Wednesday, July 7, 2010

on making your bed

The journal Gender and Education (Sept. 2008) conducted a study that measured engagement in Language Arts by examining the differences between 12- and 13-year-old boys and girls in terms of the story elements they gravitated toward. The study showed that, when given the opportunity, boys and girls both wrote about pretty much the same things when crafting their own stories; and, surprisingly to some, that boys were no less likely to be introspective and examine feelings.

If there were any thematic differences in the study, it was that boys were more likely to deviate from their plot or leave an unresolved ending than the girls were, but that neither gender showed more or less effort or length in their work. Both genders wrote about death, but girls were more likely to write about grief. Boys were more likely to write about running away, fighting with enemies, or discovering riches and treasure (which none of the girls wrote about). Most boys wrote stories in third person with male protagonists, and most girls wrote stories in third person with female protagonists.

In other words, we can see that boys have about the same attitude toward reading and writing as girls do, but environmental pressures push boys away from the pursuit.

In 2003, writing in Education Journal, David Taylor examined a pair of studies on boys and writing – what kinds of impediments interfered with boys becoming engaged as writers, and what were some possible routes around these roadblocks.

An overwhelming volume of evidence shows that, by the time they get into high school, boys’ achievement in writing falls behind that of girls. It is an important issue to address, since success in any area of academic curriculum depends on good writing and a developed degree of literacy.

If you’ve had the chance to spend significant amounts of time at different schools, or if you’ve raised more than one child through the school system, you probably have noticed that schools vary immensely in terms of their “cultures.” Simply stated, some high schools are completely opposite one another in terms of the prevailing cultural attitude toward learning. Taylor points out that when schools develop a perceptible anti-learning culture, boys’ peers label academic achievement as being “uncool.” You’ve seen schools like this, I’m sure. They frequently worship as heroes their “winningest” coaches and sports teams, giving an occasional and minute fraction of attention and praise to their scholars or kids who achieve academically or in the arts.

As Taylor points out, boys achieve the most “when the ethos of the school permits them to work hard without appearing uncool.”

Boys work harder when they know they are being closely monitored. Sit in any classroom and you’ll see that, as a predictable trait of the gender, it’s the boys who want to be paid attention to. It's probably one of the biggest reason why, as the New York Times reported very recently, that boys are no longer being admitted to early-grade gifted programs: they act too much like boys. They aren't dumber. It's just schools no longer want to deal with behaviors that are traits of the gender that demonstrate different learning and processing styles. So, girl up, boys.

An interesting study showed how, throughout school, boys’ writing is often less attended to than girls’. This is frequently due to the fact that girls’ handwriting is neater and more easily read, and boys, even in later grades, require much more effort on the part of their teachers to decipher their penmanship; so their work is often discounted on aesthetics rather than content. So they get the message that writing -- their writing -- doesn’t really matter.