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...

Flicktheswitch Sat 15-Mar-14 19:59:32

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

Goblinchild Sat 15-Mar-14 20:00:14

Does the gap matter?
A dangerous attitude for a teacher to have, I think. Put 'white indigenous children' in place of boys and see what I'm getting at.
Let the boys underachieve because they will end up on top anyway?
But many boys end up disenfranchised and do not 'do OK regardless'. More interesting to look at the reasons they are not engaging, and if their attitude stems from their unrealistic expectations, their feelings of entitlement or if there is a combination of causes that impact on their learning. Is the gap a concern in countries with a more equal, less gendered educational system. Or one that begins formal education later.

louloutheshamed Sat 15-Mar-14 20:02:17

Yes coursework and controlled assessment is gradually being phased out. Personally I was always ace at exams and preferred them to coursework but coursework is perceived as bring more girl friendly as it rewards consistency and diligence over time rather than pressurised exam technique.

louloutheshamed Sat 15-Mar-14 20:08:07

Yes goblinchild, 'does the gap matte? Seems to be what Banyard's is saying, and I find it difficult to reconcile this with my experiences as a teacher. I am concerned about the gap, just don't know how to tackle it, at the minute we seem to be tackling it rather superficially through choice if texts but as you say it clearly runs deeper than that.

JapaneseMargaret Sat 15-Mar-14 20:13:19

I find this gap fascinating.

We have it here in NZ as well, and we are traditionally a fairly forward-thinking, 'feminist' nation. Children here start school at 5 (i.e. when they actully turn 5, not at the start of the academic year after they turn 5).

We also have a gap - at least in primary schools - in mathematics, where girls generally outperform boys too, although to a lesser extent.

The aggregate data shows this, but even when you break the data down by ethnicity, girls still outperform boys.

I am fascinated by it, because I would love to understand the reasons why. I don't think it is as simple as boys not being engaged as much. Otherwise, why does it appear to transcend national boundaries, curriculums, culture and ethnicity?

And I think when we address the issue by assuming it's because of a lack of engagement, we do girls a disservice. How does pushing more male-centric literature help them?

Goblinchild Sat 15-Mar-14 20:17:42

Do you have a similar gender imbalance in the teachers, with far more females in primary?
I wonder if the results are the same in single-sex schools, that the girls' schools have higher results throughout than the boys' schools?

BertieBotts Sat 15-Mar-14 20:18:27

I don't know that it's fair to say "Oh well, boys will come off better anyway" but I DO agree that we need to challenge rather than pander to gender stereotypes. I wonder how much it's a self fulfilling prophecy because the teachers all think "boys don't engage with this" and make a special effort to engage them all the way from reception to GCSE.

I wonder post-16, when subjects which have a "gender bias" such as science, maths and literature, whether there is such a focus on "engaging" those of the less-supposedly-engaged sex? I mean, a girl who chooses Physics for A Level or a boy who chooses English is already, by definition, pretty engaged, no? They've made an active choice to study it. At university is there talk of "engaging" male/female students relative to different disciplines or is it assumed that if a student is interested and able enough to apply for and get onto the course, that they are already sufficiently engaged.

I guess what I'm saying is I think that the underlying ideas and opinions of teachers probably feed into this far more than we think that they do. There are studies for example which say that despite parents saying they are gender-neutral and treat their opposite sex children the same, in practice they do actually react differently. In The Equality Illusion Banyard mentioned an anecdotal example of "feminist mums" who are all for equality and rubbishing the boy/girl myths until their children become toddlers and begin to display very gendered behaviour, and she points out that often the behaviour is not necessarily gendered, it's just that we notice it more when it is because it ties into what we expect to see, even if those expectations are subconscious.

Watch this - don't read the comments, just watch it and follow the instructions. (work and child safe, sound is unnecessary). It's one minute long and is an experiment which shows how specific our attention can be. Selective Attention Test. It won't work if you've heard of this before!

I think we need to stop the gender based "engagement" stuff in schools and look more at how to tell whether individuals are engaged in the topic, how to promote interest etc in general. I teach adults and have never learned a single thing about gendered differences in learning, and honestly it doesn't make a difference. The single most important thing I have found is to make it relevant for the students.

OddBoots Sat 15-Mar-14 20:22:33

Could it be a maturity thing caused by girls going through puberty younger? I'm not sure how much 'brain wiring' happens at puberty so I might be barking up the wrong tree but it's the only universal thing that I can think of.

BertieBotts Sat 15-Mar-14 20:22:46

I wonder as well, because my teacher training pushed on me above all else that personalising something, giving the students chance to make it their own, is the single best thing you can do to help something stick, and it does seem to work. But I wonder if it's that women and girls in general are socialised to empathise and relate to others more than boys are. So possibly, girls find it easier to relate to characters in literature or themes in poetry whether the character is a straight white male or something more abstract, and boys are not finding it so easy to relate to any character because that character is not them, that theme is not present in their life right now.

louloutheshamed Sat 15-Mar-14 20:24:51

I know, the engagement thing is weird. Imagine if a physics teacher said 'ok I'm going to try and engage more girls by doing experiments involving shoes/handbags/lipstick etc...' that would never happen and if it did we would be horrified at the gender stereotyping, but we think it's ok to choose text after text about war because that's what boys like...

WhentheRed Sat 15-Mar-14 22:53:46

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

legoplayingmumsunite Sat 15-Mar-14 22:56:27

Does the gap matter? Well when boys were ahead it was thought that was just the right and proper way. So you could certainly argue that maybe girls are just suppose to be ahead and maybe we should discourage boys from worrying their pretty little heads about academic achievement when they're clearly not able. If you believe there are differences why is it so surprising that one gender does better than the other?

Of course if you believe in equality is it such a leap to just try and engage individuals regardless of gender.

BertieBotts Sat 15-Mar-14 23:02:03

But I thought they have tried to make (at least maths) more "girl oriented" by having more problems in word form (When Harry throws the ball to Jessica and they are standing in a straight line how far away is Amy who catches it at 3/10 of a mile per hour? etc)

I had never made the connection between the GCSE texts and girls/boys but you are right - war poems, Of Mice and Men, Death of a Salesman (BORE FEST - and the boys thought so too)

Young Adult novels as a genre aren't so recent that they are exempt are they? If so it is a very great shame. There was nothing more dull to me than yet another English lesson trying to delve into the depths of characters that I'd quite happily shove off a cliff, and yet in my free time I analysed and overthought Harry Potter a million times and never got bored of it. I still find it really interesting to read articles about how themes like racism are interpreted in the books. It would be great for kids to be inspired by English and be learning from stuff that's actually relevant to them. Save the dry and dusty "greats" for the real die hard Lit fans, A level, degree level kind of thing. (In my opinion.)

BertieBotts Sat 15-Mar-14 23:12:29

In my GCSE year (2004) they were trialling a new set of short stories which were supposed to teach us about different cultures around the world. The stories were boring, irrelevant and often really obscure. I believe they have been scrapped now. I work abroad and am horrified to see this drivel is being used to teach foreign teenagers the English language. They are bored to hell with it too, while I am amused, but still, it's not inspiring, interesting or relevant to them. Whereas you can get teenagers talking endlessly over things like hypothetical political systems in a dystopian future, how it feels to be a Chinese immigrant in America, or a British Muslim, what would you do when faced with an impossible choice, can and should people with disabilities be able to experience all aspects of a "normal" life?

You can do so much with literature and you can explore infinite possibilities but I don't understand why the insistence on studying a text about (to use my two examples) middle aged men in 1930s America. How and what relevance does that have to the average teenager's life in 2010s Britain? Of course you can draw parallels if you scrape hard enough but that's not really enough - you need them to be engaged before you get to that point, that goes for girls and boys.

MsMischief Sat 15-Mar-14 23:35:50

Are boys getting worse or are they just falling behind by standing still?

I think girls are more incentivised by school, not though texts or coursework, but by the knowledge that blue collar jobs for women are badly paid. There is a myth that boys console themselves with that if they don't do well at school then they can be plumbers, builders or electricians, start their own business and charge £40 an hour. As adults we see the hole in the argument.
There is also an idea that boys don't have an internal life so have no need of literature.
My dcs primary school has recently changed the entire reading scheme to one that is 'boy friendly'. My son hates it but I don't care because he is good at literacy and is allowed to read 'normal' books. My dd is shit at literacy and could really do with a scheme that doesn't tell her she is worthless.

louloutheshamed Sun 16-Mar-14 07:14:11

Exactly, I think it does a disservice to both genders. surely girls should get the chance to read a book with a string female protagonist at some point in school?

kim147 Sun 16-Mar-14 08:03:27

There's been efforts to engage children in reading and writing who struggle - it does not need to be "boy friendly" as such with regards to genre but more about the approach.

Lots of talk, response, role play, immersion, discussion etc. All good techniques that help a child get into a story / theme and then actually want to read / write about it.

It's not the genre itself - it's ways to help people who struggle (both boys and girls) to access something difficult.

JapaneseMargaret Sun 16-Mar-14 08:22:43

I'm not sure what that's got to do with the OP, though.

Acceleration programmes (and the like) aimed at students have been around long enough.

There is a gap in performance between girls and boys, and nothing that's currently happening (internationally) seems to effectively address it.

Spiritedwolf Sun 16-Mar-14 18:35:14

Is it not possible that boys face the same problem with literacy that women face with maths and science - the stereotype threat I think Cordelia Fine said in her book Delusions of Gender

From memory I think the idea is that women perform worse in math/science tests when they are reminded that they are women - when their gender is made salient, as opposed to something neutral like the fact they are students. Because they are aware of the stereotype. Gender is made salient throughout school life (line up for class/lunch etc by gender for starters) we tell them their gender is relevant to their education.

She also talked about how men are better at empathy tests when they aren't reminded about how awful men are supposed to be at them.

In addition you have the fact that the parents and teachers of boys will be aware of the stereotype and may have lower expectations for boys' literacy and the expectations of teachers and parents will really affect how boys are taught and encouraged at school and at home.

I'm sure I've also heard people talk about the importance of dads/other male role models reading at home - and presumably teachers at school. Boys will look around them and if they see it only seems to be girls and women who read for pleasure, who take an interest in their reading, then they might well think there's some unwritten rule that books aren't for boys. Even if they are told otherwise, they aren't daft.

I have a toddler DS, and he is interested in loads of things (its all new, isn't it). He does like trains (DH is an enthusiast so there's lots around) but he also loves his books and cats amongst other things. I can see it would be easy to just pay attention to interests which conform to gender stereotypes. I'm not saying we're perfect about not doing that btw, Cordelia Fine talks about how 'gender neutral' parenting isn't really that neutral.

I'm a woman who isn't that into pink, so I don't buy much pink stuff for my DS but I don't know if that's right confused I don't think DS knows he's a boy yet or what that means. I already feel under a bit of pressure to have his first hair cut as its getting a bit long. But I don't think I would have it cut if he was a girl sad

Hassled Sun 16-Mar-14 18:41:04

I always remember the head at my DCs' infant school talking about the reading gap, and pointing out that boys' obsessions with Top Trumps-like football cards etc showed they were reading, just in a very different way. They were sounding out complicated foreign footballers' names, they were absorbing a lot of information about comparative ratings, they were understanding all the data at quite a young age. But that then didn't translate easily into the more conventional reading skills you look for - and I don't understand why. It is really interesting.

kim147 Sun 16-Mar-14 20:29:42

It would be interesting to define what literacy skills are being measured. DS has no interest in fiction but he has absorbed complex Minecraft books, used verbal explanations and expressed himself creatively on his Minecraft world etc. I am not sure if that can be measured.

Sausageeggbacon Sun 16-Mar-14 21:47:09

DS1 hates reading, just does not engage with it at all. Does okay with English and is expected to do well in a couple of months with his Exams but he has a 90% retentive memory like his father so breezes things that others need to work at. DS2 reads everything, he prefers science and computing non fiction but currently has a thing about Alexander Kent. Same home, same(ish) background yet they could not be more different when it comes to literacy. I wonder if it did help that DD as the eldest use to read to DS2 when he was little rather than just me.

No idea how to rectify the gap even after 3 children of whom two love to read and one would rather kick or throw a ball even with his exams coming.

legoplayingmumsunite Sun 16-Mar-14 23:22:00

Is it not possible that boys face the same problem with literacy that women face with maths and science - the stereotype threat I think Cordelia Fine said in her book Delusions of Gender

I think, from memory, that the stereotype threat does exist for both sexes, so e.g. men have to be quite strong to go into what are perceived as female jobs like nursing, teaching or caring. I suspect if we got more male teachers in primary schools there would be less of an issue with gender stereotypes in teaching but how you manage that I'm not sure.

MsMischief Sun 16-Mar-14 23:54:49

I can understand why there is a gender divide in maths and science and IT. Girls look at adults in those professions and see them dominated by men but the literary world is dominated by men too. The best seller lists are dominated by men. Why don't boys see that? Why do they think it's not for them?

My own ds's favourite authors have always been women from Julia Donaldson through Enid Blyton to JK Rowling, Noel Streatfield and Lauren Child. It doesn't seem to have occurred to him that reading is something he shouldn't be doing, or if it is he should stick with books about spies or underpants. I have no idea why that is. I have even less idea as to why it is unusual.

Donki Mon 17-Mar-14 00:04:08

There was some research into how to engage girls in physics which was presented at the association for science education conference. The single most important factor in whether girls went on to a physics based degree (having done A Level -or onto ALevel from gcse) was that someone told them they should and would do well/enjoy it.

legoplayingmumsunite Mon 17-Mar-14 00:16:38

The single most important factor in whether girls went on to a physics based degree (having done A Level -or onto ALevel from gcse) was that someone told them they should and would do well/enjoy it.

Wow. The reason I did all three sciences at school (and am still a scientist now) is that my guidance teacher said I was top of the year in science and it would be a waste for me to Art instead of Chemistry. I did spent most of my school education being the token girl in the class though!

nooka Mon 17-Mar-14 00:29:01

It would really annoy me to discover that school were deliberately choosing books that marginalises girls/women. Surely a range of different books showcasing different experiences and different ways of writing should be used?

Until fairly recently both my ds and my dd were bookworms and we all very much enjoyed reading the same books and talking about them together. Then ds started rejecting some of the books that dd and I enjoyed because they were too much about girls, and I think too similar. I guess I've always looked especially for books about non-stereotypical girls, although I'd say our collection was fairly balanced. So I got him very different books and they were all rejected for one reason or another too. Now he hardly reads books at all, which makes me sad, but his argument is that he reads online fiction instead. Which he does, a lot. I think it's mostly dodgy crap though! Hopefully he will see the light soon grin

At school dd is doing particularly well (they are both bright but she works harder) but hates real world math problems, she'd much prefer straight problems. ds has no issues with translating them. Last year he had The Lightning Thief as his set text and was most peeved about it (he read it years ago, so it was boring, plus hardly stretching for a 13 year old). This year he has been studying poetry and short stories and enjoys that much more. dd has just done the Outsiders, which she enjoyed as it was new to her. She's doing a Midsummer Night's Dream next.

WhentheRed Mon 17-Mar-14 00:48:15

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

BertieBotts Mon 17-Mar-14 08:52:07

There is a gap in performance between girls and boys, and nothing that's currently happening (internationally) seems to effectively address it.

I think this is the issue. We're all trying to address it. Instead of just trying to address education as a gender neutral thing.

Spirited My personal opinion with little boys and teaching the nonimportance of gender is to not worry about specifics and girl-stereotype things like pink or dolls etc. Obviously don't restrict these things or reject passed-on toys etc on the basis of colour, but I wouldn't particularly go and seek out loads of pink and fluffy stuff for a boy in order to let him see that it's acceptable, unless he showed an interest.

You can't avoid the exposure to gender norms and gender stereotypes. The whole world likes to tell children from a very early age that "you belong to this camp, and you belong to that camp." I don't think you can get away from it, the only sort of vague idea is that I noticed DH saying to DS "You're a Botts, and Bottses are never defeated!" (obviously with our actual surname!) - I like this, I think reclaiming family as a "tribe" rather than gender as a "tribe" with all of the associated messages, positive or negative (Men are strong, brave, clever, but never cry or bother about how things look; Women are weak, pathetic, needy, but nurturing and good at making a home homely) works to counter it a little, and it means we have a completely gender neutral form of encouragement which also encourages belonging and (I hope!) positive self image. He's not learning "what it means to be a man", he's learning what it is to be a part of our family, in other words, what it means to be him.

BertieBotts Mon 17-Mar-14 08:57:10

Also I think sometimes with young children if you make too much of almost opposite-genderising them, it draws attention to the differences even more especially if people pass comment often. I wouldn't refuse to buy my son something girly, but as he's got older, I have said, look, I'm happy to buy this for you but be aware some people might think that it's for girls, and then let him make his own choice.

Nocomet Mon 17-Mar-14 09:54:48

Why do we spend so much time on literature in schools?

There are now set books for language as well as literature papers.

As others have said many boys (and my extremely literate DH) hate fiction and only want to read science and computing.

Why do we live in this time warp of studying Shakespeare and books like nice and men and to kill a mocking bird which belong to another time and another country.

The Second World War was 70 years ago and is done to death in history .

I don't know the answer, but my guess is part of it's the one Gove would hate most.

I have a dyslexic DD1, her spelling and keeping in one tense when writing is awful, but her spoke English and comprehension is great.

Why because she never stops talking, she's endlessly fascinated by the world.

Likewise DH and his English teacher parents and me and my grammar school educated DF and history and politics enjoying DM chattered endlessly too.

Nocomet Mon 17-Mar-14 09:57:53

Where you find well written non fiction to study
How you bring the everyday chatter of a MC household into an English lesson I do not know.

slightlyglitterstained Mon 17-Mar-14 10:19:37

It sounds like it's possible that the "boy focused" approach might actually be making things worse, in the same way that screaming "girls don't do this normally!" meant girls dropped out of Young Rewired State:

Does that sound likely?

Also, if boys' problem is that they don't build up empathy because they're not asked to identify with people different from them - er, isn't taking any girl protagonists out of the reading list a bit like saying "oh dear, teenage girls don't do enough exercise. Let's make sure they all get taxis to school so they never have to exert themselves."?

DS is just coming up to the time when he'll start being (more) aware of gender. Not sure how I'll tackle it yet, other than trying to make sure his books and toys aren't all male.

almondcake Mon 17-Mar-14 10:36:14

We do not spend a lot of time on fictional literature in schools. DS has done for GCSE English Language and English Literature higher tier - 1 novel, 1 modern play, some poetry, 1 modern film and 1 Shakespeare play. I do not consider that a lot at all. 1 novel for 2 GCSE English exams is a tiny amount. The only way of making it less would be to break it down into exercepts. Most of GCSE English language is in non fiction - writing to inform or persuade, spoken language study, over half the paper on newspaper articles. Even things like the film review could be based on a non fiction film if the pupil chose one.

In fact, that could show the nonsense that boys prefer fiction to non fiction. I have never met a boy who would routinely choose a non fictional documentary (say things at the IMAX like space exploration) over a fictional film. And most of boys' tv viewing seems to be fictional too.

It really does matter if people fail GCSE English, and a gender gap does matter. We don't know why this is happening internationally, but most of the obvious reasons in this country have been mentioned on this thread.

1. It is harder to learn the skills of analysing character in fiction or analysing persuasive arguments in non fiction etc if you are given books about people very similar to yourself all the time, who have very similar opinions and beliefs to you. This is done to boys far more than girls.

2. Interventions for boys are heavily stereotyped (at least in my LEA) when aimed at boys. This was never done for girls in Maths and Science. Gender stereotyping promotes failure in the subjects a gender is supposedly not good in.

3. In the home environment, boys tend to spend more time on activities that involve breaking tasks done into small blocks that can then be bolted together to create a complex whole (particularly video games esp. MineCraft, as well as Lego and similar toys). This must shape the way they think. Many subjects at school are taught in this way. English is generally not.

4. English in KS2 tries to teach kids to run before they can walk (due to the curriculum, not the teachers) and inadequately prepares pupils for secondary school. Although this may now have changed as the curriculum was changing. This means pupils have to catch up in their own time, and girls are encouraged to work harder than boys.

5. People have low expectations of boys' behaviour and work, and let them get away with stuff a girl would not. All this 'boys will be boys' and 'well, he's a boy' does them no favours in the long run in school, unless you think the examiner will say it and put their mark up accordingly.

almondcake Mon 17-Mar-14 10:37:28

Sorry, that should be, that boys prefer non fiction to fiction, not the other way around.

kim147 Mon 17-Mar-14 10:46:34

It's not a feminist point. Just an education point.

What key skills in literacy are needed? What should be measured?

What literacy skills are needed for the workplace and university? Are they different - if you are not university bound, what literacy skills are essential?

Are we teaching the right things that are needed?
I teach maths - and there's a discussion about the maths most people need. I have no idea about English - but what skills are needed by most people?

TeacakeEater Mon 17-Mar-14 11:02:43

I 'm not coming at this from any angle other than the personal.

My children (who happen to be boys) find the school's concentration on analysing the motivations of the author dull and not at all intuitive. I (a woman) feel the same, I often get the wrong answer!

I remember my school comprehensions being far more about meaning, less interpretive iyswim. My kids range of reading has not been stretched within school and we've done vast amounts of reading at home (fiction and non-fiction) We don't get hung up on motivations too much! And they learn new vocabulary and structure along the way.

BertieBotts Mon 17-Mar-14 11:09:27

Well, correct usage of spelling and punctuation aids communication. (Eats, Shoots and Leaves for example) Also by reading more deeply into things than the surface message we can often learn more. I'm not sure whether this is a literature skill though or more of a critical thinking one.

Actually the more I think about it the more I am wondering why literature (not language, clearly that's important) is such a key subject to higher levels. History is not compulsory at GCSE, why is Literature? Is knowing and exploring what makes a good written story more important than knowing and exploring what makes a good piece of art or music? Maybe it should be downgraded to an optional subject and replaced with a class which teaches how to read critically and examine information - I think this is useful not just at university (although it would be a skill for essay writing) but also in everyday life. It's useful to be able to understand newspaper or political bias, for example, to be able to tell by the way something is worded what the aim of the author is, how to tell if something is a reliable source.

Especially with the huge popularity now of the internet where you can find something to back up absolutely anything you want and a lot of it is totally unedited nonsense passing itself round and round without anyone ever correcting it (thank god for Snopes grin).

almondcake Mon 17-Mar-14 11:16:10

The motivations of the author are massively important. How do you deal with a customer complaint, emailed instructions from your boss (other than if you intend to be micromanaged your whole life), the social or political agenda behind supposedly neutral information in a newspaper or pamphlet, the relationship between fiction and lived experience even in the most basic tv show, harmful stereotyping of other groups or the experiences of people from other cultures or social situations, be able to tell if a source is credible, if it is an advert or a piece of information from the government if you don't attempt to understand the motivations of the author?

And in fact Teacake, most of your post is about your motivations! Do you think a GCSE pupils should just disregard most of what you said, if your post was the quote used in the exam?

TeacakeEater Mon 17-Mar-14 11:22:30

Almondcake: my children had problems with their homework at the gateway of their school education in literacy and I tried to help.

We talk about advertising a lot already! One is 7 and immature for his age so |I would rather encourage his reading at the moment rather than fox him with (to him) unanswerable questions on the text.

TeacakeEater Mon 17-Mar-14 11:28:28

My gripe with education of small kids where I am is that it's not geared up to their level of thinking but has all sorts of irrelevant baggage added on to it.

(I'm in Scotland and we have an utterly naff new curriculum which involves young children in a whole lot of navel gazing regarding their own personal learning journeyshmm.)

almondcake Mon 17-Mar-14 11:30:42

Bertie, some students take 2 GCSEs - English Language and English Literature, and some take just 1 GCSE - English. I would assume the reason why there is a fiction component as well as a non fiction component in GCSE English is because different students have different strengths. There will be some students who find the fictional pieces easier to understand and write about than the non fiction pieces. The subject is more accessible if it is boarder. If it only tested understanding of say, newspaper and a few other non fiction sources, the level of questions would have to be higher and test more advanced skills to make it equivalent to GCSEs in other subjects. I don't think non fiction is easier or greatly unrelated to the skills required for fiction anyway.

And we do live in a world where a vast amount of the media we consume is still fictional, and people do need to be able to 'read' what is being communicated to us through that fiction.

almondcake Mon 17-Mar-14 11:37:33

Teacake, I do think that primary schools are trying to teach kids to run before they can walk, but I don't think that is a case of author motivation vs. meaning. 'How does character X feel?' is a meaning question (and maybe quite difficult) while 'Why did the writer tell us this?' might actually be quite easy if the text is, for example, instructions on how to cross a road safely. The answer may be that they want to tell (inform) us how to cross a road safely or it may be that they want to persuade us to buy safety vests, depending on how the text is written.

Spiritedwolf Tue 18-Mar-14 08:19:25

BertieBotts thank you for your response earlier on the thread. I like your family's idea of having a way of pulling all the members together as a tribe rather than allowing the default gender tribes to dominate.

As DS is my first child we are building our toy and book collections. Because we want to have more children, we're mainly getting things which are bright, have a lot of play/rereading potential and don't scream boy/girl. Its practical for passing things onto potential siblings and suits my tastes too. I realise we can't shield him from boy/girl things entirely as he gets older... but until he's choosing his own toys I can make sure the basics are fairly neutral.

My DH and I both read a lot of fiction and non-fiction and DS already loves being read to, so hopefully that will counter whatever is causing the literacy gap. (I can't wait until he's old enough for Harry Potter, BertieBotts I loved reading it to my younger siblings, and reread/listen to it myself rather a lot. I agree with your comments earlier about how enjoying a text makes analysis fun rather than a drudge.)

I agree that we shouldn't be giving boys the message that 'Oh this is about a female protagonist/by a female author, you won't like this' whilst expecting girls to read countless books by male authors and about male protagonists. That is surely a feminist point as well as an educational one.

Interestingly I did sciences to Advanced Higher level, but rather wish I had taken Art beyond standard grade - as I was good at it and enjoy it. I think part of me wanted to be 'taken seriously' by doing 'hard' subjects like Physics rather than 'Soft' ones like Art. I wasn't the only girl doing Higher Physics or Advanced Higher Chemistry though, so maybe my school was good at engaging girls in science - though perhaps at the expense of devaluing traditionally 'feminine' subjects.

Nocomet Tue 18-Mar-14 12:14:34

I guess my biggest puzzlement is why all school novels have to pass the DW test to get on the exam syllabus.

ie - Dull, Depressing, Dated, wordy, waffling and a waste of time.

DD2 summed up school set texts thus, "They are boring, but easy to answer questions on,"

And that is the problem, DD2 is the granddaughter of two English teachers who's genes she puts to good use. Literacy lessons are like falling off a log, they don't have to be inspired for her to do well.

I think many reasonablely academic girls have much the same mind set.

For some reason boys don't. I suspect many of them aren't as mature readers and writers in primary, they aren't as good at seeing charecters/author's point of view as the most socially aware girls and they fall behind.

Think how much time year 2-6 girls spend chattering, falling out and making friends again, their complex interlations make the plot of Twelth Night look simple.

Nocomet Tue 18-Mar-14 12:16:56

Interactions make

Thus girls may hate a book with a passion, but they'll still have the marks - Thankyou very much.

FairPhyllis Tue 18-Mar-14 17:00:39

Finding this discussion very interesting.

Surveys pretty consistently show that most adult readers are women (about 60% of readers). Could part of the gap be the fact that reading becomes gendered at an early age as it is not modelled at home to boys by fathers?

I strongly object to the 'engagement' approach of having only male protagonists and doing lots of war stories etc. This only teaches girls that stories about them are not important and boys that there is only one model of being a man.

FairPhyllis Tue 18-Mar-14 17:07:10

Actually that figure is wrong - looks like in fact up to 80% of the fiction market is women readers.

kim147 Tue 18-Mar-14 17:12:30

What about non-fiction?

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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