Advantage Girls: A Look at Women's Language in the Classroom

Winter, 2009

Source: Action in Teacher Education, Vol. 30 no.4, p. 84-95, Winter 2009.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

While others have focused on gender-based language and the workplace, this research study explores gender-based language, in this case women's language, and the classroom. The study specifically examines examples of women's language and how this language affects student response in the classroom.

Research Questions

The following questions provide the basis of this study:
What effect, if any, does the style of language spoken by the teacher have on students' responses in the classroom?
What is women's language, and how do students in a classroom setting respond to it?
What role does women's language play in classrooms that incorporate discussion and other interactive teaching strategies?
Does the use of women's language in the classroom provide female students with an advantage?
What implications would this have for female students in math and science classrooms?

Research Methods

Background of the Study
The classroom chosen for this study was an Algebra II class at an academic magnet school in a metropolitan area in the southeastern United States. The teacher in this classroom was female who has a master's degree in mathematics education and 11 years of teaching experience, 6 of which have been in her current position at the school. This Algebra II class consists of 20 students: 17 females and 3 males. The majority of students that Ms. Wilson has in her classes during the day are female. The teacher considers the students in this Algebra II class to be above average in intellectual ability, a conclusion supported by the fact that they attend an academic magnet school.

The data, consisting of field notes and transcriptions of audiotaped lessons, were analyzed for evidence of terms, expressions, and gestures associated with women's language. Observed student responses to the teacher's use of women's language were also analyzed.

Five variables have been identified as characteristic of women's language--politeness, gestures, intonation, praise/saving face for others, and tag questions--and were used to evaluate the language of a female teacher in an Algebra II classroom.


The author found that the women's language used by the teacher contributed to a pleasant, relaxing learning environment.
Findings indicate that the teacher used examples of traits associated with women's language throughout the lessons, as well as a range of intonation patterns and numerous hand gestures.
Findings also showed that the students responded favorably to the teacher's use of women's language, as evidenced by smiles, relaxed body language, and voluntary participation in the lessons.

Finally, studies show that there is more interaction in classes taught by women, more student input in class, and more teacher and student questions (Treichler &. Kramarae, 1983). One could surmise this as the result of women's language use in the classroom. It may create an atmosphere more conducive to learning than that of the traditional language classroom.

The classroom dialogue that the author observed in this research study certainly supports this contention. If there is more interaction and student participation in classes taught by women, as these studies show, perhaps it would be in the best interest of all students to have a cooperative style of language available in the classroom.

Treichler, P. A., & Kramarae, C. (1983). Women's talk in the ivory tower. Communication Quarterly, 31, 118-132.

Updated: Jan. 02, 2011