“I love to see students grow more comfortable as I did and see how fun it is,” she said. “I believe a hard push from a trusted teacher is necessary.”
Supporters of the technique also argue that the Socratic method in its purest form, with no voluntary participation component, elicits an equal number of comments from men and women. Minow, who has held workshops on different pedagogical techniques to ensure faculty reach every student, recommends cold-calling as a teaching technique to balance participation.
“It turns out that many of the women who would think they would not have something to contribute find out that they do very well,” Minow said.
Although Harvard Law professors do still incorporate opportunities for voluntary response into their courses, some are relying more often on cold-calling to keep their students talkative.
Harvard Law professor Mark V. Tushnet ’67 said that he consciously calls on more women than men “just to move closer to gender balance.”
Suk said uses a similar strategy in her first-year criminal law class. “I find that the more students are called upon to speak the more likely they are to volunteer,” she said.
Overall, there is no right way to teach, according to Harvard Law Professor Gabriella Blum. Blum said she encourages students “to expose themselves to different professors and teaching styles so as to enrich their experience,” she wrote in an e-mail.
THINKING LIKE A LAWYER
Early in his teaching career, one of Dershowitz’s star students approached him with an essay she submitted for another class. In other classes, she had received an A from not only Dershowitz, but also several other first-year teachers—yet she had received a D on her latest exam. After reading what he considered to be a stellar piece of academic writing, Dershowitz asked the student’s professor if an error had been made.
“He said, ‘I didn’t make a mistake, she just didn’t think like a lawyer,’” Dershowitz repeated. “It was clear he had been biased by her gender.”
This exchange prompted Dershowitz to push for anonymous grading at Harvard Law, a policy change that resulted in a dramatic increase in women’s grades.
“But they’re still not high enough,” Dershowitz said.
Though Minow has refused to release data on the gender breakdown of grades, professors said that indicators point to a dramatic disparity between men’s and women’s performance despite blind assessment.
Neufeld’s 2004 study found that women earned lower grades in first-year courses across three years of data, though the disparity varied in part with the content and gender of the professor. The form of assessment, by contrast, did not increase or decrease the grade disparity.
In the study, men were also more likely to receive graduation honors than women, a disparity frequently cited by the Shatter coalition.