Lots of studies have shown that not all students participate equally in class, not only when volunteering to speak, but also when questioned by teachers.
At Lab School Paris, we felt like we were promoting speaking up fairly and listening to all students. However, it was the arrival of a young researcher who observed student councils that helped teachers and students become aware of gender bias in speaking. For example, the researcher demonstrated that boys were speaking much more often, and when they did speak, they spoke for longer periods than girls. The interventions of boys were also not of the same nature as those of girls: they made fewer proposals, more criticisms, and sought less compromise.
Research also shows how these biases play a role in different academic topics, especially regarding STEM. For example, in mathematics, much work has shown that, although they are not aware of it, teachers question boys more often, ask them more complex questions that provoke more thought, and encourage them more. Typically, teachers ask girls to recall knowledge or information they have already seen, while they ask boys to construct new or more elaborate knowledge.
Other studies (Mosconi, 2001) have also shown that boys speak much more often spontaneously, while girls wait to be questioned. Students from more privileged backgrounds are also questioned more often, but the difference between boys and girls is also expressed for the same social background.
This implies that some need to dare to speak up, and to keep it, and that others need to learn to regulate their speaking and to listen more to others. Teachers can help all their students achieve these differentiated goals, so as to encourage equal participation, which is the key to democratic organization.
Indeed, Everyone’s voice it is about helping all students build a sense that they are legitimate to speak, that their voice counts and should be heard – just as they need to develop the habit of listening to all members of a group and developing their acceptance of speaking that may be less skillful or of a different style than their own.