If you ask teachers what keeps students from staying on task, the number one answer is "distractions." Many times, the number one distraction is the opposite sex. This is especially true in middle school, when students of one gender really start to notice the other. That's why some local educators are making the switch to single-gender classrooms.
Administrators say it's working at Orchard Knob Middle School. Reading/literacy scores for 8th graders jumped from 25.3 to 29.6 in the past two years, while math scores are up from 31.2 for 43.3. Principal Crystal Sorrells said the school's single-gender classes have contributed to the improvement.
Teacher Jamael Lett's 7th grade math class is for boys only. There's structure, discipline, and results. "You know they don't have to be someone they're not," Lett said. "They're not worried about some girl they're trying to attract."
It's also working at a charter school, just for girls: Chattanooga Girls Leadership Academy. The school has just been named to the state's Rewards list for progress.
CGLA Executive Director Elaine Swafford said, "A single gender school allows students to focus on their studies. These girls are more involved in learning,instead of how they look in the hallway or the classroom."
Studies have shown that the onset of puberty can trigger two types of classroom behaviors: shyness or showing off. Many girls are more willing to ask questions, and answer them in a classroom without boys.
Not just any teacher can adapt their lesson plan for two different types of students. At Orchard Knob Middle, teachers do a quick turnaround from dealing with all boys in one class, to all girls the next. They're teaching the same subject, but in very different ways.
Teacher Reginald Owens said, "With the boys, it's more regimented. With the girls, it's more relaxed. The expression on my face can't be as stern."
Orchard Knob single gender classes are for 7th and 8th graders, in math and literacy. The school had struggled for years with those core subjects, and teachers now believe this is the best way to prepare their students for high school. Principal Sorrells said, "Any way we can decrease the stress and anxiety, we're better off."
Critics of single gender classes say boys and girls need as much real world classroom experience as possible. After all, in college and the workplace, they'll be dealing with the opposite sex, all of the time. But proponents say there will be plenty of time for that. For now, it's more important to make sure they're learning the basic tools they'll need, without distractions.
The success of CGLA is already spurring talk of a similar school for boys. At Orchard Knob Middle School, if single gender classroom scores continue to improve, the program is likely to spread to other schools That is most likely to occur in 7th and 8th grades, the years that many students begin falling behind.