Do you teach some girls who you know are brighter and more capable that they are showing? Girls who are – quite simply – hiding their light.

This can be so frustrating as their teacher. You have so many things to do and think about, but you have a nagging feeling that some girls are simply under-performing.

This can be a common issue with teenage girls, and it can be for a multiplicity for reasons.

Maybe they don’t want to appear brighter than their friends (they are afraid to stand out), perhaps they are not encouraged by their families and so don’t have self-belief in their abilities, maybe they have become complacent. Added to that, unfortunately some girls worry that doing well in class makes them unattractive to boys (fuelled by media messages – a topic for another blog!).

Whatever the reason, it can result in some girls simply ‘coasting’ at school, not engaging with their learning, and most importantly not fulfilling their potential – at school and for their futures.

What are the symptoms of this ‘coasting’?

  • Not asking questions in class – not asking you to clarify points, or help them understand a tricky area
  • Not contributing to discussions in group work – being happy to take a back-seat, hide behind their hair, fritter time away doodling, rather than contributing with their class-mates
  • Inconsistent written work – sometimes showing their potential in their written work, but other times doing the bare minimum.

Does this sound familiar?

Is it driving you mad?

What can be done to break the cycle and encourage these girls to step up and engage with their learning?

These are some of things I do in workshops to help girls build their confidence:

1. Practising speaking in safe way

Some girls fall into the habit of just not contributing to class. To break this pattern it’s key to build their confidence and abilities in the simple skill of speaking aloud in class. One of the activities I use is to go back to basics, so students work in small groups and practice reading a simple poem. Firstly they just practice reading the poem to each other, and then work as a team to read the poem to the whole group. I build on this with a quick fire round of asking them a question and we rapidly move round the circle with each girl sharing a thought. This is repeated several times, with the volume increasing each time! Girls sometimes need to be reminded that they have a voice.

2. Uniqueness of opinions

Girls also need to be reminded that their knowledge and experience in unique to them. A method I use to help them gain this insight is to talk about World War II and what they know about it, and then build on this by asking who has relatives that fought in the war. In every group at least one girl has a grandfather or other relative who fought, with personal stories from the war handed down through the family. This illustrates this student has a unique understanding of the war through her family member, and by extension every girl in the class has a distinctive understanding and knowledge of other topics, whether it is cooking, dance or French. By helping them see that they are unique individuals, builds their confidence that their opinions are valid and they have important contributions to make.

3. Learning through failure

One of my favourite quotations is from JK Rowling who says “Failure is so important. It is the ability to use failure that often leads to greater success. I’ve met people who don’t want to try for fear of failing.”

I use this quotation as a spring-board for a discussion with girls about why they are at school, and that learning is a process of listening, experimentation and applying knowledge.

These activities encourage girls to find their voice, recognise how their experiences and opinions are unique to them, and how important ‘having a go’ is in their experience of learning.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on encouraging girls to shine and thrive in the class-room, please leave a comment below.