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Are Boys Behind Girls in Reading?

Harvard School of Education’s Opinion

Is our education system failing boys?  The Harvard School of Education’s take on this raging debate.

Putting the “Boy Crisis” in Context:  Finding solutions to boys’ reading problems may require looking beyond gender

By MICHAEL SADOWSKI.

Click here for link.

The Takeaways for Me:

  • Hook reluctant readers by finding books that appeal to them!  Graphic novels, sports themed books or whatever!
  • Advocates for more “boy-friendly” education have been arguing for some time that schools should include more reading materials that boys tend to like, such as action-oriented stories and graphic novels, in an effort to motivate boys to read.
  • Nontraditional materials such as comic books and sports-themed materials can provide an important “hook” to get boys more involved in reading.

Some key paragraphs:

  • “Moreover, the state tests showed gaps between different racial and ethnic groups that were much wider than those by gender. The same state-level CEP reports that show gaps ranging from one to 16 percentage points between boys and girls reveal gaps in the 20-, 30-, even 40-point range between white and Asian American students on the one hand and African-American, Latino, and Native American students on the other, says Naomi Chudowsky, coauthor of the CEP report: “Just to put this in perspective, a 10-point gap is still pretty significant, but we’re seeing much wider gaps between racial and ethnic groups.”
  • In addition, disparities in gender may play out differently in wealthy, middle-class, and lower-income communities. Kenneth Hilton studied the relationship between community wealth and boy-girl reading gaps while executive director of research and evaluation for the Rush-Henrietta (N.Y.) Central School District. Hilton, now superintendent of the Sullivan West Central (N.Y.) School District, found that on fourth-grade state reading tests, girls in both wealthy and middle-income or working-class school districts in New York State scored eight to nine percentage points higher in reading than boys. However, when these same cohorts of students reached eighth grade, the gap grew to 17 percentage points in the middle- and working-class districts, but stayed at nine points for the wealthiest districts.”
  • Most researchers agree that on average, boys develop the skills associated with reading and writing 12 to 24 months later than girls. Attending to the possible difficulties some boys (and girls) may have with reading early on is crucial, Snow says, to avoid what psychologist Keith Stanovich has called the “Matthew Effect,” in which strong readers move further and further ahead, while early deficits accumulate and lead to greater and greater difficulties later on.
  • Advocates for more “boy-friendly” education have been arguing for some time that schools should include more reading materials that boys tend to like, such as action-oriented stories and graphic novels, in an effort to motivate boys to read. William Pollack, author of the book Real Boys and clinical professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School, says action-oriented stories were removed from school curricula several decades ago in well-intended initiatives to remove violence from children’s reading. “Most of the books that were written for elementary school-aged children yoked action with violence,” Pollack says. “But in removing violence, we removed action.”
  • Nontraditional materials such as comic books and sports-themed materials can provide an important “hook” to get boys more involved in reading, Pollack says, and serve as a helpful bridge to more advanced types of reading later on. Snow, whose research focuses on language and literacy development, suggests that helping boys build this bridge is crucial for their learning trajectories, since the ability to read and interact with high-level materials is central to just about every subject children encounter in the upper grades and beyond.

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By Mia Wenjen, PragmaticMom

2 Comments

  1. Thats an interesting idea, the “boy-friendly” books and reading sources. If you think about it, many of the books out there are more girl friendly in the sense that they have to do with animals and other childish characters. Boys are usually more into comic books and sports and car magazines. Perhaps if we introduce them to comic books at a young age and expose them to fun reading then they might be more interested. This topic should definitely be explored more. Thank you for sharing!

  2. I have an almost 8-year-old son and a 6-year-old daughter. The differences between their reading styles is incredible. His is “all word” and hers is entirely about breaking it down phonetically. On the surface, they read at almost the same level, but if you spend any amount of time with them, you’ll notice that he actually “reads” the sentences to you. He accounts for punctuation much better than she does. But to be honest, I think the thing that’s helped both of them the most is that they were Waldorf educated at an early age, so they heard most of their story-telling, rather than having letters pushed on them. And when they did start reading, they weren’t pushed or stressed out by anyone to do it better or faster or the same as everyone else (we’re in Montessori now). I see some of our friends who have boys that are really struggling, and I think it’s because they’re being pushed to read ahead of what their brains are ready for. Boys need time. Oh, and they also need books with action and anything that’s totally disgusting. Right now, my son loves “Fred and Anthony.”

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