Wednesday, April 9, 2008

No Literacy Gap in Homeschooled Boys and Girls

Let's face it. Boys and girls do not always have the same taste in literature.

Take Pride and Prejudice for example. Girls love it.

Boys often lament that it is boring and frightfully lacking in explosions. Even one or two good sword fights or a duel would be nice. Where's the blood?

The differences between boys and girls have been an issue in classrooms for some time now. For awhile, the issue was getting girls to catch up with boys. Lately, it has been the other way around.

This does not seem to be a problem for homeschoolers, however. Something for California courts and lawmakers (and the rest of us) to consider:

Why Johnny Can't Read: Schools Favor Girls

By Robert Roy Britt, LiveScience Managing Editor

The article makes two interesting points:


The research, by psychology professor Judith Kleinfeld at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, finds that nearly one-quarter of high school seniors across the United States who are sons of white, college-educated parents have woeful reading skills, ranking "below basic" on a national standardized test.

"These boys cannot read a newspaper and get the main point," Kleinfeld told LiveScience. "These boys cannot read directions for how to use equipment and follow them."

And the problem is getting worse.


In separate research that Kleinfeld is also preparing for publication, she has possibly gotten to the root of the problem.

"Here's a fascinating fact," she said. "There is no literacy gap in home-schooled boys and girls."

"Why? In school, teachers emphasize reading literature and talking about character and feelings," she said. "This way of teaching reading does not turn boys on. Boys prefer reading nonfiction, such as history and adventure books. When they are taught at home, parents are more likely to let them follow their interests."

English educators, incidentally, are now being trained to make their classrooms more flexible in terms of literature content, allowing student interests to play a role. Some teacher educators (i.e. people who teach other teachers how to teach) are also emphasizing methods other than "reader response" (the method Kleinfeld describes above), and encouraging deep thinking and serious literary criticism.

While it is tempting (especially if one is dealing with a classroom full of barely literate high schoolers) to stick to reader response because it is "easier", I find that kids often respond better when they feel like their teachers are actually teaching them something different and interesting. Even students whose reading skills are below grade level can benefit from instruction on various approaches to literary criticism. The benefit is that when they master these new skills, they have the psychological reward of "feeling smart" and this tends to create greater interest in the curriculum. Kids want to be challenged.

The beauty of homeschooling is that children get customized instruction from their parents, who in most cases are devoted to their education and work very hard to give them the best instruction possible. While there are also advantages to the regular classroom, even small classes do not allow for the level of individual attention that students can receive in a homeschool setting, which means boys who are falling behind can be re-engaged.

So should we stop teaching Pride and Prejudice? I'm not ready to go that far yet. Classics must be read. However, perhaps it is worth changing our approach to it, to allow boys to see merit in books that possess few of the qualities one might find in an action movie.

Tip of the schoolmarm ruler to: Amy at Real Catholic

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