Boys and the literacy gap...

(61 Posts)
louloutheshamed Sat 15-Mar-14 19:49:25

I have recently read Kat Banyard's the equality illusion. In it she discusses the issues of 'gendered education' and the problems faced by girls at school. A problem she highlights is that fact that most data shows that girls outperform boys in terms of literacy and language, which 'skews the whole debate'.

I am an English teacher and am very aware of this issue. All the time we are being told that we need to think of ways to engage the boys and close this gap. However, I feel like everything we do is geared towards this and it's still not working. At ks3 for example, all of the novels we read have male protagonists and are chosen to 'engage the boys' because girls are engaged anyway. Eg Skellig, Private Peaceful, Holes, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. One of the reasons we do so much war poetry is because we think it will engage the boys. And still the gap exists.

I am wondering, do you think we should actually try to challenge these gender stereotypes rather than pander to them? Does the gap really matter that much when only 22% of mps for example are female, boys seem to do ok regardless (discalimer: I have 2 sons, I am not dismissing this as a problem just thinking aloud and inviting thoughts...)

I would be interested in a finish perspective on the literacy gap...

kim147 Tue 18-Mar-14 17:14:17

And reading is not just reading fiction. It's reading anything for a purpose. Magazines, papers, fiction, non fiction - yes, even the internet.

Being able to understand it, comment, analyse, critique it - all important skills.

Justgotosleepnow Tue 18-Mar-14 17:52:10

I'm finding this discussion really interesting. I have a 11m DD and I'm finding my friends comments on all the babies playing really interesting- oh hes such a boy etc. and oh but boys do everything later and oh boys will be boys.

They are babies fgs!

When my DD plays with cars it is ignored. Seemingly because it doesn't fit their world view of how girls are. And she's really tall. How many people tell me she's going to be a model? Argh. I reply no way, they are all anorexic, she's going to be a swimmer/ hockey player etc.
that comment to a boy would be totally different- are you a big strong boy, not you are going to be judges on your looks. Drives me nuts.

So if this nonsense starts with babies it makes sense to me that it continues into primary education. And maybe chosing male central characters is an attempt to engage boys. But I think it goes a lot deeper in our culture than that.

And you know what, the whole thing drives me nuts. If girls were behind do you honestly think anyone would be bothering?

When I did the 11plus in NI the girls had a higher pass mark to make sure the numbers of girls & boys admitted to grammar schools were the same. Totally unacceptable.

And girls aren't less good at maths/ science they are just constantly told it's not for them. Grrr

kim147 Tue 18-Mar-14 17:58:10

I do hope that's changing - real attempts are being made to encourage girls into STEM subjects and if girls were behind, people would be bothering.

It's not just boys as a whole. If you break down the statistics, it's white working class boys who are behind the most. Boys from other backgrounds are not doing as bad.

But at the same time - a girl could be doing ok but is not being pushed as she is quiet and complicit in class, not challenging or demanding. Just getting on with things. So no problems for the class teacher.

Nowadays - it's all progress. Everyone is assessed to make sure they all make progress. And those who aren't making progress (even if they are high achievers) are identified.

FairPhyllis Tue 18-Mar-14 20:27:15

No reading isn't just fiction. But I thought the context here was English Lit in schools.

If you look at the preference of men in general for non-fiction, I think one has to ask whether socialisation plays a role in that too.

almondcake Tue 18-Mar-14 21:25:57

I thinl the all must make progress approach is part of the problem, Kim. It should be that middle class children coming in to primary ahead of the poorest kids don't necessarily stay at the top and get overtaken by other kids. That is very hard to do if teachers are told all pupils should make 2 levels progress in x amount of time. All that seems to be achieving is maintaining inequality, presumably including those based on gender.

kim147 Tue 18-Mar-14 21:28:48

All must make progress. 2 sublevels per year or else you are in trouble - a friend of mine is in a school where they have to have a meeting and write a letter to the head explaining why children who haven't achieved this have not made progress sad

TheSporkforeatingkyriarchy Tue 18-Mar-14 21:30:59

Socialization likely plays a part, though I find the stereotype on this one odd. It seems to be trying to show male as rational and wanting non-fiction and female as the opposite - and yet many branches of popular fiction - sci-fi and fantasy particularly - are aimed at and defined as masculine where as "real life" books and media tend to be aimed more at women. Pretty much every guy I know has a long love and collection of fiction across multiple media types and are encouraged to act those out in games - video, tabletop, and live action - and all of those are very much a masculine socialization stereotype whereas that is not the case for women (and women are often pushed out of these are as "not being true fans"). There is some sort of blur between this idea that boys read prefer to read non-fiction and the general way media for men is designed as being the opposite.

The discussion reminds me of something that happened in the States a while back. In one of the American university entrance exams, it was found that young men did better at maths but young women were better at English. So they changed the English part of the exam and now young men do better. They never did and there has yet to be a serious discussion about doing anything about the maths section - men doing better is seen as normal and when not there is a need for correction. Personally, I think education needs far more variant points of views, particularly in literature and history and "the Canon" is quite damaging for all.

It is possible that boys are socialized and see through common representation that they will be all right and there is less representation and focus for young men on the work required to get there. My daughter who is 7 has had far more people ask her what she wants to be when she grows up and be challenged on than my son who is 9. His fantasies of building robots to make people's lives better and protect people are brushed aside as childish fantasies and 'cute' by almost everyone whereas her dream of being an astronaut doctor are often coupled with the "Oh, you better study hard at maths then, you'll need to pay extra attention in science, are you good with blood" on and on and on (and more than one comment about being a nurse when she's specifically said doctor). She's only 7 and she's asked if I will watch her future children because random stranger on the train who asked her told her that it's very difficult to do any of the jobs she likes while being a mummy. She's worried at 7 about juggling it all because of what other people say to her and some of the representation she sees.

It really does seem that the message towards young girls is how hard they have to work to get there and far more pushed to look up to real people whereas the message towards young boys tends to show mostly the end result and the focus is on fictional characters. People think it's cool that my 9 year old son looks up to fictional robot builders and the cleaner modern cartoon version of Iron Man, people think it's odd that my 4 year old daughter admires fictional fighters and pilots (and She Hulk), people think it's funny when my 2 year old son does the hulk hand gestures, people remind my 7 year old daughter that fictional characters she admire aren't real (which I recall happening to me well into my teens). I do let my kids enjoy their dreams and at times I tell them what it takes to get there - showing my son what he can learn to do when he's older, places he can go to learn this, and showing up articles on current robotics projects motivates and excites him (he come on leaps and bounds over the last year). I'm still working on trying to find the right balance for my 7 year old because she's heard it so much - but in a negative way - mostly now it's just showing her that she can do maths and so many other things and letting her enjoy her giant dreams (which is something I never got as a child as I was squished into a bad fitting parental dreams).

BertieBotts Tue 18-Mar-14 21:40:25

I found literature really hard. I was in the top set and used to (still do!) read constantly but I only got a C overall in English Lit, I think I actually failed one of the exams.

Because the texts were boring I found it hard to identify with the characters and I couldn't answer questions about them. Yet I love a hypothetical discussion about characters when it's a story I like.

I know real life isn't about picking and choosing the things we like and a skill should be transferable to topics which are less interesting but I just felt it never really captured my imagination in the first place and I never really "got it".

almondcake Tue 18-Mar-14 22:04:26

BB, I also read constantly and got a C in English Lit. I think the reason for that was that I did not know what it was I meant to be writing about and there was no specific teaching on what to cover. That has completely changed. If you are doing a specific text the pupils will be told they must make points about dramatic irony, about the political perspective each character symbolises and so on.

I think that is one of the main issues in getting people with a less intuitive approach to pass English Language and English Literature. It can be broken down into a set of facts and method, just like Maths and Science, which can then be applied to every piece of reading and writing (and speaking). But people often don't want to perceive it that way. They want to see it as some kind of vague skill you acquire through osmosis through reading widely or are just innately skilled in. There are some excellent English teachers and they do seem to teach it as if it were Maths or Science.

nooka Tue 18-Mar-14 22:49:06

I hated English literature, with it's emphasis on pulling things apart. I was a voracious reader as a youngster and really objected to the way that English Lit seemed to make everything so boring. However I think that was really to do with not very good teachers. When I changed school at sixth form the English teachers at the new school seemed to be much more fun, chose texts that were engaging (and smutty!) and I think I would have enjoyed learning with them. I did read all the books and went on the field trips, so had quite a good insight into the classes.

Perhaps slightly ironically for this conversation the first school was all girls and the second was a boys school with girls in the sixth form, so presumably the second was orientated to 'boys learning' whatever that might be.

kim147 Tue 18-Mar-14 22:51:29

English literature seemed to be remembering quotes. Now they get the books in the exams confused

It was compulsory at my school. No surprise what books we covered and plays. I think they are still on Gove's list.

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