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27 Jan 2017

5 tried-and-tested ways to get girls to speak out in class

The benefits of encouraging girls to talk clearly, confidently and with the expectation of being listened to, have implications way beyond the classroom. Only 5.5% of women in the UK hold the top job in FTSE 100 companies, and business is a sphere where clear, confident articulation of a view and the ability to get a message across is key to success.


While not all women and girls are aiming for these heady heights, it is fair to say that the ability to communicate clearly and confidently is one key aspect of success in all walks of life and in virtually all careers. It also comes in useful in everyday life whether it’s getting a message across to the doctor about the need for medical care or speaking out in front of a group to support something you care passionately about in your local community.


It’s a tricky area to talk about and we all have to be mindful of not falling into the trap of gender stereotyping, and some of what I’m saying equally applies to boys who are reluctant to speak out. Having said that, a lot of what follows is based on what I’ve learnt from a wholly inspirational, female PSHE teacher who is brilliant at inspiring girls with the confidence to speak out. This is her experience talking, and with a proven track record of encouraging girls to be confident, articulate and willing to contribute to a discussion, I’m listening and learning.


I’m also drawing on information and insights from The Girls’ Day School Trust report on Effective Pedagogy for Girls’ Learning (2016) which has very helpful insights and ‘coal-face’ experience into girls’ learning styles, honed over many years.


So, with thanks to that inspirational female teacher and to the GDST, here are some tips that might just help you encourage the girls in your classroom to speak out:


  1. A structured, classroom debate is a great place to get girls contributing to the conversation. And I’m not talking about the sort of debate where you are asking for volunteers to support or oppose a motion, which can be too scary to engage with and always attracts the same few people. I’m thinking, rather, of a bite-sized exploration on a topic, which allows whole-class contribution. Choose a topical issue which inspires maximum engagement, and you’ll be doing everything possible to make sure you have equal contributions from both boys and girls.


  1. Girls often seem to be more willing to speak out in smaller groups. Try running the debate during Tutor Time where there are fewer people. For those girls who are really lacking in confidence, try paired discussions, brining in contribution when there is more engagement.


  1. With girls often observed as being unwilling to indulge in any conflict or disagreement, particularly with other girls, it’s worthwhile teaching them that an element of open-minded, healthy disagreement isn’t the end of the world and can lead to quality exchange of views. It’s OK to disagree! Try encouraging use of expressions which ‘capture’ the disagreement such as “The evidence suggests something different to what you’re saying…”, or direct non-confrontational statements: “I’m not clear on what you’re saying: what are you basing the evidence for your argument on?”


  1. Get the talk, the views and the exchange flowing as naturally as possible. Using a carefully put-together resource to inform the debate, with facts, figures and snippets of information, encourages girls to confidently contribute and feel less intimidated having to pull-out a ready-made view which they then have to support. An evidence-base is a great support and start-point.


  1. The UK educational system often models a right-or-wrong answer where careful preparation and rote learning can be rewarded over originality of thinking and considered risk-taking. In later life, business often rewards the latter. Use the debate as a forum where girls can safely take risks and understand that there isn’t always a right or wrong answer.  A Critical Thinking teacher quoted in the GDCT Report states: “Some girls are initially terrified, panic in extreme that they don’t have the ‘right’ answer, but I try to help them, systematically, logically, to move outside their comfort zone…it can be agonising for them.” Modelling in your own behaviour, teaching style and vocabulary that life is often nuanced, with many shades of grey between the black and the white, is a great way to encourage this risk-taking in girls.


Hope that’s helpful and, as ever, please share your comments!


I’ll leave you with a quote from Helen Fraser’s speech to the GDST Annual Conference 2016 to inspire us all:


“I want every girl to leave school not just with a clutch of As and A stars, if that is what they need, but more importantly to leave knowing that they have had a fantastic education, and that they have within themselves the courage, confidence, composure and commitment to be their own inner – and outer – cheerleaders.”


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