small groups

Karen Allendoerfer ravena at
Thu Dec 4 00:03:04 EST 1997

I read about this phenomenon in the book _Talking from 9 to 5_ by
Deborah Tannen, which overall I think is her best.  

The part I was remembering in my earlier post was a section entitled
"the unfairness of unstructured groups."  She wrote of a study by
educators Elizabeth Sommers and Sandra Lawrence.  One teacher gave
her students explicit instructions about how to structure their discussion,
whereas the other teacher allowed the students to determine their own

In the teacher directed groups, males and females participated almost
equally; in the student-directed groups, females made 17% fewer
comments and took 25% fewer turns.

The conclusions of the study, on which Tannen elaborates, were that
women's conversational style puts them at a disadvantage in unstructured
groups.  They do not interrupt as much, and are more likely to cede the
floor when interrupted.  Men from other cultures also had these problems.

What Tannen did to counteract these trends among her own students was
to pair them with more like talkers (big talkers with other big talkers,
quiet students with other quiet students).  She also suggests structuring
the meetings or classes more, and giving each student a defined time to
speak, rather than "making" them get the floor for themselves.

I think that sometimes these things could be integrated into a science
class, sometimes not.  

One thing I find extremely interesting about Tannen's work, and especially
this book, is that she is not judgemental of these different styles, she
doesn't go on and on about how women's styles are "wrong" and how women
can be their own worst enemies.  Rather she spends her time analyzing 
when and where particular strategies work or don't work.

I actually think it would benefit men even more than women to read books
like this, but I don't personally know too many who do.

Karen A.

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