Feminist Fail, Test Question Stylee

Two events during the past week have helped me recognize a lack of personal awareness of mine to a gendered pattern in my teaching and, worse, assessment.  One of the things about these “Aha!” moments is that the tendency is so blindingly obvious in hindsight.  And embarrassing!

The first event occurred last week during a midterm exam in my undergraduate research methods course.  A young woman walked over to me to ask a question.

Student: I have a question about #7.

I read the question:

7.  Imagine a star basketball player has a very bad game. After the game the coach yells at him. In the next game, the player has a great game. Which of these would best explain why the yelling might not have caused the improvement?
(a) Regression to the mean
(b) Maturation
(c) History

Student: “Is it missing the words “does not” before “yell”?”

Me: [Furrowing my brow]  “No.”

There was a long pause as we both stared at the test.  Then I was reminded of an interview with the male coach of 1999 World Cup US Women’s Soccer team, Tony DiCicco.  He explained that when he first started coaching women he behaved as he always had when coaching men’s teams.  But he found that the team not only wasn’t improving, they were getting worse.  And when he spoke with players he noticed that they not only seemed to absorb, and obsess about, his critiques, but actually embellish them and express concerns about weaknesses he had neither raised nor observed.  He continued that when he coached elite male athletes he felt he had to yell, deriding and humiliating them when they made mistakes he had already corrected prior.  That resonated with me 100%.  Every coach I had in every sport had coached that way.  But DiCicco found that the women on his team needed him to build their confidence: to point out mistakes, but then encourage them that they could improve.  The team apparently turned around on more or less a dime.  Two or three of the players were being interviewed with him, and they nodded, briefly offering examples of what he had been like at first, and how hard it had been before he changed his style.

I looked at the student, who returned my gaze.

Me: “Did you know that in men’s team sports it is conventional for coaches to holler at their best players?  That they do so to motivate the player to improve?”

Student: [Furrowing her brow, and looking very confused]  “Really?”

Me: “Yes.  But I remember hearing a coach of the US women’s soccer team say that did not work with his team.  He said he had to be encouraging and that it was a mistake to yell.”

Student: [Still looking circumspect] “Oh, so the coach yells at the player to make him improve?”

Me:  “Yup.”

Student: “Oh.  OK.  The question makes sense now,” she said, smiling.  “I played basketball in high school, and yelling was definitely not something the coaches did to make us better.”

When the grades came back, sure enough, question #7 did not distinguish well those who scored in the bottom versus the top 25% on the rest of the exam, and fewer than 50% of the students marked the correct answer.  Sure enough, the question is a stinker.  For my background, as a 51 year old, ball-sport playing male, the question is just fine.  Norms of hollering and humiliation in coaching have declined even in male ball-sports, but they are apparently not terribly common in women’s ball sports.  Further, lots of student of both genders likely never played competitive ball-sports, and are thus considerably less likely to be able to interpret the question.  Needless to say, I discarded the question (did not count it toward the students’ midterm exam grade).

The second event occurred this morning when I logged on to Facebook and saw a post by my colleague, Amanda Driscoll: Dancing Statistics, a post that briefly describes, and then links to, four videos of 3-6 minutes duration that use  modern dance to introduce and illustrate: Frequency Distributions; Sampling and Standard Errors; Variance; and Correlation.  It just so happens those are precisely the topics I am teaching from last week through this week and next.   I link to them below.

I don’t know diddly dink about dance, modern or otherwise.  As an aspie, I am anything but fluid and intuitive in my movement (see, also, here and here), and I tend to stay away from things I do poorly.  Hence, my ignorance. So the videos do not help me much as it is an alien art form and practice.  But that certainly will not be true for large portions of my students!  So I drafted and sent an e-Announcement to my students with links to the videos.  And I am going to use the videos to work up some examples for lecture that I can hopefully pull off.  Better late than never.

Dancing Statistics: Frequency Distributions

Dancing Statistics: Frequency Distributions

Dancing Statistics: Variance

Dancing Statistics: Variance


Dancing Statistics: Correlation

Dancing Statistics: Correlation



About Will H. Moore

I am a political science professor who also contributes to Political Violence @ a Glance and sometimes to Mobilizing Ideas . Twitter: @WilHMoo
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2 Responses to Feminist Fail, Test Question Stylee

  1. amanda says:

    Hey Will, thanks for the shout out (though the real hat tip goes to @MichaelMalecki whose original link I shared). I’ve also found myself in a position to explain elementary statistical and probabalistic concepts to a large and heterogenous group of students, some of whom are extraordinarily intimidated by even simple math. This seemed like a neat and original way of communicating these concepts in a way that some students might find intuitive. Keep me posted on how it goes over with your classes, I’d be interested to know if it is helpful (and for whom).

    • Will H. Moore says:

      You prompted me to show them in class and survey the students. 49 of them were there. After each of the three videos I asked whether they felt like they learned anything from it. Below is the number of students who raised their hand.
      Frequency Distribution: 16
      Variance: 30
      Sampling & Standard Error: 28
      So I would say that they are pretty useful.

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