Teacher perceptions of gender differences in academic achievement and conscientiousness of adolescents. A case study

Year: 2016

Author: Zunica, Benjamin, Forgasz, Helen

Type of paper: Refereed paper

In recent times, it is almost taken for granted that girls will outperform boys at school. Recent data from NAPLAN and the VCE in the state of Victoria support this premise. The purpose of this case study was to ascertain the perceptions of teachers regarding academic achievement and conscientiousness of male and female adolescents. There were two key research questions addressed. They were, in the view of the teachers interviewed, (1) are there gendered differences in the academic achievement of students and (2) are there gendered differences in levels of conscientiousness of students. When discussing the themes of achievement and conscientiousness, motivation is embedded. Expectancy-Value Theory, proposed by Wigfield and Eccles, suggests that students’ motivation is mediated by students’ expectancy for success on a task and their subjective value of the task. Expectancy-Value Theory is used as the theoretical framework for this study. Seven teachers were interviewed from one co-educational, independent secondary school in Melbourne using a semi-structured protocol. These teachers taught across diverse subject areas and had varied career experiences. Teachers from humanities based subjects were decisive in their perception that girls’ academic achievement was higher than boys. However, the Mathematics teachers perceptions of achievement was more mixed. All of the teachers thought that girls were more conscientious in the early years of secondary school, but that levels of conscientiousness were more even for boys and girls in senior years (Years 11-12). Reasons were given for these perceived gender differences. They included boys’ lower maturity levels imply that they have a low value of schoolwork, which manifests itself in work avoidance; adolescent girls’ greater ability to be engaged in learning owing to the higher value they place on schoolwork compared to boys; the sedentary nature of secondary schools were more conducive to girls; boys literacy levels have a tendency to be lower than girls and can affect their expectancy for success in writing based subjects; the different influences of important persons, such as parents and teachers, in the lives of adolescents and their learning. Addressing literacy concerns for boys and their poorer levels of conscientiousness in the early years of secondary school could be an area of focus for teachers and school leaders.