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Supporting children's development
Supporting children's development

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The gender gap: fact or fiction

Look back at the notes you made about your own experience of reading.

One of the questions was ‘Do you think girls read more than boys?’. Your own experiences are a good basis for understanding children, but it is important to avoid generalisations.

Much has been written about the ‘gender gap’ in primary education. Gender is the range of characteristics linked to the social differences between masculinity and femininity. There is evidence from research that supports the view that there is a difference between achievement in boys and girls.

Boys thought of as poor readers spent less time on or avoided reading in order to maintain credibility with their peers. Girls were happy to be seen reading easier books and to receive help from other experienced readers. By spending less time on reading, boys consequently fall further behind their peers so the problem becomes worse.

Some girls choose more challenging reading material for themselves. Contemporary books for girls in upper primary years include the Tracy Beaker series by Jacqueline Wilson. These and the plethora of vampire stories, such as the Twilight Saga by Stephanie Meyer, attract a pre-teen audience of able readers. Girls also share and discuss books much more readily, often forming reading groups similar to those that are popular with adults.

With growing awareness of the gender differences, efforts have been made to redress the balance. For example, a 2010 BBC TV series, Extraordinary School for Boys, explored different ways of engaging 11-year-old boys at primary school with learning, using concepts of risk and adventure.

By taking boys outside the classroom and involving them in learning through physical activities, the series attempted to harness that type of learning and channel it into learning within a classroom. It was led by Gareth Malone, who also challenged the stereotype that ‘boys don’t sing’ (The Choir: Boys Don’t Sing, broadcast in 2008). Gareth commented that ‘If school feels like a place where boys can take risks and push themselves and really challenge themselves, then they’ll be more engaged’.

Addressing the gender gap

Various strategies are suggested to try to reduce the gap in literacy between boys and girls, and in particular, to inspire boys to read and write.

  • give boys a distinct sense of purpose in each lesson and encourage collaboration.
  • ask pupils to read a book and then write a review of it to recommend the book to a younger child. This inspires them to choose appropriate books for other children, to read them carefully and to write careful reviews. They can also use their ICT and art skills to present their reviews well. This could also help to improve their own literacy skills
  • use good quality, yet inspiring, reading material during guided reading sessions and literacy lessons. The quality of the texts is important in order to provide good examples of writing, yet the subject matter also needs to grab the boys’ attention. e.g. spooky stories, or action stories, especially those with a boy protagonist.
  • encourage boys initially to read anything that they are interested in, whether it be magazines, stories, comics or instructions for games. Gradually, they will choose books that interest them.
  • present boys with inspirational stimulus, such as film clips, in order to provide the subject matter for a lesson. Use of role play and drama activities add to the interest and help to provide motivation for boys to want to read on, to find out what happens next in the story and to want to write their own versions of scenes from the story.

Reflect on your own practice and identify different strategies that work well for you. What are your experiences of the gender gap?