Trabajos de grado y Tesis

Interaction in EFL Learners through the Lens of Social Constructions of Gender

Entidad asociada
Facultad de Educación

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Información del trabajo de grado o tesis


Resumen (Objetivos, Justificación, Metodología y Resultados)


Social constructions of gender are mirrored at the core of teaching and learning a foreign language, and are evidenced in the multifaceted interactions which take place in academic social environments. Patrick, Ryan and Kaplan (2007) considered learners’ perceptions of the classroom environment in task-related interactions as part of their engagement and performance where social efficacy and academic efficacy takes main place. In the principles of gender constructions, Lorber and Farrel (1991) provide a cultural perspective of men and women as gender categories of being, observable in today’s society in which their psychological and physical characteristics are evidenced in their gender roles as a social change. Argyle (1999) saw the social interactions as a concept intrinsically related to personalities, behaviors, and social performances, everything as a pattern that interacts together. Some other perspectives have been given about social constructions, including that, Andrew (2012) who expressed that since the human being has always been raised as an autonomous individual, social constructions search for the idea of shaping a human being that can be both individually and socially sufficient, evidenced in discursive interactions. In a study about how diverse contexts influence the construction of women and men’s individualities in New Zealand, Holmes (1997) provided an example based on a woman who, according to society, constructed a conservative gender identity, representing herself in society as a good mother, a good worker, and a good daughter. However, the identity created by this woman was completely dependent upon her specific context, an appropriate example is the socioeconomic status in which woman is being constructed, since some status required specific social characteristics of a woman in the aspects mentioned above: a good mother, a good worker, and a good daughter. In this sense, such a context, paired with social and cultural interactions, may contribute to identity construction. In addition, the distinct construction of gender in the social roles of men and women is visible in most world cultures, particularly in that of Colombian society. Lorber and Farrel (1991) express that “unlike most roles, such as nurse, doctor, and patient or professor and student, gender has no specific site or organizational context” (p.16). From a social context perspective Rossbach (2003) explained how “leaning takes place through our interactions and communication with others” (p. 126). This study is focused on the explanation of how people from birth to adulthood learn when interacting in social environments with members of society; the author explained how the fact of a boy playing at home with his parents means that house is a social context where parents and their son are in a learning environment, clarifying that males-females are born to learn how to be girls and boys when taking part on the different social contexts like: home, school, church and so forth. From here, the influence of the context in different stages of human development when learning. As demonstrated, gender goes deeper than social structures and functions as a constant in people’s lives in every social interaction. This research states a problem based on how educational needs involve not only cognitive processes but also sociocultural relationships reflected on learners inside the classroom. This becomes particularly significant for teachers and educational stakeholders as the inclusion of these characteristics is vital in the teaching and learning process. In addition, this research conducts a theoretical overview on identity, power of language, social stereotypes, and discourse interactions focused on gender as a social construction informed by Fairclough’s (2010) framework as critical discourse analysis (CDA) research methodology since it permits to analyze the relation between discourses, most commonly defined as written or spoken language in use in social contexts, and social relations. Therefore, this project seeks to observe the structure and constitution of social constructions of gender, when interacting in a foreign language through the analysis of high school learners’ interactional discourses.

Statement of the Problem

Hymes (1962), cited the role of speech in socialization as a situation that might vary depending on its functions, the context in which it occurs, events and factors, as well as the social structures and organizations, cultural values, beliefs, and personality formation from those utilizing such speech for communication. Based on this, the use of English as a foreign language in speech events reveals how gender is constructed and reflected through the classroom discourse of tenth-grade students from El Bosque Bilingual School, this educational setting is based on the idea of a starting point for university life, giving to students a sense of freedom and social development based on a new stage of their lives. In this context, many teaching practices following a traditional curriculum fail to take into account the significant aspects regarding learners’ gender identities. Sadker and Silber (2007) highlighted the importance of gender in teaching and learning, suggesting that “educational schools and programs have been slow to recognize and integrate gender issues into their curricula; the pre-service experience of most new teachers has created gender blindness, an inability to see the gender bias in the curriculum or in classroom interaction. And even if they saw the problem, their ability to create positive change is limited because pre-service teachers graduate learning few if any insights or strategies to address gender bias in the classroom” (p. xiii). In this sense, aspects of the meaning about social construction of gender is clearly necessary in educational practices, in order to understand how each student is a different world constructed socially and it is directly related with learning-teaching practices in EFL classrooms. In this perspective, it is important that educators consider and integrate social constructions of gender into the curriculum as part of their teaching practices with the purpose of improving learners’ discourse accomplishments. In order to identify the problem, a pretest was applied to different populations in which the characterization of different gender social constructions in learners’ lives was identified as a significant issue. Results of such a pretest (initial questionnaire: appendix A) confirmed the presence of a problem related to the social constructions of gender which require a more profound characterization. In general terms, this problem suggests that the social constructions of gender are not considered as part of the educational process when interacting in a foreign language.

This problem was identified through diagnostic examinations based on classrooms observations evidenced in the video recordings and the initial questionnaire (appendix A) applied to evaluate specific social constructions of gender. These assessments allowed the researchers to examine opinions, behaviors, and trends related to the gender identities of the learners within this population. After the application of the pretest or initial questionnaire, particular opinions in relation to gender were exposed, principally in the areas of domestic responsibility or equal opportunities in the workplace. Within these areas, social constructions of gender play an important role in the foreign-language classroom environment. Furthermore, the power of language, as well as gender identities and styles, were expressed throughout the diagnostic examinations via the characteristics of sayings, jargons, and abbreviations as ways of expressing themselves when interacting in the classroom. Besides, personal language reflection when answering aspects related with personal information, family background, cultural background and English exposure. Performance in English was also analyzed and determined to be problematic since the presentation of the target language in classes are mostly based on language components only, English is presented as fragmented target language (grammar, vocabulary, phonology) but not as communication that goes beyond structure helping people to construct themselves in different social contexts. Herein, the idea that English as foreign language is truly relevant in the development of social constructions of gender, understanding language as social component instead of fragmented system. It is understood as the social wrong in this research.

From the analysis of the data, some particular patterns were evidenced, specifically different expressions of individuality given within teenagers visible when speaking English. In this case, the instruments allowed the researchers to identify the problem and pedagogical dimensions were interconnected with the research question. Giroux and Tremblay (2004) explained the scientific research process in six stages from which the main research questions were identified in the two preliminary stages. In these stages, the context out of the research is defined and the main instruments are applied to be analyzed to identify the main problem. In this research, an educational context was chosen to apply a pretest in which the results regarding sociolinguistics and gender were the starting point. Continuing with the process, the analysis of learners’ answers led the researchers to delimit the research problem. The procedure implemented to determine the research problem identified the objectives of this investigation and helped define the general research questions.

Previous research related to gender roles in the foreign language classroom have addressed issues of social constructions, femininities and masculinities, gender stereotypes, and gender equity when learning English. Duffy, Warren, and Walsh (2001), in a study of the effect of subject content and teacher and student gender on classroom interaction, found that female teachers of literature and math, and male teachers of literature and language have a tendency to interact more with male learners than with female learners. The researchers demonstrated that males are more receptive than females in aspects like: intellect, criticism, and conduct when interacting with the teacher in the classroom. One of the earliest studies reported the work of Aksu (2005), who described stereotypes as generic roles applied to men and women and its reflection in the social area, in this case education. Moreover, gender differences were defined as part of natural and biological differences, providing important insight for social norms. The author, who used the terminology of Barbies and Supermen to describe both girls and boys respectively, concluded the research suggesting effective strategies to mitigate gender issues in the classroom, including the use of a neutral language, taking a neutral position in the classroom without gender preferences, and implementing materials in class that provide gender equity. On the other hand, Martino (1995) studied masculinity and power in an English class to determine how this phenomenon influenced students’ literacy. Gender issues were the focus of his research, especially masculinity and how it affects femininity when learning a specific subject, as well as the nature of masculinity and femininity in the literacy process. The examination of these related projects convey relevant information that establishes a starting point for having a wider perception about gender, discourses, and styles in the EFL classroom. The importance of considering gender issues in teaching practices helps to understand the reception of male-female learners in the educational setting.

In light of such problems, it would be fair to say that social constructions of gender are essential factors to be considered in the design of teaching approaches and methodologies when teaching English as Foreign Language (EFL), especially at the present time where inclusive education is taking strong influence in schooling. Mitchell (2005) examined the importance of inclusive education in the different social contexts in any country, not only in learners with special needs, but any student who has the right to achieve education. He also expressed the necessity to redesign educational programs to include learners’ needs and the different diversities given in a variety of social, political, economic, cultural, and historical contexts in order to bear in mind real learners´ necessities when designing a curricula. These concepts of social construction are strongly supported by many other authors where the human being is considered as an individual and a social being at the same time. De Venanzi (2005) highlights the essential processes regarding the phenomenon of social exclusion in which characteristics like cultural differences, active and passive identities, and social categories are entrenched into society as ways of exclusion in different communities, practices, or institutions. In the same context, Hacking (1999) concluded that social constructions are not only evidenced in daily matters, events and practices, but also revealed in social beliefs. These investigations and perspectives about social constructions seek to understand and characterize the importance about gender as part of constructions in society, and for matters of this research that involves educational practices given in the classroom.

Research Question

This project seeks to explore the relationship between the social constructions of gender and the performance of EFL learners’ classroom interaction through a critical discourse analysis (CDA) and some sociolinguistic aspects. Thus, the main research question is presented as follows:

What social constructions of gender are performed and unveiled through the interactions of tenth-grade EFL learners in El Bosque bilingual school?

How are social constructions of gender reflected in learners’ synergies1?


To determine how social structures of gender are constructed and performed through spoken interactions in the EFL classroom.

To characterize how social constructions of gender influence the quality of the learners’ synergies.

Research Design

Characterized through critical discourse analysis, the interactions when speaking in the classroom through social structures of gender has always been an intriguing issue when learning a foreign language. Due to such a phenomenon, this research investigation attempts to analyze learners’ interactive performance and the social construction of gender through qualitative.

Type of Study

It has been mentioned that one of the main goals in education is to prepare learners for the real world, and a social study that focuses on the purpose of describing the learners real social synergies in the classroom would be something very significant as it may help to characterize the interactions given in the classroom, taking into consideration gender behaviors as part of these interactive processes. Critical Discourse Analysis CDA will be implemented as the main research method, and since characterizing social constructions of gender and its impact on tenth-grade students will be one of the main topics of investigation within this project, it is important to recognize certain sociolinguistic and communal aspects, as well as other background variables that exist between the EFL learners’ interactions. For this reason, several aspects of sociolinguistic research are taken as part of this research process, specifically certain instruments which may be useful to describe the different behaviors and verbal exchanges that can be observed within the population chosen for this investigation. These aspects will provide a broader knowledge base to work on the observation and analysis of this research design, making it more illustrated and detailed.


Providing theories, concepts, explanations, and evaluation are not the only activities required by teachers in the classroom. When interacting in a social context, many others aspects are involved. Littky and Grabelle (2004) stated “education as everyone’s business and viewed schools as more than just buildings where teachers teach and students learn” (p. XV). The authors also viewed education as “a movement that values students as individuals; values families as integral to each child’s learning; values communities as resources; and values educators as change agents who, together, have the power to better our neighborhoods, cities, states, countries, and world” (p. XVI), making a direct connection between education and society, and the reflection of those two movements in social-personal development. Socially constructed behaviors unveiled in interactions of tenth-grade students are inherent of three main categories: Pink Girls and Blue Boys in the Classroom which explores stereotypes socially assigned to males and females. Also, in Personality is Innate, Made, or Influenced by Others where identity is explained as a conception and examined through gender identity and power of language embodied in the classroom. Finally, I Express Myself Based on How I Perceive the World which enables discourse into a critical analysis based on learners’ comments and ways to interact verbally with others. The analysis of these categories in addition to the research objective set out during the different steps of the research delivers significant afterthoughts to the final conclusions. As a final point, some ideas of the research process in general terms and implications for further research regarding social constructions of gender in the educational setting will be indicated. In this section, it is fundamental to mention the influence of students’ social views in their daily practices; how they carry to school their own world to reflect upon it in educational activities and how they continue shaping their social perception from facing the daily world.

Male-female behaviors in a particular context when interacting with other individuals determine girls’ and boys’ personal world construction and its reflection in daily practices. Social constructions of gender are understood as socio-cultural factors that are developed from birth to maturation in different contexts; these are evidenced in educational practices directly from three main concepts which are: society, individual role, and interaction among individuals. First, society as a constructive agent of appropriate behaviors by learners in a determined context, then individual role as personal agent about how boys and girls face different daily practices to create their own style and, finally, interaction through discourse helping to define girls’ and boys’ own social world perception. Those three main concepts are seen for this research as a socially-articulated figure as a result of the representations of girls’ and boys’ social environment, and working as an unbroken cycle. From here, the social constructions of gender in the classroom are evidenced when learners in tenth graders of El Bosque bilingual school are interacting. Students carry their social articulate figure to any context in which they are interacting daily. Hence, social constructions of gender are a vital part of the socially-articulate figure and are evidenced socially and individually.

Social constructions of gender are evidenced socially and personally when learners in tenth graders of El Bosque bilingual school are interacting in the classroom, from here an explanation of the first category of pink girls and blue boys in the classroom corresponding to how femininities and masculinities are constructed and reflected in any social setting is necessary. During the exploration of girls’ and boys’ positions regarding gender practices in Colombian society, several issues were identified: gender practices are already fixed in students when expressing suitable practices for women and men in our society. However, special qualities for men and women were appointed giving a balance between their qualities and appropriate gender practices. Another aspect indicated in the evidence was the fact of breaking social stereotypes from a personal perspective when expressing that nowadays women and men are performing the same practices without concern. To sum up, students from El Bosque bilingual school as part of Colombian society categorize gender-specific practices in society, but are making part of the recognition of social equality when arguing that women and men need to be appreciated as equal social agents.

The influence of meaning and recognition of personalities’ on social constructions of gender was an additional factor about which assumptions were made based on the results given. In the diverse data collected, learners’ personality encourages the rift in the different activities made, providing real-life information full of controversy, especially regarding personalities’ influence on gender roles. Consequently, this classroom material was compared with the perspective of Engler (2009), who considered personality as a combination of emotional, attitudinal, and behavioral patterns of an individual. This author’s standpoint reflects learners’gender personality when interacting in gender activities; it gathers many of the circumstances observed in the classroom, providing an interesting contrast between theoretical opinions and real-life experiences. In this classification, social stereotypes are also analyzed as part of the social constructions of gender in the sense developed by Cleveland, Stockdale & Murphy (2000) about how stereotypes affect decisions and self-perceptions made by men and women. This is also visible in learners’ answers like the one provided by a group of students who express what men and women can do in society as per different social stereotypes –professionally, in family, sports, and show business, etc. These interpretations, in addition to gender identities, power of language and compound personality’s conceptions in the human being, embodying the parallel between theory and practice.

The way people perceive their world offers multiple answers and ambiguous perceptions in each human being. For this segment in research, discourse and analysis provide conclusions connected to the social constructions of gender and the learners’ environment previously mentioned. Discourse through language is one of the most clearly evidenced forms in social constructions provided by the data collected. During one of the workshops developed, learners expressed their social views through a debate in which gender as a main theme allowed them to provide interesting data between their own perceptions and challenging gender proposals. Gender roles verified in the use of discourse in the classroom reflects Thompson’s (1984) opinion about the different ways to represent the world. Based on ideology as a term, which searches for a form to describe gender through every person’s perspective as the ones provided in one of the examples where, from the same image (see appendix C), learners provided many different thoughts, confirming their own way to idealize their world. Once again, the comparable situations give noteworthy information that helps to conclude the results found in this research as valuable and useful for future research.

The objectives in this research sought to achieve the observation of social constructions of gender in learners’ interactions in the EFL classroom, as well as the reflection of social constructions of gender in learners’ synergies. Subsequently, the analysis of the accomplishment on these purposes was drawn. Based on the implementation made, the researchers studied the comparisons developed, and the results suggest that the objectives designed and the research questions highlighted the research problem and were accomplished throughout the investigation. In this sense, the inclusion of social constructions of gender into learners’ interactions as the main objective was performed and fulfilled as the data collected supported the need of including these social constructions into the education curriculum. Additionally, the objectives revealed learners’ collaborations in which they worked together around topics related to social constructions of gender. Here, they supported their own opinions based on their personal and cultural backgrounds, from their real experiences, and from what they have constructed in society through contemporary media. Throughout the activities, learners’ synergies were exposed and supported by their own social constructions of gender in which the symbolic power of language and conceptions about social stereotypes and gender roles in society were the main subject matter. An extra contribution to the objective’s purpose was the enclosure of social features previously mentioned as gender, identity, masculinities and femininities, hierarchy, and power of language involved, language and discourse, etc. These aspects delivered a stronger concept of the social constructions of language and a deeper result on meeting the objective.

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