Boys’ Literacy

Published February 13, 2012 by electricbluegaloo

From time to time I have been asked to explain “boys’ literacy”, and how it differs from “girls’ literacy”. I prefer not to talk in black and whites, there are a lot of blurred edges even in an apparently simple categorisation such as male or female.  However there is a significant amount of research on the topic of “boys’ literacy” (disproportionate to the research into helping girls succeed in maths) and there are several strategies which have been identified as particularly successful.

Choices and Contracts:

By providing boys (or the whole class) with a contract and allowing the students themselves to select which activities they choose we are providing choices.  This gives the students responsibility for their own learning, empowers them and can appeal to the mathematically inclined if they have to choose activities up to a given total points value.  See “The Silent One” lesson notes for an example.  It can also be useful to use Bloom’s Taxonomy or HOT Skills as the basis of the contract, with the less complex tasks having a lower point score.

Speaking and Listening (ie Drama)

Research suggests that boys tend to be stronger in the kinesthetic disciplines and need support to develop language skills.  Drama games and activities have been shown to increase participation, engagement and promote linguistic expression.  See the drama games I recently posted under the lesson notes/plans tab for some simple but effective ideas to springboard creativity.  I have also posted a whole creative writing unit which I have found to be very successful with boys.  It incorporates drama, maths and art into the planning stages.

Set Homework/assignments to be due at the start of the week:

Apparently, boys leave things to the last minute.  If homework is set on Monday and due on Friday the boys will leave everything till Thursday night after footy training.  If they have the whole weekend they should be able to do it during the afternoon.  Not sure how accurate this theory is when there are always so many sporting activities and social engagements on the weekend but it makes sense to give the kids 7 days to complete the work, rather than 4 evenings.

Choosing male orientated texts:

I recall a conversation with one of my colleagues from when I worked at Bourke High School in Far West NSW.  He was so impressed with his year 10 class who were responding so well to The Hobbit, when they had been so dismissive of all his previous attempts to engage them with texts.  He just wondered why the girls (who had previously been much more cooperative) had suddenly turned off.  My friend is a brilliant English teacher due largely to his infectious passion for the topic, but he was shocked when I suggested that his beloved Hobbit was “a bit of a boy-book”.  There is much to be said for choosing books in which your students can relate to the characters.  My favourite boy books are the Ranger’s Apprentice Series and the ever expanding collection by Oliver Phommavahn (ie Thai-Riffic and ConNerd).

Read with your children:

By far and away my favourite piece of advice.  Make out like reading is an enjoyable pastime.  In the example I gave above you will notice that The Hobbit was a favourite book of that teacher.  I am sure his boys responded equally well to their teacher’s enthusiasm as they did to JRR Tolkien’s word magic. The quote below is about parents, but is equally relevant to the secondary care givers, and let’s face it, not all parents are confident readers themselves.

Boys and Literacy K-6

Downloaded 8.9.10

“Successful school literacy programs also include parental involvement. Schools can work with parents and carers to show the benefits of parents modelling an interest in reading and writing to their children. Parents involved in classroom reading activities model that they value reading. Boys and girls do not often realise the amount of literacy involved in various jobs and careers. By discussion about the literacy needs of various occupations, parents can increase students’ interest in literacy as they see the real life relevance of literacy skills.

Where schools and parents work together from a common understanding about the gender issues involved in literacy, they can develop programs which are appropriate to the needs of all their students.”

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