Are girls better than boys at learning

Gender differences : Do girls and boys learn differently?

Regardless of whether a girl or a boy - the laws of learning are universal: We learn through conditioning, on the model and through understanding and storing new information. Nonetheless, the results of school learning differ between the sexes:

  • In standardized test procedures, girls show higher language skills than boys, who in turn are superior to girls in the MINT subjects - even if not in all studies.
  • In terms of their actual skills, girls rate themselves as less good than boys. This discrepancy is particularly evident in the MINT subjects.
  • If they have the choice - for advanced courses, for example - girls are more likely to opt for linguistic domains and boys more for MINT domains.
  • Girls get better grades than boys, also when measured against their actual skills. This is the reason why they are underrepresented in lower school forms and overrepresented in higher school types and obtain higher education certificates.

These differences are evident even though girls and boys are equally intelligent on average. So can they possibly be explained by the fact that the sexes differ in their learning behavior? Gender differences that are particularly well documented empirically are the following.

Gender differences in the use of learning opportunities: In social interactions, children acquire gender stereotypes, that is, ideas of how male and female people - supposedly - are or should be. Children want to conform to these stereotypes: Especially in pre-school and elementary school age, they prefer to do things that they think “fit” their gender. This lays the foundation for gender-dependent self-assessments and preferences in school, which then lead to gender differences in skills.

Gender differences in self-regulation: Girls act self-directed earlier and more likely than boys. Self-control means that the person concerned sets their own goals (for example: “I want to write a good grade”), develops plans to achieve them (“I study for half an hour every day”) and, based on self-observation, the approach to goals monitored ("I let myself be queried in order to rework specifically").

Learners need to be encouraged to pursue interests and activities that are not typical of their gender.

A lack of self-control is not only associated with poor school grades, but is also held responsible for aggressive problem behavior, which is observed more often in boys than in girls: Here an anger impulse is spontaneously translated into behavior without weighing one's own goals and possible consequences. The boys' lower self-control competence can explain why girls get better grades and are more often recommended to higher school types, where not only self-directed learning, but also adapted social behavior is expected.

What can teachers and school administrators do?

A school in which girls and boys can develop their individual skills without restriction from gender stereotypes requires teachers and management who take scientific knowledge of gender differences into account in their professional activities: They know that gender differences are largely generated by gender stereotypes and that learners need to be encouraged to pursue interests and activities that are not “typical of their gender”.

For this, it can also make sense to teach in single-educational groups from time to time, for example in science lessons or in sports. Experience shows that self-assessments with regard to subject domains or activities which in the eyes of the students “do not match their gender” are strengthened if deficits in previous knowledge or lower previous experience in separate-sex groups can be compensated for before continuing to learn together.

Teachers are important models

Gender-sensitive teachers and school administrators also ask themselves critically whether they have different expectations towards girls and boys. They are aware that they are important model persons themselves, who either confirm gender stereotypes through their own behavior or show that one can act competently and socially acceptable even in domains that are untypical for one's own gender.

Particularly good schools want to offer lessons in which intrinsic forms of motivation are encouraged by taking back external control by the teacher. Didactic decisions about how much external control is required should, however, be made dependent on how strong the self-control competence of the respective learner is already developed.

A realistic self-assessment supports learning

A prerequisite for self-directed learning is a realistic self-assessment, which should be encouraged by individual, continuous feedback from the teacher that is related to the learning process rather than the learning outcome. Girls may benefit from their more modest self-assessments, which can explain, for example, why they spend more time on homework than boys.

Another form of supporting self-directed learning is a learning diary, the use of which should be accompanied by the teacher. And finally, teachers should also take on control functions in learning arrangements that are controlled by students, for example by pre-structuring group work processes or explicitly formulating tasks for the various phases of self-control. Learners with low self-control skills can benefit from such measures not only in acquiring technical, but also social skills.