Thursday, July 30, 2009

Gender Gap in Early Education

"The widest gaps between boys and girls were in writing but girls also perform better in using their imagination in art, design and storytelling.

Louise from Australia alerted her personal learning network today about an article published today in the Telegraph.

The results are from the study of 230,000 children who are all five years in age.

As the article states, "Policy makers need to be aware .... and have to think how best to intervene." It speaks to how we should find ways to enable boys to develop fluency. The article stops short on explaining how we address the need.
Here are some of my thoughts and ideas on the matter.

Boys writing initiatives need to be shaped for boys.

An initiative that seems to address writing and literacy, and makes no mention of boys writing research will not work. The article speaks about cutting class sizes and giving boys individual attention. I'm not sure that this is the way to go.

1. Boys need an environment which is fundamentally different with what we have been offering them
2. Teachers need to start with developing a relationship with boy students from a very early age.
3. Find out what makes them tick
4. what they are interested in and go from there for starters.
5. Have them "talk stories" from an early age.
6. Record their oral stories from a very early age and write them down.

The article says that boys have trouble holding a pencil - - well, duh, no kidding. Is that writing? I think not.

7. Get them on a keyboard as soon as possible.
8. Have them become storytellers from day one. [bit of a repeat of number 5 but listed here for emphasis]

I have a tweet in to the DCSF about the location of the study on their website. I couldn't find it. I'll be posting more once I read the entire article. If you read this and can find the study on the website, please let me know.

Oh, and why don't newspapers, which are on-line, have a hypertext link to the studies, anyhow? Perhaps they are worried that once folks see the link they will exit the article perhaps.

Until then, thanks for listening.

Photo Credit: PA


  1. I agree with you that there are fundamental differences between male and female students, but I do not want to generalize too much because many female students would benefit from your 8 writing intiatives as well.
    I have noticed in my classroom that girls are quicker to pick up a pen (gel, in color) and flip to the appropriate color coded tab in their organized binder to take notes or store a handout. I am fortunate that I teach in a computer lab, and I use Google docs in my classroom because the majority of boys prefer to take notes in Google docs that they can later pull up on a computer at home. They do not want to carry around a pen or a binder, and they told me that they can't lose it if they put it on a Google doc, so I know these students do not want to spend time color coding and organizing. I just received classroom microphones this year, and when we create digital projects, the boys are usually provide the voice for the digital projects in the groups, and the girls are usually the note takers. These are just a few observations that I have noticed in my own classroom. I am interested in looking at the study you mentioned, so please share it when you locate it.

  2. Kent,

    Teaching my all-boy group of 13 7th & 8th graders was an amazing (and fun!) experience. When you talk about it being hard for a boy to hold a pencil, I thought about a lesson I did this summer. The boys had to cut out a Food Chain wheel. I have never seen children over the age of 7 struggle so much with scissors! I couldn't believe how hard it was for them to follow the directions on how to cut the wheel and figure out which lines to cut! The lesson ended up taking an extra 20 minutes!

    They did very well when doing hands-on activities and doing interactive activities--which they usually requested to do again. They also enjoyed the 2 hour hike we went on, though some had trouble making it up the hills :)

    A few of them struggled to concentrate while doing the short (1 page) in class reading assignments I had them do. I couldn't help but wonder if it had to do with the fact that they spent every other second of the day they had free glued to a Nintendo DS screen. It was an amazing sight--6 or 7 of them sitting under a tree on a beautiful summer day saying nothing and tapping away at their buttons while staring at the screen.

    But this WAS concentration--a different type, albeit, but concentration nonetheless. I wonder what studies have to say about this?

    I really have enjoyed working with my boys and I hope to have a similar experience in the future.

    As a side note, I also worked with a group of all girls of the same age with an equally successful and engaging summer--I've been pondering the implications of this.

    Thanks for an informative post!

    Mary Beth
    (aka mbteach)

  3. You pinned the tail on the donkey (forgive me, it's Sunday morning, barely begun my 1st coffee, my analogies are still sleeping) with 1 and 2. And I agree with Tara when she writes that many girls would benefit from this as well.

    The amazing thing, the absolutely amazing thing ---> building a relationship and differentiating the learning environment, while perhaps focusing on the boys, will benefit everyone in the class.

    It may sound funny, but it seems that more of my students are 'boy' learners than ever in the past - and I'm talking girls and boys. Of course, I work in an alternative school - a place for students who have not had success in more traditional classrooms - so that could be why. Perhaps that is similar to what Mary Beth was thinking at the end of her comment.

    Love those simple yet profound shifts in learning.