it is simply this: More often than not, Bright Girls believe that their abilities are innate and unchangeable, while bright boys believe that they can develop ability through effort and practice."

HT: Norman Berger


At 3/05/2011 2:14 PM, Blogger juandos said...

I got a better question, Is Psychology a Science?

At 3/05/2011 2:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am reminded of all of the Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, etc fairy tales, in which the female protaganist is born with what she's got. Her strengths may be hidden by evil forces, but one day her prince will come and discover her if only she is patient. She doesn't need to do anything but wait.

On the other hand, the prince, though not discussed, must find a steed, practice the art of war (or at least self defense), travel out into the world and constantly keep his eyes open for the hidden gem.

His life and hers is dependent on his skills alone.

At 3/05/2011 6:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have doubts about the conclusions of the study. My eldest daughter is quite bright, but she would give up on any problem or concept that she couldn't master within ten minutes.

I believe that the underlying reason is the elimination of ability tracking in public grade schools. I started kindergarden in 1960. Back then, students were grouped by ability at the start of second grade: the brightest 25-30 in one class, the next brightest 25-30 in another class, etc. (The lowest IQ students received special education.) Teachers with the brightest students would teach at a faster pace, cover more material, and present more advanced concepts. Bright kids were challenged throughout grade school.

Tracking was eliminated in nearly every public school in the 1980s because "professional educators" claimed it was racist and demeaning to the less bright students. (I believe that a student with an IQ of 75 would feel more demeaned in a class containing some students with IQs above 125 than in a class with IQs ranging from 70-95, but I only taught graduate students, medical students, and resident physicians, so what do I know?) Without tracking, a class can have kids with IQs from 70 to 150. Teaching is geared to the 90 IQ student. The brightest students coast through lessons (while being bored most of the time), and they get top grades with little effort. Thus, many of the bright kids (especially the girls who are less likely to be competitive outside class) have no experience handling challenges and get flustered or give up quickly.

At 3/06/2011 1:20 PM, Blogger E Cogniac said...

Girls cry, boys fight.

Ultimately, who wins debate in the end?

Seriously though I am intrigued by this study and what we may learn to encourage girls to over-ride this tendancy if it's true, although I am not seeing this in the field with the grade 5 age group in terms of focus and their development. The girls seem to be learning to multi-task whereas the boys seem to have 3 objectives at any one time, the three B's as I like to call them; the girls flip switches according reprioritizing on the fly.
Interestingly that at the earlier stages it seems to be the boys who are more emotional giving up easily and requesting assistance, while the girls focus on tasks until they have mastered it (ie doing their own zipper in JK)

Dr. T makes a good point though. Perhaps they need to be identified and grouped earlier (something that is being done quietly behind the scenes best as possible) and if the politicians would listen more to the professional educators instead of the voters we wouldn't be in the mess we are in.

As for the study, I fail to see complete negativity in girls figuring out early what their aptitude is and needing to be pushed to overcome difficulties in challenging areas. Using multiple intelligence scales and modalities of learning, we are at least finding out how to best address our form of teaching.

As for Cinderella et al, I believe she was successful in the end, no? And they all lived happily ever after...


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