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Five tips for gender inclusive assessment questions


‘Typical assessments often use questions that associate characteristics with gender, especially when data are used in tables. From male and female baby weight tables to comparisons of Science grades between girls and boys, questions and items using gender often feature in exams and promote gender stereotyping,’ Ntoka

Ntoka has five tips for bringing gender inclusivity to your assessment questions.

  1. Avoid using male and female as nouns. This can be dehumanising to all genders, Ntoka explains, and in fields like science, use of ‘females’ has historically been used to make women appear inferior to men.
  2. Introduce characters of ambiguous gender. Choosing names with an ambiguous gender – like Alex or Charlie – is a simple change to make. Ntoka says you can also think about phrasing questions in a way that doesn’t require pronouns.
  3. Remove gender binary from questions. This can be done by including all genders in the assessment question, or removing reference to gender overall. For example, instead of creating a table of data where you compare women and men, you can compare adults and children.
  4. Normalise the use of characteristics other than gender. Ntoka says that, most of the time, gender is an arbitrary characteristic in assessment questions that can promote stereotyping – for example, girls being worse at sports or STEM subjects, and women eating salad and men eating pizza. She suggests changing your approach: ‘For example, instead of comparing men‘s and women’s performances in a sport, compare performance in the sport between those who play at least one other sport and those who don’t.’
  5. Last resort: Reverse the stereotype. Ntoka acknowledges that reworking an existing assessment item bank can be a daunting and difficult task. If there are some questions that are stereotypical in nature, but need to be retained, she recommends trying to reverse the stereotype in a way that isn’t contrived. “… think of the question ‘One-third of the children in a football club are girls. There are 60 children in the club. How many girls are there in the club?’ If you changed ‘girls’ to ‘boys’, you would mitigate the stereotype of fewer girls playing football than boys. This example is effective because it does not disclose the gender of the remaining children, allowing space for inclusion of genders outside the binary.”

Teacher wellbeing during COVID-19

While COVID-19 is grinding much of society to a halt, schooling has entered uncharted territory. During this time, it is important that teachers look after themselves. Fortunately, there are evidence-backed strategies that can help support teachers’ wellbeing.

Teachers’ wellbeing is not only a vital outcome in itself, it is a means to other vital outcomes, such as students’ learning and wellbeing. Below, we run through several strategies for supporting teacher wellbeing and explain why they might be helpful for navigating COVID-19 and its impacts.

Social Support

Social distancing has been identified as a crucial step to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Recently, however, psychologists have highlighted that physical distancing might be a more appropriate word (Miller, 2020): we should be ensuring physical distance from others, but not social distance. At these times, and in fact all times, social support is essential for our wellbeing (Waldinger, 2015). This is true for teachers and people in general.

In our research among teachers, we have found that those who experience more positive relationships with students and colleagues tend to report greater wellbeing at work and in broader life (Collie et al., 2016). Efforts to develop and maintain strong social connections are therefore crucial, particularly in times where we are likely to experience less social interaction than usual.

Given the changes required to slow the spread of COVID-19, it is important that we engage in physical distancing, while maintaining social connectedness. This might involve meetings and chats with colleagues or students using online platforms like Zoom or Skype, or via online learning management systems; phone calls with family; or playing a game online with friends.


Adaptability refers to the extent to which individuals are able to adjust their thoughts, actions, and emotions in order to effectively navigate new, changing, or uncertain situations (Martin et al., 2012). In general, the teaching profession involves many situations and events that can be considered new, changing, or uncertain. To name just a few: teachers must respond to the changing needs of students throughout a lesson, adapt to manage unexpected situations relating to student behaviour, and make adjustments to their teaching plans when timetable changes occur (Collie & Martin, 2016).

COVID-19 can be definitely categorised as a new, changing, and uncertain situation for all. It is safe to say that adaptability is needed even more now than ever. For teachers this may involve, for example:

  • adjusting thinking and attitudes about how students learn online and how technology can be harnessed in teaching like never before;
  • adjusting behaviours by seeking out people to support any technical needs for remote teaching; and,
  • adjusting emotions by reining in possible anxiety or frustration as new technologies are navigated and as different students engage with remote learning in different ways.

What can educational leaders do to support teachers?

Autonomy-supportive leadership refers to actions by leaders that promote empowerment and self-initiation among teachers 

Importantly, previous research has also provided guidance on how to implement autonomy-supportive leadership. These include:

  • listening to teachers’ needs, such as in relation to the requirements for delivery of online learning
  • acknowledging and attempting to understand issues from teachers’ perspectives, such as providing teachers opportunities to voice the difficulties and the opportunities that arise when teaching remotely during COVID-19
  • seeking teachers’ input in decision-making at the school-level, such as asking teachers how best to approach different events and tasks scheduled during the COVID-19 pandemic
  • providing rationales for the tasks required by teachers, such as explaining how and why various tasks may still be important to do remotely.



  1. Explaining the purpose of each element in the self-directed learning environment.Before students can make advocacy decisions within your learning environment, they need to know the purpose of each element within the instructional routine. I explain that my instructional routine is intentionally built to support their iterative learning process and honors variability of individual processing time. Typically, in a lesson, my students will do the following:

Receive a short, highly conceptual, minimally procedural instructional video that I made with a supplemental worksheet for them to apply their initial conceptions. The instructional video allows for students’ processing time without restrictions. 

Engage in specific collaborative activities to learn from and with one another, iterating on their initial conceptions through communication and feedback (from their peers and me). 

Evaluate their understanding via an individual mastery check.

Reflect on their performance in their progress tracker, writing down errors, next steps in their learning, and big ideas from the lesson.

  1. Helping students learn how to maximize each instructional avenue. They should know the following:
  • How to take notes from instructional videos (sometimes watching twice—once to write down and a second time to compare video with their notes). 
  • How to present work for others to learn from (similar to a presentation where you “don’t read the slides”; in math we don’t read each number or operation but instead explain why and how each element was used).
  • How to collaborate in small, student-led groups. 
  • How to promote productive discussions in math.
  • How to reflect in their progress tracker (specifically in error analysis, acknowledging current conceptions, not misconceptions).
  • How to study math.

I also create space after unit summative assessments for students to reflect on their learning within the unit and to help them discover how they learned best (while also informing me on instructional adjustments I should make).

  1. Liberating student learning through informed student voice and choice. About halfway through the school year, the structures of my learning environment diminish to create space for student choice in guided, self-paced learning. This liberation comes from the inverse relationships of student empowerment, informed with how they learn best, and rescinding classroom constraints.

My time in class is then spent mostly in one-to-one feedback conferences or through formative instruction of small-group learning, speaking only in response to what students are doing and saying. 

Repurposing my time toward these formative instructional avenues builds relationships and personalizes a student’s learning experience. Supporting self-pacing within units, I provide “Must Do, Should Do, and Aspire to Do” lessons. The Modern Classrooms Project—which I am associated with—provides detailed guidance through its free course on how to create the varying structures for implementing this model.

The only structured time that stays from the beginning of the year is the designated time for specific collaborative avenues to learn from and with one another, where I am providing formative instruction. A majority of my class period is then spent with students in student choice activities, or independent work time, consisting of the following:

  • Taking notes from instructional videos
  • Engaging in individual work or collaborative work
  • Having one-on-one or small group conversations with me
  • Taking mastery checks 
  • Reflecting in their progress trackers


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