Cover Image
close this bookGender and School Achievement in the Caribbean - Education Research Paper No. 21 (DFID, 1997, 126 p.)
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentDepartment for International Development - Education papers
View the documentList of other DFID education papers available in this series
View the documentAcknowledgements
View the document1. Introduction
View the document2. Secondary school classrooms in Trinidad
View the document3. Primary school classrooms in Trinidad
Open this folder and view contents4. Barbados study: Quantitative survey and case studies
View the document5. St Vincent: Quantitative survey
View the document6. Summary of the studies
View the document7. References

2. Secondary school classrooms in Trinidad


The following chapter focuses on whether there are differential learning strategies and opportunities for boys and girls found at the classroom level and whether these strategies and opportunities are related to the status of their secondary schools. The report is presented in basic themes derived from an analysis of classroom observation transcripts of the Trinidad school experience offered to boys and girls. This chapter was based on a previously obtained quantitative assessment of school achievement in Trinidad and the need to develop insights into qualitative and longitudinal classroom processes.

The information collected represents a focused observational and comparative approach using ethnographic techniques to note classroom strategies and interactions. The information is based on case studies of children and their teachers in class. These case studies focused on secondary schools only and explored classroom learning strategies among boys and girls, in high and low status schools, across a range of subjects (English, social studies, sciences, mathematics) and at distinct age groups. Permission was sought to undertake the study from the Ministry of Education (Republic of Trinidad and Tobago). Upon gaining permission from the Ministry, particular schools were identified and approached for their willingness to participate. Names of schools, teachers and students are suitably disguised such that their confidentiality is maintained.

Secondary schools selected to participate in the study represented extremes of high status 7-year and lower status junior secondary and senior comprehensive schools that characterise the stratified educational system in Trinidad and Tobago. Virtually all secondary schools in Trinidad and Tobago are government funded. The types of secondary schools vary in a hierarchical fashion from prestige 7-year schools (which include First through Sixth Form) to prestige 5-year schools (First through Fifth Form) to junior secondary schools (First through Third Form) and senior comprehensive schools (Fourth through Sixth Form). Classes were observed over a period from May to the following March and included the transition from First to Second Forms in the prestige and junior secondary schools, and the transfer from Third to Fourth Forms in the prestige school and Fourth Form only in the senior comprehensive school. These groups provide a range of student experience from the newly acclimatised to those familiar with their school. Observations did not interfere with the Caribbean Examination Council (CXC) Examination preparation. With the cooperation of the University of the West Indies, the Ministry of Education and schools, information was obtained including:

a) Common Entrance Examination (CEE) Scores: a national examination given to all children at the end of primary school. Results are used as the main selection criteria for entry into particular secondary schools.

b) within-class performance: at the end of each term, students are examined in each subject using teacher-made tests. These tests provide information that ranks the child in class and informs the child of any progress.

c) student behaviour, interaction and social competence in class.



This school was typical of junior secondary schools, the type of government school that most children attend upon passing their CEE. The school provided education in Forms One through Three for children who were not accepted into or did not desire to go to the prestige 5-year or 7-year secondary schools. A Form One class was randomly selected for observation. The average CEE score for the class was 98.7, ranging from 62 at the lowest to 128 at the highest. The lowest and highest scores were found among the girls. Although there was a difference in average scores between boys and girls (boys = 97, girls = 100), this difference was not significant. School A is located in an urban area outside the capital (Port-of-Spain).


The 7-year prestige school selected was a government secondary school. The student population was coeducational and the school drew students from a similar catchment area as School A. As School B was a 7-year school, students were admitted on the basis of high scoring levels on their CEE. A Form One class was randomly selected for observation. The average CEE score for School B Form One students was 154.49 with a minimum score of 138 and maximum of 168. CEE scores were significantly higher than those of students in School A (F1,71= 401.345, p<.0001) in School B. Quantitative measures showed no significant difference between CEE scores of boys and girls (male average = 155.41, female average = 153.61).


Within the 7-year school a Form Three moving to Form Four mixed ability class was randomly selected for observation. This class, like the Form One to Two class, had all passed the CEE with good scores. The class CEE average was 159.6, and there was no difference between the average male and female scores: male average = 159.35, female average = 159.93.


School C was a government funded Senior Comprehensive School in the same geographic location as School A, the Junior Secondary. The main student intake was from junior secondary schools, thus the CEE profile was expected to be lower than the profile generated by students at the same form level but attending 5 year and 7 year schools. Due to constraints imposed on the schedule for observations, this school was only observed in the September term. At this time, the students had recently arrived from a number of junior secondary schools, and there were no previous classroom examination results to assess the levels of attainment for the boys and girls. The class observed was randomly selected from among the Form Four mixed ability classes. The class contained an imbalance between males and females; 8 males to 29 females. This imbalance statistic may be telling of the male drop-out from the upper forms of secondary education. A comparison of the CEE results showed no significant difference between males and females; the male average was 103 and the female average was 108.7.


A researcher with previous experience of classroom observation and recording was employed as the secondary school researcher. Before beginning the case studies, she was provided with further training in naturalistic field note recording and ethnographic techniques of reflection and progressive focusing. Upon agreement with the three secondary schools, the researcher was introduced to each of the selected classes. The researcher stayed and recorded events in each class for all teaching sessions in the core subjects (English, mathematics, science) and social studies. Each class was recorded over a three week period. The researcher then moved to the next school/class for recording. Once the recordings were made in all four classes, the researcher returned to the first class and began the cycle of recording again.


Initial analysis of the data identified broad categories or 'groupings' within which the observations could be analyzed and discussed:

1. teacher behaviours - general classroom interaction with students, quality of contacts with children and any preferences expressed in working with the children;

2. student behaviours - actions of particular children (whether of high, medium or low classroom attainment as measured on end-of-term examinations in each curriculum subject), interactions between children, children's reflections on their classrooms;

3. classroom management strategies - practices undertaken by teachers for control of the children through seating patterns, responses to misbehaviour; and

4. teaching and learning strategies - practices employed by teachers to promote, support and develop learning by the children, observations also focus on effective communication between teacher and children.

Reported below is a summary of the observations, which are annotated and identified by school and class level. Implications derived from classroom observations are listed at the end of the section on Trinidad secondary schools. In the report, all of the schools and teachers are renamed for confidentiality. For convenience of reporting, only the first names of the children are used. All indented portions of the text represent either direct quotations noted by the researcher or reflective summaries of observations made by the researcher.


The summary points are a listing of key findings with the major analytic groupings used in the text. 1. In each of the classes observed, CEE scores were nearly equal for boys and girls, but within class attainment scores showed significantly higher grades for girls. In School A (the junior secondary school) Form One within-class attainment scores allowed a distribution into high, medium and low performing students (Table 2.1) and show girls performing better than boys.

Table 2.1: Within-class attainment places of boys and girls in school A__






















This difference in performance between males and females was significant (Z2(df=2)=l 1.18, p<0.004). Similarly, at School B (the 7-year prestige school) Form Three, there was no significant difference in CEE scores among boys and girls but within-class attainment showed differences (see Table 2.2).

Table 2.2: Sex by Within-Class Attainment Level in School B Form Three






















Again, the girls attained significantly higher than boys on within-class tests (X2(df=2)=l 1.636, p<.003). These differences between Common Entrance Examination scores and within class attainment for boys and girls were found in all four classes observed. The differences confirmed the need to explore actual classroom activity in the attempt to explain why girls performed so much better as they progressed through school and differences between approaches and strategies for boys and girls in school.

Teacher Behaviour:

2. Teachers clearly desired well ordered and self-controlled classes where students would act as autonomous, self-motivated learners - but there were many instances where the procedures that would lead to self control and learning were ambiguous for the students. In these ambiguous instances teachers were likely to show a preference for the involvement of girls in teaching and learning practices.

The School A form teacher clearly laid out expectations for her students. At the beginning of the September term, students were told that they must do their homework to reinforce their learning, ask and answer questions in class, and organise their time for homework.

While other teachers provided similar statements of concern about student involvement, actual classroom practice showed that teachers were more interested in some students than others. Teacher attitudes toward learning and student development were supportive as long as students listened to statements made by their teachers. Yet, teachers chose girls to participate with greater frequency than boys. Teachers were more likely to give positive and supportive feedback to girls than boys. And, teachers were less likely to notice or take actions with regard to misbehaviour by girls than boys. These 'preferences' were found in subtle ways, expressed in statements like: "Somebody read please, someone with a good voice", and only girls were chosen. More overtly, when students did not complete their homework, girls were less likely to be given a punishment than boys (who were told off or sent to the Principal's office).

Sometimes the preference for girls was combined with controlling boys:

When the teacher was finished taking the register, she asked Toni to return to the staff-room with her. Ms F wanted to give Toni an assignment which the students would be required to do. She said that Toni would be responsible for giving the students the assignment and also for getting the written work back to her.

Why are you giving Toni?

Because she is smart and responsible, unlike you.

The students began to laugh.

Differential punishments were used for boys and girls in the same situation:

Both Muhammed and Kerwin were put outside for not having their notebooks. Krystal also did not have her notebook;

Krystal, where is your notebook darling? (Researcher: I did not hear Krystal's response, after which the teacher said "O.K.")

Jason, Kern, where are your notebooks?
Jason, Kern don't have it.


While walking around the class, the teacher noticed that Hadassah also did not have her notebook but she did not put her outside.

Girls received more feedback and were provided with higher expectations for their efforts than boys. The French teacher (School B - Form One) read out class scores on a recent quiz in which girls, generally, performed better than the boys. The highest performing boy was not expected to perform as well as most of the girls:

Ms X told the students that she expected more girls to obtain scores in the 90's(percentile). She told Tremayne (the top attaining male in the class) that he was wasting his intelligence and that she did not want him to score less than 80%.

In School B - Form Three a number of boys actually questioned the teacher's comments about the performance of the girls. The researcher summarised a classroom discussion that took place after a question and answer session in Physics (both boys and girls participated):

The teacher said that she was very impressed with the answers from the female students. She commented that their answers were accurate and precise. The male students protested saying that the female students crammed the definitions from the text book while they (males) tried to write their answers from their understanding of what was taught in class.

Boys, especially low attaining boys, were often told of their poor performance and misbehaviour in a way that the whole class could hear (again, School B - Form One):


Now students listen, on Tuesday another teacher will be coming to stay with you all, so Joshua please try and act civilised.

The students laughed.

In a mathematics lesson:

Mr. Y then called Muhammed and Joshua to solve two problems on the board. When they answered incorrectly the boys were made to look foolish and 'put down' in front of the whole class:

Bandits! Bandits! Look at that monstrosity on the board. But one thing is for sure, you are not going to waste my time. You see, bandits, I will deal with you. I will seek you out and deal with you.

There were a number of examples of male non-participation in the class. If boys didn't participate and they were quiet (eg. head on desk) they were ignored. If boys overtly refused to participate (ex. were caught talking and off task) they were dealt with by being made to stand, being 'shamed' in front of the class, or being sent out of the room. There were no examples of girls being dealt with in this manner.

3. All classrooms demonstrated a set of rules for interaction, respect and learning, yet most of these rules were not on 'display'. Students were not invited to participate in the generation of these rules. When rules were not clearly laid out and applied, the ambiguous space created allowed teachers to use the rules differently with different students, especially seen in differential punishments given to boys and girls.

Because the observations began two-thirds of the way through the school year, we could not expect to find the teachers negotiating boundaries between themselves and their students. Yet, there was no evidence of the listing of rules for students to refer. Most of the school rules found in practice related to entering and exiting classrooms, raising one's hand and waiting to be called upon by the teacher and concentrating on work in the classroom. The existence of the rules was found when they were transgressed:

After lunch, the School B - Form One teacher Mr. H came to take the register for the afternoon. When he entered the class he signalled for the students who were queued outside to enter the classroom. When the students entered the classroom they sat. Mr. H told the students to return outside. When the students were told to come into the classroom they all sat once again. This procedure occurred twice again. The third time Muhammed (low attaining, male) said, "You all remain standing". When the students entered and remained standing Mr. H told them never to let that situation occur again. He told them that they must learn to have respect for authority.

Observations showed boundaries were limited to control of behaviour (mainly speaking without permission), completion ofclasswork and submission of homework. Students (School B - Form Three) even took responsibility for reminding their classmates about school rules:

A male student arrived late to class. He walked into the classroom without acknowledging anyone. Another male student shouted, "You have no manners boy, you did not even tell the lady, 'Good Morning'"! The teacher continued teaching.

Teacher rebukes in School B tended to be polite, rather than threatening:

While Abrahim was speaking noisily in class.

Abrahim, please listen in my class.

Teachers in School B were firm during the few incidents of confrontation:

Look at your textbook for a definition of moment. Where is your book?

I believe it is home.

Why is it home? So what are you going to do?

Listen, Miss.

And you find that good enough?

Yes, Miss.

It does not make a difference?

No, Miss.

You cannot determine what is good enough for my class.

Teachers also maintained authority through homework setting:

The bell rang. The teacher then proceeded to give home lesson. The students asked her not to do so, but she gave anyway. The students complain that they were given too much home work.

At the start of a new school year (and at the start of a new school (School C - Form Four)), rules were more clearly laid out for school work and control of behaviour:

The English teacher gave clear instructions for behaviour and expectations for academic work. She asked the students to stand and say their names. When all the students did so she told them that the only name which she remembered was Rishi (female).

From tomorrow I want you to walk with your text books everyday. You must also have two English copybooks. Tests are to be done on single sheets, O.K:? Do you want an explanation why? I think you need one. The copybooks will be a continuous record to take to Form Five and so you will have all your information when you need to study for your CXC exams. You must also walk with your dictionary. All those without dictionaries, raise your hand high. (Most students did.) Dictionaries are very important tools to enhance your English.

The Social Studies teacher encouraged the students to maintain a clean classroom. She told them that Room 23 was their classroom and that they were responsible for keeping it clean. Regarding studying:

Ask me any questions, I'm not going to 'boff you. Do I look like I ·boff?


The class laughs.

The teacher encourages the students to study and not waste time. She tells them about the CXC examination; both Basic and General (3 essays, 2 short answers and 60 multiple choice.)

Just remember, I'm here to guide and correct you. And with regard to sex stereotypes:

Let's talk about discipline. Shoes, socks, no tight skirts. We have more problems with the female students and the uniform. Girls with tight skirts. Now girls, it's a mating game going on with you. You feel by having your skirts tight you can out do the other girls. But boys in the school would not be looking at you because they are at a different level. The older men outside would be looking and then you would be in danger.

4. Observations showed many instances when the teacher was not present in the classroom. Reasons for teachers not being with a class included being called to a meeting or simply not arriving in class for the start of the teaching session. Some teachers did not arrive in class at all! The instances when the teacher was not present in class we refer to as 'teacher-less time'. With some teachers teacher-less time appeared with greater frequency and often resulted in unplanned classroom time for the students. Student reaction to this unplanned classroom time was different for boys and girls. Boys tended to use the time to avoid school work. Girls undertook a combination of school and non-school activity.

In School C, teacher-less time was noted on a number of occasions. The English teacher was late for the first class of the year. m the next class, science, the teacher arrived late and spent so long taking the students' names for her list that the class was forced to remain in the room- for part of their break. On the third day in school, the form teacher arrived late, took the register and left after five minutes. The English teacher did not come to class! On the fourth day:

The English teacher came to inform the students that she does not have them first period on a Wednesday and that the timetable is wrong. The students were also told that she would not be present today because she had to go to the Ministry of Education. She told them to do the first unit from their English textbooks; a comprehension passage. She instructed them to write the words they did not know and answer the questions. The students are very quiet awaiting the arrival of the social studies teacher.

Observations in School A showed that many teachers arrived late and some did not come to class at all. A few teachers prepared for this time by pre-assigning work for the students. Class prefects were expected to maintain discipline and ensure that classwork was undertaken while the teacher was away. Many of the teacher-less incidents, though, were unplanned and students were left to their own devices. On their own and without assigned work, different classroom strategies between boys and girls were exaggerated. Many of the girls would read, do homework or maintain quiet conversations among themselves. Boys tended to ignore school tasks or reading, converse among themselves, tease themselves or girls and some left the room. Some examples include:

Bell rang at 7.25 a.m. Students proceeded to Form classroom. Boys entered the classroom before the girls. The girls sat on the right of the classroom. Melissa and Dianne entered the class together and so did Esterline and Denise. The class is very noisy and unruly. Chewing (gum) is quite prevalent although this is not allowed in the school. Esterline is the only student reading at this time. The Form teacher did not come. Bell rang at 7.40 a.m. and the students proceeded to maths class. Melissa and Dianne are reading one book. Karen is finishing homework for another class. Some girls who are seated in the middle of the class are quite idle (except Coleen). Colin and Alvin are having a conversation about music. Alvin told Colin that his mother does not like 'dub' music. Colin told Alvin that he likes only Indian music. Alvin said that it is not so and he tries desperately to convince Colin. Melanie is in the front desk with her head on the desk; she is very much alone. (She did not attend school yesterday.) Akil, Kinya, and Damian (all males) are spraying themselves with a very sweet cologne. They then approach the other males in the class for them to smell it. Coleen is doing homework. Kesta is conversing with Melissa. Dianne, Esterline and Denise are conversing together.

and in a slightly different example:

The students thought that Ms A was absent. Melissa, Denise, Rer and Coleen are playing cards. The students are noisy and the male students are leaving the classroom. The teacher arrived 15 minutes late....

On the following day the teacher spoke to the students about their behaviour the previous day. She said that she was away because she had a meeting to attend. She said that she had seen them from where the meeting was taking place and that their behaviour was atrocious. She noticed that students were constantly leaving the classroom and a lot of noise was coming from that particular classroom. She said that when she returned to the classroom at the end of the period books which were on her desk were on the floor, two chairs were broken, paper was on the floor and the classroom was in a mess. She asked the Prefect to give her the names of the students who caused all the destruction.

The researcher noted that there were very few incidents of teacher-less time in prestige School B, and speculated that mere teacher presence allowed academic work to proceed uninterrupted and students were not allowed the opportunity to misbehave. The students disliked teacher-less time. In School C they complained: "the English teacher is always absent and the science teacher is always late".

5. Teacher interaction with students showed a variety of behaviours in addition to the control and female preference cited above. The predominant teaching style of question and answer allowed for praise and support, although this focused on students who were able to provide the correct answer. Students who were unable to answer were likely to be met with no response and, sometimes, sarcasm.

In School A teachers consistently gave positive responses to those students who answered questions correctly. Students that could not answer or answered incorrectly were quickly 'told off. Non-participation was ignored by the teacher. These students were not provided with positive means to solve the problem or answer the question:

What is the purpose of the Nursery Shed? Christopher! You have a text book, did you try to read about the Nursery Shed?



Yes, sir?


To protect the plant.

We said it is to protect the small seed that we grow. Apparently you all can't read and understand.

When the students were not able to answer, teachers took little or no responsibility for helping to find the answer. One teacher shifted the cause of poor learning and behaviour solely onto her students, telling the researcher:

1.8 was an unstable class. She said that usually the students who got late call would be put in this class. She also said that she felt that the findings of the research would be different if 1.1 or 1.2 were being observed.

On the other hand, some teachers in the junior secondary school and the senior comprehensive school went beyond normal teaching and learning practices to establish themselves with the students. The Social Studies teacher in School C told students that she was the product of junior secondary and senior comprehensive schooling:

But one thing I realise is that most of you come from (School A) Junior Secondary. I went to (School A) Junior Secondary and then I came to (School C) Senior Comprehensive. She also tells the class about school clubs and activities, encouraging as many students to participate, make the school theirs, and 'make it come alive'.

Students, though, found little reason to respect teachers who did not show respect to them. hi a Guidance class half-way through the term the teacher showed his disinterest in the students:

Mr. A is sitting in front of the class while the students are conversing with one another. Mr. A makes no effort to discipline the students. Jaime, Carla, Stacy and Arlette are talking about fashion and hair styles. Nickelle and Jeremy are harassing Melanie, while she is conversing with Josian and Christal. Natasha and Dixie are studying. Wendy, Melissa, Ayanna and Krista are conversing. In an interview after the class, all the students agree that the teachers at School C are not "good" teachers and that they do not motivate the students. They agree that teachers at their respective junior secondary school were much better.

Students did not find their teachers consistent about their development and learning. Praise was appreciated, but was mainly given to high attaining students. Some teachers made the effort to empathise and support their students, but many others used sarcasm and telling-off to control both behaviour and efforts towards learning.

Student Behaviour:

6. Authority among students was asserted within the class through the prefect system. Prefects were chosen on academic performance, often accentuating the male-female difference, hi all schools the prefects were females (ex. in School B - Form One, the prefect was the top performing girl in class). Prefects were expected to control the class during teacher-less time, and this often brought the prefect into conflict with male students, especially low attaining males:

Today the class prefect, Nneka, complained to Ms N that she was unable to control the class. Ms N came to the classroom and asked Nneka to tell her exactly what was the problem. Nneka said that the students are very noisy and when she tells them to be quiet they don't listen to her. Ms N explained to the students that she chose Nneka to be the class prefect because she thought she was a responsible and efficient individual, capable of 'doing the job'. Ms N asked her if there were specific troublemakers in the class or if all the students in the class were responsible for the confusion. After some hesitation Nneka said that the class in general do not listen to her, but that the main 'culprits' were Joshua and Muhammed. Ms N then said that she knew that they were the troublemakers. She asked both Joshua and Muhammed to stand to the front of the class...

In the Form Three class of School B, the same scenario occurred. Even assigning boys and girls to work together did not stop boys being upset by the authority of girls (especially the authority of the prefect during teacher-less time):

Akil was knocking the desk with his pen. Jaime (prefect) asked him to stop but he continued. He finally stopped when she ignored him. (A little later)... Akil is calling another student on the other side of the class and Jaime calls his name. He gets upset and swears softly.

The conflict between males and females, students and prefects was even more strongly pronounced in another incident in the same class:

The teacher did not come for Physics hence the students had two free periods. When the students realised this they became very excited and noisy. The head-boy (of the school) came to speak to them about the noise. John, Akil, Amir, Matthew, and Dominic are considered the 'bad boys' of the class. Jaime (the Prefect) tells Matthew to go outside; he told her no. She also told Akil to go outside but he said that he was not going anywhere... The students were still very noisy and Jaime could not control them. The Head-boy came to speak to the students about the noise; five minutes after he left the Vice Principal also came to the class to speak to them about their behaviour. When the Vice Principal left the class was still very noisy. The Head-boy returned to the class. He told the students that he is going to stay with them because they have no behaviour. The class is somewhat quieter while the Head-boy was present.

The boys misbehaving represented all levels of attainment.

7. Misbehaviour within the classroom included non-completion of work and breaking school rules. Misbehaviour was found among boys and girls but boys were more frequently 'found out'. Misbehaviour and non-work in the classroom was especially evident during teacher-less time.

In School A, boys were less attentive in class than girls when the teacher was present and during teacher-less times. Boys were more likely to be disobedient (gum chewing in class and talking back to the teacher). Boys were more likely to enter class late, be noisy upon entry, and be the first to leave the classroom at the end of a lesson. In teacher-less time, boys tended to converse about non-school subjects rather than read or study. These conversations included boys from the full attainment range; the higher attaining boys preferred to socialise with other boys than focus on their studies. Christopher, the lowest attaining boy, did not concentrate or work in class, did not socialise with others, and often sucked his thumb. One time, Christopher had his hand 'wrapped' and complained that it was so sore that he could not do his homework. His teacher told him: "he was wasting his time to come to school". Boys also displayed poor reading skills. Often, when asked to read to the class, they were stopped and criticised. Girls, as identified earlier, were more frequently chosen for classroom readings.

School B showed a similar pattern among boys and misbehaviour, but qualified the findings. Not all boys misbehaved or did not do their homework. The two lowest attaining boys represented approximately half of the incidents mentioned. Boys were more likely to receive punishments (12 incidents which involved boys, none involving girls) and were more likely to be involved in cheating incidents.

8. Boys and girls did not interact together unless directed to by their teacher. When seating was left to student choice, boys and girls sat separately. There were no examples of boys helping girls, but a number of examples of girls helping boys with homework, classwork and sharing responsibility for misbehaviour in the classroom. Girls frequently showed a solidarity among themselves. Solidarity was found in studying together, cliques and supporting others (academically and socially). Girls did not tease each other. Boys did not display these cooperative social supports.

Most of the teachers in the three schools allowed students to sit where they wished. This seating option produced a physical segregation between boys and girls. School C provides just one example. The boys chose the seats away from girls and where the teacher was least likely to notice them:

Ms B, the Science teacher is always late. There is no specific seating arrangement; for this class all the male students sit at the back of the class.

Boys rarely interacted with girls in class. When interactions took place, they were usually at a non-academic level. Teasing was most typical of boy-girl interaction. In School B - Form One, girls often bore the brunt of teasing and bullying by the boys. These incidents coincided with offers of help and solidarity between girls:

Joshua and Krystal began to argue. When Joshua left the classroom, Krystal began to cry. Toni told her that she must learn to be strong and ignore Joshua.

In School C, one of the teachers had asked boys and girls to work together. Boys still teased girls in class. During break another type of teasing took place:

Amir moved to where Natalie was sitting. He started to do something which was irritating her and she asked him to stop. He asked her not to be angry with him because she is the only person in the class whom he can harass.

While the main focus of teasing by boys was onto girls, there were a number of incidents in which boys teased other boys:

John told Alfrena that Matthew likes her. Matthew screamed at John and denied what John had said.

While girls bore the brunt of the boys' teasing, they did not express resentment in the form of avoiding all contact with boys. Girls took on a responsible approach towards their classmates. The researcher noted a conversation with girls in School B - Form One:

I explained the nature of the study and they all agreed that girls perform better than boys in the classroom. They further explained that most of the boys in their class were intelligent but lazy and that they (the girls) try to assist them whenever possible. The girls also said that when the boys are in trouble with the teachers, they try to cover for them... One low attaining boy, Michael, had many problems at home and did not come to school often. When he did attend school, his homework was not done and the girls allowed him to copy their work.

Boys, especially those in School B - Form Three, identified that girls had a different (more responsible) approach to the classroom (as previously noted). In this class, girls were the students who read or did school work during teacher-less time. Girls tended to sit near the front of the room, where the teacher was positioned. And, while girls participated more consistently in class than boys, when they 'opted-out' of participation they were less likely to be noticed or punished by the teacher:

After sending one boy out of the class... Akil's head is on the desk. The teacher hits him with a piece of paper on his head. The students are not interested in this class. Later in the day... Jeanette (lowest attaining girl in the class) has her head on the desk. She does not participate in her classes.

Girls did not undertake school work and studying on their own. In each of the classes observed, groups of girls often came together for social support as well as academic sharing of school work. The best described of these groups took place in School B - Form One. The researcher stated:

During this 15 minute period I went to check on the female students. The Home Economics teacher was not present because she was attending a staff meeting. The female students are in their form classroom. The students of East Indian descent are all doing school assignments together. Dana and Suzette are doing English homework. Melanie is alone reading. The other students are conversing about the group which they formed; SAS - Single Average Sisters. They are discussing the rules under which all members must conform: -
- Everything discussed must remain within the group.
- If any member has a problem they must first seek help within the group.
- No member must bad-mouth another member of the group.

The SAS's solidarity provided social support and the girls shared information for school work as well. This group had to be 'officially' dismantled because other members of the class thought it may have been based on racial lines (there were rumours that SAS meant Single African Sisters). When it was dismantled, its members told the researcher:

Toni explained that 'Average' was used because the members did not want to be vain and label themselves as brilliant. On the other hand they know that they are not dull. Krystal explained that the dismantling of the group was a disadvantage to her because the group was basically a study group and that the members were support systems when needed. She also said that the group members ensured that homework was done on time, something she was not able to accomplish on her own. The SAS group members are very disappointed because they feel that they were not given an opportunity to voice their opinion.

In School A, a similar group had formed. Girls maintained an unspoken solidarity among themselves. They shared information and work with one another as well as their lunch and gossip. The 'Cool Group' of high and middle attaining girls was often found talking and sharing information during teacher-less time.

9. Low attaining boys frequently received negative attention from classmates and teachers, this was also characteristic of low attaining girls (to a lesser extent). This attention was not focused on all low attainers, it tended to be focused on just a few students. Low attaining students displayed poor basic school skills (such as reading) and poor social skills. Particularly among boys, evidence has been provided showing poor reading (especially reading aloud) skills. These boys, also, did not show care or concern for classmates. They were responsible for class punishments and often teased their classmates.

In a previous incident reported with regard to the role of the prefect in School B - Form One, the teacher discussed the behaviour of the students with the whole class:

Aisha then told Ms N that she did not think that it was fair to blame only Joshua and Muhammed because the whole class was responsible for the noise making. Hansa then responded by saying that the class is always noisy because Joshua and Muhammed are always harassing the students. Ms N then turned to Joshua and Muhammed and asked them if they were hearing what their classmates were saying about them. Joshua was then about to say something but Ms N said that she did not want to hear anything; she had heard enough. She told both boys that she never wanted to hear any complaints about them again, and that if she ever did, she would take them both to the Dean's office to be flogged. She told them that she was tired of their behaviour and conduct and that they needed to take control of themselves. She also told them that during class time they must not leave their seats or harass the other students. She told the other students that they must not hesitate to come to her if they ever needed to talk to her or complain about these two students. Before she left the classroom she stressed to the two boys that she was completely fed-up with them and that she would be watching them closely. Neither Joshua nor Muhammed behaved as though they were embarrassed. When Ms N left the classroom they both returned to their respective seats.

In the same class, the low attaining boys were the students most critical of their teachers, often in contrast to girls' views of the same teacher:

Before the teacher arrived the students were telling me that they did not like mathematics. Michael and Joshua said that they thought that Mr F was a 'nerd'. Toni said that she did not feel that way but instead she thought that Mr F was "a very warm and responsible teacher, who is dedicated to his job".

Low attainment was tied to disrespect for the teacher and the subject as well. In School C during a science lesson:

Ms. B is writing the lesson on the board. Nick isn't writing while Dale says he would only write what he thinks is important. He stated that Ohm's Law is not important because it is only the opinion of one man named Ohm. The male students are conversing and laughing among themselves at the back of the class. The teacher does not respond.

Some low attaining girls in the class were as disinterested in schooling as the boys. Not all girls were interested in using school to support learning, and several girls told the researcher of events in their lives that may inhibit their desire to learn. Treneiceia said that she didn't "view school as a learning institution instead she sees it as a place to socialise and make friends". Another girl spent much of the teacher-less time arranging her hair. She told the researcher that she had no interest in school and that she wanted to be a hairdresser when she left school.

When the researcher approached a low attaining girl in School A, the student simply appeared to 'opt out'of class:

During the break, all the students went outside except Melanie. I asked her how were her results. She did not answer. I also asked her why she arrived to school so late. She said that she had something to do before she came to school. I told her I realised that she misses school quite often and asked why. She looked at me and walked outside.

This section stresses that low attaining boys and girls find ways not to participate in class. When tied to point 7 above, readers will note that the non-participation of girls was usually undertaken in a quiet way that did not draw attention to themselves. Boys, on the other hand, were often vocal in their opting out and were given punishments (or made example of) in front of the class.

10. High attaining boys were not like high attaining girls in their interaction with others. They tended not to have other high attaining male colleagues to interact with and were found to display some of the same behaviours as the low attaining boys (non-completion of homework, talking back to the teacher). In School B - Form One, the highest attaining student was a boy. As the only boy in the high attaining group in class, his behaviour did not support his academic position. He rarely made efforts to answer the teacher. He spent most of his time with middle and low attaining boys (he had no alternative; if he interacted with males only, they had to be in the middle or low attaining group). He was caught by the teacher chewing gum numerous times and was known among the girls as a troublemaker.

11. The new school year appears to be a crucial point for low attaining students to make a renewed effort to succeed. These efforts are likely to be met with overenthusiasm by teachers and reassertion of the negative reputation that they had gained in the past. As an example, at the start of the September term Muhammed (low attainer in School B - Form One) began to volunteer. He gave a good reading of Macbeth in English and was applauded by the class. He was also applauded for his efforts in Spanish. Shortly after, though, he was seen misbehaving in the corridor by the Vice Principal. As the Vice Principal was about to make a school-wide announcement on the public address system, she warned Muhammed that his behaviour would not be tolerated within the same announcement. An embarrassed Muhammed withdrew from further classroom participation. He criticised the Vice Principal and returned to his anti-social and disruptive ways.

Classroom management:

12. Most classrooms were run in a traditional fashion, with the teacher at the front of the room. The traditional teaching style, combined with few examples of assigned seating for the students, allowed low attaining and disinterested students to gravitate towards the back of the room (away from teacher attention) and for sex segregation. Seating boys next to girls was used as a 'punishment' for misbehaving boys.

Seating of students in class was indicative of the problems and possibilities encountered during the observations. Teachers did not assign seats in most of the classes observed. In School A, students were left to their own preferences and opted for segregated seating by sex (males away from females) and by attainment (higher attaining students sitting toward the front and centre of the classrooms). Teachers used the threat of seating a male student (usually low attaining) among females as a punishment. At the start of the September term two teachers used mixed seating by attainment and sex. Surprisingly, the students accepted this pattern and did not object to it. There was a similar non-reaction to new mixed seating in some classes at School B. Simply seating boys and girls together and high and low attainment near each other was no guarantee that they would interact or learn together.

Teachers rarely moved around the classroom, preferring to teach and work from the front of the room. From this position, they were aware of overt misbehaviour and assigned a range of punishments (as the teacher thought appropriate). In one incident of non-completion of homework in School A:

All those who did not do my homework keep standing.

Kinya (male) remained standing.

O.K., Ayanna (female) sit down. Kinya, why didn't you do my homework?

Miss, I don't have the book.

What time did you come to school this morning?

7.30, Miss.

Come to the front.

Teacher pulled out a whip. Christopher sucked his teeth and remarked rudely. She told both Christopher and Kinya that she was going to flog them. Kinya received two strokes on his bottom. Christopher then bent over.

Corporal punishment was only one of the deterrents used by teachers. Detention, sending to the Principal's office, sarcastic remarks and making students stand in class for periods of time were also used. Boys were more likely to be punished, even if they presented the same inappropriate behaviour as girls (see above). Detention at the end of a lesson (to complete classwork or homework) was likely to cause further disorganisation: the students would be late for their next class. Lateness in arrival accentuated a fundamental difference between students and teachers. Teachers expected all students to be in class on time. When the teacher came to class late and had not assigned work during the teacher-less time, the students were given no apology or explanation and the class was expected to have completed all of the classwork for the lesson.

Examples of positive reinforcement by the teacher were distinctive for girls and boys. As girls were more likely to complete their homework and successfully answer questions in class, they were given small-scale reinforcement (eg 'Good', That's right', etc.). Reinforcement for boys was much more exaggerated. When one of the low attaining students made an effort and provided a correct answer the whole class was asked to applaud. As positive reinforcement for these boys, the strategy did not work well. They quickly reverted to more typical behaviour of non-participation.

To the observer, classroom life resembled a situation with few rules or responsibilities. The teacher would probably have countered this suggestion with statements such as 'the students were now grown-up and able to be responsible for themselves'. The social studies teacher in School A, who was liked by the students, told them:

Control isn't something that we are born with, it is something that has to be developed, it comes with a great deal of discipline. This is why as young people you must learn from those around, but more important you must listen to those who are older than you are; your parents, teachers and so on. We have gone through exactly what you are going through but we have the experience and we will be able to guide you. So when you are told not to do something it is for your own good. We don't want to punish you, instead we want you to grow to be responsible individuals. All we want is what is best for you. Do you understand what I am saying? I want you to promise me that at least you would try to be more tolerant of what your elders are telling you and you must try to listen more, O.K.?

From the previously cited criticism of teachers, the students have identified a contradiction between the respect that they are told that they should have and the management realities of their lives in school.

Teaching and Learning:

13. The predominant style of teaching was didactic, question and answer sessions. For this style of teaching, students had to be prepared. If students were not prepared, they either did not participate or they did not know the answer and were likely to be embarrassed in front of the class. The didactic style only allowed use of simple reinforcement techniques to support or develop learning. This didactic mode was at odds with teacher statements about development of autonomous learning by the students.

A number of teachers exhorted their students that they must do their homework and classwork. These exhortions provided the best example of the autonomy that teachers expected of students, and the perception that students were responsible for their own learning. The respected social studies teacher in School A told her students:

This is all part of learning. You must be able to read and understand and think for yourselves. This is what you all are not doing. You act like children when you have school work to do but for anything else you act quite grown up. You all are wasting time and some time in the future you would regret it. You have to change your attitude or you would be sorry. I want you do to these exercises for home work and I expect a different mentality when next we meet.

Teachers expected that the teaching and learning processes of the classroom and homework would be the basis of understanding. Classroom practices offered little opportunity for autonomy or maturity. Work to be done was identified and controlled by the teacher. Teachers handled these question and answer sessions in different ways. The social studies teacher (in School C), who was liked by the students, started the year by encouraging the students to study and not waste time. She communicated high expectations to the students, especially that they should be taking the (higher level) General Examination rather than the Basic Examination in the CXC.

Some question and answer sessions were approached in a positive or negative manner with students. In School B - Form Three, the students showed greater participation because teachers: were sensitive to include all students, did not criticise incorrect answers and supportively explained concepts where necessary - sometimes forcing students to think:

Gerald was called to write his solution on the board. Gerald said that he could not do it but the teacher told him to try. He did not know how to begin the problem. Miss R tried to assist but he was totally confused.

Shaka, do you want to help him?

No, Miss.

Who wants to help him?
Edward volunteered.

People, it makes no sense to just sit down in class and say nothing when you don't understand something. Those of you who don't understand would have to see me at sometime.

And, after an intensive question and answer session in mathematics:

The teacher patiently explained the solution to the problem ensuring that the students understood each step of the solution.

Very well done. Are there any problems. Do you folly comprehend these type of problems? O.K.

Teachers also told the students of the importance of doing homework (especially with examinations coming soon):

Thank you Sheldon. People do you understand this problem? When you go home make sure you review this problem and ensure that you understand the principles involved. Remember, next day I would be checking your notes.

When the teacher was less sensitive to the needs of the students, the researcher found: rarely did all members of the class participate (some children were never mentioned in the field notes), the highest attainers were most likely to be called upon (and most likely to receive praise), and certain students could be ignored (especially low attaining boys, even if they had the correct answer) or the subject changed before they were allowed to respond. The lack of equal opportunity to respond (and hence receive praise, etc.) may not have been 'planned' by the teacher, but students received the message that creative answers were not required and certain students could 'opt out' of participation. During one period of teacher-less time, students complained to the researcher that they were unable to understand work assigned by the teacher and were unable to question the assignment, given their teacher's didactic approach.

14. As part of the didactic style, one-way communication from the teacher to the students was not effective in promoting understanding and participation. Teachers who explained more in class and who seriously asked whether (and how) students understood the topic received greater student participation and appreciation. Teaching that involved some cooperation and original contribution with the students brought about greater student involvement. Examples that increased student involvement included paired learning, the use of role play and asking for student contributions. None of these observations (that lasted through a year) showed teachers using 'cooperative learning' techniques which required the participation of all students.

A teacher in School B - Form One was noted by the students as using a didactic teaching style, and the one-way communication confused them:

Ms G has distributed workbooks and the students are correcting the work previously completed by other students in the class. They are very confused by what the teacher is trying to explain to them and so the exercise is not proceeding very well.

Another teacher's presentation was similarly problematic for the students:

The students are very restless and show no interest in this class. The lesson is about the countries of the East. The teacher is talking but not communicating with the students. He told the students what pages to study for the exam. The teacher speaks very quickly and also he speaks as though he is having a conversation with himself. When a student tries to make a contribution he cuts them off. If a student asks a question he does not ensure that he is understood; he rattles on and on.

An alternate example which appeared to promote learning through student involvement took place in mathematics:

Teacher arrived at 8.30. Today he would be teaching statistics. He explained to the class that statistics is a topic which confuses most students. Because of this, he has decided to use a more practical method for teaching this lesson. He would begin by using the students' birthdays. The teacher wrote the months of the year on the board in 12 columns. Then he asked each student which was their birth month. As each student called his/her birth month, he gave a stroke in the column of the relevant month. When the exercise was over he explained what was accomplished. He explained the strokes made in each column was a tally and that the total amount of students who were bom in each month could be obtained by counting the strokes. (Michael is the only student who was bom in the month of June and the other students teased him about it.) The students said that they understood and the teacher decided to conduct another exercise.

Another way of promoting student involvement was to have students work on a topic of their own choice. Thinking and input were exemplified in a drama class where students had been asked to prepare and speak about a topic. Student topics included drugs, gambling, teenage pregnancy. This input elicited keen interest by students and no classroom disruption.

An English teacher asked students to work in pairs to undertake a classroom exercise:

The teacher then gave the students an exercise to do in pairs. Hansa and Tricia were the first pair of students to finish.

Excellent, continue with the other questions.

When all the students completed the exercise she corrected the questions orally and every student had the correct answers. The teacher is very patient with the students of Form 1L. She praises her students and they enjoy her class thoroughly.


The summary points may be presented as a number of classroom practices shown to effect overall academic performance and participation among boys and girls.

a. Teachers, schools and classrooms play a major role in the development of student attainment. Selection to secondary school was based on CEE results, and virtually no differences were found between the scores of males and females in each of the schools studied. Within a year of secondary schooling class attainment differences appeared between boys and girls.

b. Where school and classroom rules are ambiguously applied, it appears that the boys are most likely to be criticised and punished.

c. Without careful planning and directions for continued student work, teacherless-time may lead to regressive and stereotypical behaviours among students.

d. If students are to act as autonomous learners within their secondary schools, they must be offered and understand the opportunities for autonomy.

e. The formal interaction between teacher and student, exemplified in question and answer sessions, places a great burden on the student to 'get it right'. At the same time, students can "hide" from participation.

f. Boys have few examples of high attainment role models. The few high attaining boys in these observations tended to act and misbehave like their lower attaining classmates.

g. Lowest attaining students (mainly boys) displayed poor social skills.

h. Lowest attaining students also displayed poor basic reading skills.

i. These observations show that both boys and girls are found in the low attaining levels and need to be supported to improve their achievement in education.