Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Grouping Strategies and Gender Equity

Hi IBL Community! This is a post on some (but not all) grouping strategies to setup a more equitable learning environment. The main idea I'll focus on in this post is gender. I setup a hypothetical situation of 8 students (2 women, 6 men) to illustrate the point. Few people teach classes with only 8 students, and the point here is to get across grouping strategies that can be scaled up. So 8 isn't really important here. It just makes the diagrams more useful.  The letter W is for a woman, and M is for a man. I know it's not binary. These are the assumptions for this and only this example to help illustrate grouping strategies. Individual personalities of course play a role, and ultimately dealing with individuals is another important layer, which I set aside for this post.

With all that said, let's get into the examples...

Example 1: women are in groups of four, where all the other members of the group are men. This can create an environment, where women engage at levels lower due to being the only woman in the group and all that.

Example 2: One easy remedy is to regroup so that both women are in the same group. This can balance the interactions.

Example 3: Using smaller groups has advantages. Moving to groups of size three or two, enable a situation where one group has two women and one man, and the other groups are all men.

Example 4: When using pairs (which I use often), no one is in the minority.

Caveats: Grouping strategies by themselves are not enough, and we need to remind ourselves that teaching is a system. There does not exist a magic grouping strategy that solves all equity issues. What grouping strategies can do is help set the "physical" environment more conducive to equity. Good, solid teaching must still be present, and the instructor has to be highly aware of what is going on, which personalities need encouragement to speak, and which personalities need encouragement to listen more.

I spend a lot of time on these kinds of details. Attention to details and attention to the big picture are hard to juggle, and requires careful thought and planning. But when classes are working well, when students respect each other as individuals and teammates, then it's completely worth the extra preparation and planning. The best part for me is seeing the team spirit and the community take form, and seeing students flourish!