Tutoring boys, tutoring girls

A growing area of educational thought is reconsidering the pros and cons of single-sex education, i.e. all-male or all-female schools. In Madison this week, the president and CEO of the Madison Urban League proposed opening an all-male school for grades 6-9 aimed at African-American students (Troller, 2010). The hope is that such a school can take advantage of the ways that young men learn differently from young women and provide dedicated adult-male support that young men who often lack such support need (Troller, 2010). Obviously, this idea raises issues about the history of racial segregation, the fight for integrated schools, and the challenge of civil rights for people of all races in the United States.

But single-sex education is not solely a desire for more all-male schools, rather there is a movement towards creating more all-female schools as well (Meehan, 2007). As Meehan (2007) observes, girls behave and learn differently in the classroom, and as a result can be left behind especially in math and science. Often girls are focused on the relational aspects of problems: who will be harmed, who will benefit, etc. (Meehan, 2007). As a result, they often pause before asking questions, and when they ask questions they are often more interested in the relationships rather than the mathematical or scientific issue raised by the question (Meehan, 2007). The advantage of an all-female-student environment is that it can take advantage of the different female learning style and teachers can adapt their methods in math and science courses towards this relational approach (Meehan, 2007). In fact, Meehan describes how, when an all-female school is unavailable, how to encourage coeducational schools to consider how to adapt their teaching to the needs of their female students.

Thus, as a tutor who emphasizes in teaching math, science and test-taking for both boys and girls, it is important to consider cultural and sexual differences in the way my individual students learn effectively. In my experience, professional educators, often because of having too many students per class and with limited instruction time, cannot accommodate all their students' individual differences effectively. So parents come to me to help their children in a particular field, but the main need for their children is tutoring designed more towards their individual, cultural, or sexual learning styles. Not only does this help my students with their current academic struggles, but in the long run it can help them identify how to learn more effectively on their own.


Troller, S. (2010, November 12). "Why charter school for African-American boys needed." The Capital Times. Retrieved from & currently available at

Meehan, D. (2007). Learning like a girl: educating our daughters in schools of their own. New York: Perseus.


Paul, thank you for your comments. First, the consensus that I am referencing is that girls _can be_ left behind in math and science, not that they collectively are. This consensus is an observed difference in average performance or action, and has nothing to do with the potential of any individual to excel. So because of individual differences, some boys will be more relationship oriented and not prone to blurting out answers, right or wrong, and some girls will be more assertive to get the attention they need in math and science. Perhaps, thinking about it like height differences between men and women might help. On average men are taller than women, but of course there are individual women who are taller than individual men (e.g., WNBA). Similarly, given how math and science are taught (on average), boys do better than girls, yet there will still be individual girls who do better than boys, and boys who do not do well given how the subjects are taught. I think this also what the author meant by "pause," i.e. on average girls will pause more often than boys will before offering a response. Again, there may be girls who rarely pause, and boys who pause all the time, but this is describing average phenomenon. Second, my goal was to use the sources as a place to start a discussion about how to adapt one's tutoring based on individual, cultural or sexual differences of the student. I'm not trying to argue that the proponents of the referenced articles are absolutely right. That said, I think they do point out that education in general and tutoring in particular requires considering how our clients best learn, which can involve considering whether a particular student is struggling because of these average differences.


John M.

Analytical assistance -- Writing, Math, and more

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