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The effect of teacher behaviour, and teacher sex, on children's sex-role-stereotyped free play activity choices

By Richard J. Harty


It has peen argued that for young boys who are trying to evolve a sex-role differentiated from that of girls, contact on a daily and prolonged basis with male teachers should serve to help clarify their concept of the masculine sex-role (Clyde 1987). It is this traditionally based reasoning, that males are needed to defeminise early childhood centres by modelling masculine behaviours, that has been used by many writers as the basis for calls to include more males as teachers in early childhood education. Lee and Gropper (1974, cited in Fagot 1981) took a non-traditional stance in suggesting that providing male teachers for young children would also help teach young children that males can engage in female-typed activities, thereby increasing the chances of providing a non-sexist environment for young children. Carpenter et al (1986) suggested that to facilitate attempts to thoughtfully and ethically modify the conditions of socialisation of sex-typed behaviours, the optimal strategy might be first to understand the processes by which individual's sex-typed behaviours are socialised, and secondly to use elements of the naturally occurring processes to implement changes. One of those naturally occurring processes is the free play activity choices that children typically make. The present study arises from the premise that children's play experiences can be used as a vehicle of social change, and focuses on the development of gender-role stereotypes in early childhood. Specifically, the effect of teacher modelling of gender appropriate and gender inappropriate behaviour on the free play activity preferences of children will be examined. It is hoped to determine the relative importance of the sex of the teacher, the activity choice, and the sex-typing of the teacher modelled behaviour on children's choice of free play activities in order to better understand the processes by which individual's sex-typed behaviours are socialised. The subjects in the present study were twenty five children from a local pre-school centre. The children ranged in age from four years seven months to five years four months of age. The only criteria used for the selection of the centre was that it had an established male and female teaching team. The present study was conducted in three phases, the first of these involved a pre-test or baseline phase. Observations made during this time were used in three ways 1) to provide definitions of masculine and feminine behaviour for the treatment conditions in the intervention phase, 2) to provide baseline participation levels against which to compare the influence of the interventions and 3) to provide information on the social context of the centre. The second phase of the study was the intervention phase. During this phase the treatments were introduced following a reversal methodology (ABA). By then withdrawing the intervention in the third reversal condition experimental control was increased. Systematic evidence was collected using three event recording check lists. The first of these, the Male and Female Representations Check List (Meade 1981 ), was designed to assess gender-based differences in the number of representations of males and females in pictures, jigsaws, books and dress-up clothes displayed within the centre. The second check list, The Preschool Teachers Interactions with Children Check List (Ebbeck 1985), was designed to record differences in the interactional style of staff towards the children. It also shows the curriculum areas in which the teachers were involved with the children during free play. Finally, the Children's Participation Check List (Lloyd 1989) was used to establish the usage pattern of the centre by the children during the pre-test, intervention and post-test phases of the study. The pre-test observations were made for five days prior to the intervention phase. From these observations, two areas were selected to concentrate on, one area in which the participation rate was dominated by the girls and one area in which the participation rate was dominated by the boys. The activity themes and equipment used in these areas by the girls were coded as feminine, and the activity themes and equipment used by the boys were coded as masculine. Eight treatment conditions were formed from the combination of teacher sex, curriculum area, and activity theme I equipment choice variables. Results of the pre-test phase showed that although there was little in the physical environment to label and reinforce notions of gender appropriate and genderinappropriate behaviours, the daily experiences of the children showed a differentiation based on gender, both in terms of the teacher's interactions with children and their free play activity choices. From these observations the area in which the participation rate was dominated by the girls was the collage area, and the area in which the participation rate was dominated by the boys was the block area. With the introduction of the intervention conditions in the block and collage areas, the girl's participation rate decreased in the presence of the female teacher and increased in the presence of the male teacher. The greatest increase in the girl's participation rate occurred when the male teacher modelled masculine behaviour in the block area and feminine behaviours in the collage area. The boy's participation rate however increased in the presence of both teachers in the collage area and decreased with the presence of both teachers in the collage area. These results are discussed with reference to the prevalent theories on sex-role development, and their implications for the provision of non-sexist learning environments for children. The results of the present study suggest that there is little to discriminate between a male or female teacher in terms of the children's responses to the modelling conditions. Neither teacher was a more effective model because of their sex. Thus the non-traditional stance can be supported from these results, that is that the male teachers contribution consists of disproving the idea that men need to act in some "manly" way

Topics: Sex differences (Psychology), Sex role in children, Teachers, thesis, masters
Publisher: Queensland University of Technology
Year: 1995
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