Language is a tool of communication that reveals a lot about what we think and believe and therefore must be used carefully. Inappropriate language use can transmit negative messages and inhibit learning. A boy or girl whose teacher constantly tells them “you are stupid”, may actually come to believe this to be true, with potential for a negative impact on academic performance.
A teacher’s constant use of harsh, abusive and threatening language may instil fear in the students and hinder communication between them. Language can also reinforce gender differences and inequalities and in the classroom often reﬂects male dominance and relegates females to an inferior position. By contrast, a teacher can enhance students’ performance by using encouraging, inclusive language in the classroom.
By the end of this unit, the teacher should be able to:
- Relate the implications of using language that is not gender
- Use appropriate gender responsive language in their classroom
Language use in the classroom that is gender responsive treats boys and girls as equal partners and provides a conducive learning environment for both. Teachers need to re-examine the kind of language they use, to ensure that it is gender responsive.
Gender biases are expressed through language that reveals the belief that girls cannot perform as well as boys, or that boys should not allow themselves to be outperformed by girls academically – or in any other way. Teachers often discourage girls from taking science by telling them that such subjects are for boys or are too difﬁcult for girls. When a girl is assertive, she is told to stop behaving like a boy, and when a boy cries, he is cautioned to stop behaving like a woman.
At a less personal level, teachers should be conscious of gender biases inherent in some languages and make an effort to avoid gender speciﬁc pronouns where possible so as not to exclude one gender.
But spoken language is only part of the equation. Much offensive communication is not verbal. An indifferent shrug of the shoulders or rolling of the eyes suggests that the student is too foolish or bothersome to warrant attention. Other gestures and body language, such as winking, touching, brushing, grabbing and other moves may be overtly sexual. This type of communication may go unnoticed by others for a long time, but it can be extremely damaging to classroom participation to the one at whom the communication is targeted. It is also difﬁcult for the victim to take action to stop it because there is often no tangible evidence. Most sexual harassment occurs and escalates in this way.
You can watch the video below on gender inclusive language use in classroom.
- Analyse the gender responsiveness of language use in classroom interactions by doing the following:
- In collaboration with the students, identify terms that are used to refer to girls and to boys. Discuss whether these terms are negative or positive and what is the impact of their use on the boys and
- In collaboration with the students, identify the non-verbal communication among students and between teachers and students- Discuss whether the communication is negative or positive and the impact of its use on girls and boys.
- Analyse the language used in the teaching and learning materials you are From a gender perspective, is any of it negative? If so, how are you going to change it?