I was very struck by an article about gender stereotypes in the TES last week (not yet online). Five year-old children’s stories reveal considerable gender differences, and show that gender stereotypes are already ingrained by this age, with children believing that boys should be strong and brave, and that girls are more concerned with family and love. Boys are much readier than girls to see themselves as heroes of their stories.
Gender differences in literacy have been the subject of debate and soul-searching for decades. I have given training on children’s reading for twenty years now, and there has been no time in that period when I have not been asked for courses on boys and reading.
Latest available figures from the National Literacy Trust show significant gaps in reading and writing attainment and reading enjoyment between boys and girls. We know from Sutton Trust research that boys from disadvantaged backgrounds fare particularly badly.
I was fascinated to find out from the recent OECD report on gender equality in education, that while there is a gender gap in literacy in school years in all OECD countries, among 16-25 year-olds the difference all but disappears, suggesting that as boys mature and become young men they acquire some of the reading skills they hadn’t acquired at school through work and life experience. The report also discloses considerable unconscious gender bias in teachers’ marking. Girls are often given higher marks, even when their performance is similar.
I very much agree with children’s author Jon Scieska’s assertion that ‘one of the best things we can do to help boys is to expand the definition of reading.’ Boys often read more than they are given credit for. I love the photo here of a family member engrossed in his reading.
Boys can be chatterboxes too! explores ways to make sure boys are given appropriate language support in the early years. All activities can be language activities, the blog points out.
I started with the TES article. I can’t resist finishing with this story by a five year-old boy quoted in it. ‘Once there was an army man that was very brave until he became old, and he lived to be 33.’ Wonderful!