24 July 2007

So What Else Is New?

The Tampa Tribune has an article about the "crisis" schools are experiencing due to the gender gap in reading ability. I definitely agree that this is a significant issue, but this issue is starting to feel like Mark Twain's observation that "Everyone talks about the weather...but nobody does anything about it." We've been hearing for awhile now that boys lag behind girls in terms of proficiency in reading. Can anything be done? What should it be?

From a developmental perspective, I'm not convinced that there is much families and schools can do. Educators have long recognized that boys and girls learn differently. And new brain research has convinced some that more consideration should be given to the findings. "Girls' left brain tends to develop more quickly than boys' left brain," said Diane Connell, a professor of New Hampshire's Rivier College. "That enables girls in kindergarten and first grade to actually do the writing, fine motor skills, sit in their seats longer. They're even able to hear better. They really do come to school more equipped to read and write." If this is truly the case, then all the nurture in the world isn't going to overcome nature. We have to wait until the minds of young boys are physiologically ready to learn to read. Beyond that point, we need to do a much better job of helping them learn. Consider the following information from the article:

  • Nationally the gap between girls' and boys' reading proficiency is 5 percentage points to 10 percentage points. In writing, it's 10 percentage points to 15 percentage points.
  • About three-quarters of special-education students are boys.
  • Poor, black and Hispanic boys struggle the most with reading.
  • Poverty has long been a factor in poor academic performance, but a high percentage of boys from educated families are deficient in reading. Twenty-three percent of young white men with parents who have at least a bachelor's degree are not proficient in reading when they graduate from high school; 7 percent of young women are not, according to statistics.
I'm not aware of any biological reasons for these---although the first one might be due in part to a developmental "lag." The article's author includes some suggestions to help close the gap (wider choice of reading materials, more time reading and talking about reading). Will anyone consider this as new information? Will now be the time that schools and families make some changes to supporting boys in reading?

3 comments:

DrPezz said...

My English courses are evidence of the gap between boys and girls in reading even at the high school level. I have often heard from the gurus in our district that if students do not read at grade level by the 3rd grade, they basically never will; however, I generally wonder how much is nature and how much is attributable to other factors.

Some things I've noticed (unscientifically obtained info. from anonymous surveys I give out each year) in my H.S. English courses:

1. Boys tend to spend much more time (upwards of 90 minute average) playing video games and watching TV. The amount of time socializing on MySpace, instant messaging, and the like seemed fairly equal.

2. Girls tend to read more for pleasure than the boys.

3. My honors classes are generally 2/3 girls.

4. The boys tend to have more jobs requiring them to be outside of the house (babysitting seems to be a major cause here), so they can't study while working.

5. The boys were involved in more activities overall.

I wonder if the boys are behind to begin with because of nature and then are trained--socially--to be behind the girls. I say this because the boys typically seem to fill their time reading less, being involved more, and seem to view ignorance as cool more often than the girls. At least, I see this at the high school level.

Is this common at the elementary and middle school levels as well?

Repairman said...

I don't have any remedies, but the article made for interesting reading.

Defining a problem in the media often, by default, suggests there's a readily available solution, even if none is apparent. If no solution appears, we're somehow all equally culpable, and we'd better get on it forthwith.

Instinctively I want to reach out and fix whatever is the current media concern, but then I think, "we know what to do, let's do it (our convergent education research)."

To be honest, I think the factors that influence each child's predisposition to read are so complex and so far removed from our control that we can only do what we've always attemped to do...engage the student with the goal of facilitating literacy.

I'd spend money on training teachers to engage kids -- as wide an assortment of children as possible. What shakes out is what shakes out. The media will have to deal with it.

The Science Goddess said...

Dr Pezz---we always seemed to have far more girls in advanced classes than boys, too...something I always found interesting considering the old battle cry about getting more girls into math and science. (From what I've read, though, this pattern doesn't hold true at the university level.)

Outcomes are slightly different at lower grade levels (no after school jobs to worry about and fewer activities, for example), but one would think that an inability to read or read well would not be motivating for any age group. Perhaps some boys choose to be more activity oriented because they can feel more success there? (I'm just guessing here.)