Being aware of and recognizing gender issues is of utmost importance for all educators who are interested in equality in opportunities for students to learn and flourish. Gender in EFL classrooms, according to Sunderland (1991) operates at different levels: classroom materials, English language itself, and classroom processes which always interact within a particular political, sociolinguistic and educational context. She further categorizes classroom processes into three different groups: those focusing on teacher-to-student discourse in whole-class-work, those focusing on student-to-teacher discourse in whole-class-work, and those focusing on learner discourse in pair- and group-work.
Owing to the fact that one of the features of FL classroom that can facilitate learners’ language learning is providing opportunities for learners to communicate in the target language and enabling them to learn the target language through meaningful use of it ; and given that classroom interaction is mainly realized by IRF (teachers’ initiate-students’ respond-teachers’ feedback) structure, where teachers often initiate interaction by asking questions, teachers’ questions cannot only create more interaction activities, but also can prompt students to participate in all kinds of negotiation of meaning (Xiao-yan, 2006). Hence, the manner in which teachers interact with students has received immediate interest by the many researchers who were prompted to study how teachers interact with students in the classroom.
Similarly, the role of teachers in providing and distributing equal interaction opportunities for all students regardless of their gender, race, and social status … is understood to be of vital importance because they not only offer language practice and leaning opportunities but also help the process of language development itself (Xiao-yan, 2006).
Needless to say, male and female students should receive equal attention in schools accordingly; however, results of studies of the specifics of teacher-student interactions suggest that notably, and with few exceptions, teachers vary considerably in the quantities of interactions they have with individual students, with boys receiving a quantitatively higher proportion of contacts from teachers across subject areas. In other words, teachers initiate more contacts with boys than with girls and boys initiate more contacts with teachers and they both criticize and praise boys more often than girls (Brophy & Good, 1974; Sadker and Sadker, 1994; Jones & Dindia, 2004). Sadly enough studies suggest that from the very early grades through the university level, female students are victims of subtle bias that manifests itself through teacher interactions and the curriculum although they sit in the same classroom environment and learn the same material (Sadker and Sadker, 1994).
From this perspective, since boys are shown to be gaining an educational advantage over girls by claiming a greater share of the teachers’ time and attention, female students are more likely to have less chance to talk and as a result learn. That is perhaps why Sternglnz and lyberger-Ficek (1977) suggest that women’s apparent low interaction rate may be influential in determining their underrepresentation in postsecondary education. These researchers reason that students who do not interact with their teachers would receive less encouragement and would be less likely to attend graduate school.
As the findings of many earlier studies indicate, the various gender-based classroom interaction inequalities that exist could obstruct and even harm knowledge acquisition for males and females (Yepez, 1994). However, despite all the studies done on gender in the classrooms, second language acquisition in adult EFL classrooms and more specifically EFL classrooms in Iran have not received the due attention and scrutiny to uncover the patterns by which EFL teachers interact with genders in their classrooms. So this study attempts to contribute to this need of the field by investigating the interaction patterns of Iranian EFL teachers with male and female college students to firstly ascertain if student gender affects teacher-student interaction in EFL classes and secondly, to assess whether or not EFL teachers are aware of gender treatment in their classroom interactions with male and female students– because as Sadker et al. (1992) states although most teachers believe that they treat girls and boys the same, research indicates that they frequently do not do so.
Next, a review of the literature underscores the fact that there is little evidence to show whether or not teacher’s gender might affect teacher-student interaction (Good, et al., 1973). Thus one further question that this study seeks to answer is whether teacher’s gender affects his or her interaction with students.
Moreover, as Duffy, et al (2001) claim, depending on the subject of the class, teachers show to vary their expectations of males and females in languages, and since it is frequently stated that foreign languages tend to be the subjects in which females frequently do well (Sunderland, 1998), another objective of this study then is to examine whether this “differential teacher treatment by gender” (Sunderland, 1998) may be manifested in the foreign language classroom, an environment in which girls are generally thought to outperform boys?
Therefore, in the light of preceding arguments, in order to fully understand the place of gender equity in Iranian EFL classrooms at university level, the following objectives of the study were targeted:
- To examine the differences in frequency and types of teacher-initiated interactions directed toward girls and boys.
- To discover the differences in the frequency and types of interactions directed toward girls and boys between female and male teachers.
- To assess teachers’ attitude towards their own treatment of male and female students in class.
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