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A comparative study of boys’ and girls’ creative writing within the curriculum, in a year two class
Junior school curriculum in the United Kingdom has undergone tremendous changes over the last five decades. This curriculum shift in favour of reading and writing preparedness has in effect been pivotal in addressing boys’ weaknesses and girls’ strengths. Two further changes have recently been proposed: first, alternative group activities as well as non-verbal skills must be introduced. Secondly, boys should be encouraged to begin their kindergarten programmes as soon as they turn five years. Thereafter, they should enter contemporary kindergarten at age six having completed one year of alternative kindergarten. Girls should continue entering kindergarten at age five. This therefore means that most of the boys will enter grade 1 at age seven and girls at age 6. Such a change is deemed to be beneficial to both boys and girls especially. In one way the system is likely to keep the academic skills of both boys and girls at par as it will enhance effective competition among the two genders.
Purposes and Aims of the research study
There has been a rising debate over the last few decades with regards to the increasing gender gap in academic attainments assessments across the English curriculum in all schooling years. More recently, in particular the underachievement of boys’ in the literacy curriculum within primary educational settings has become a topical concern and taken a focus in itself.
Mcnaughton et al (2007) suggest that research is a process which can help to understand child development and professionalism. This research project stems from a personal interest in trying to understand gendered differences within the literacy curriculum. This curiosity was initially sparked upon discovering an article whilst undertaking voluntary work at a local primary school. The booklet, ‘Confident, capable and creative: supporting boys’ achievements’, stated that all children should have equal opportunities to encounter a stimulating learning environment disregarding any differences including their gender (DCSF, 2007).
With more involvement in the classroom, a greater realisation with regards to the pedagogical practices that teaching staff employed in trying to provide an enriched learning environment began to be realised. It also came to notice the difficulties that teachers faced in promoting inclusive literacy experiences for both genders. Much research has been done on gender differences within literacy; however specific focus on the writing component within literacy has not been as extensive. Thus, whilst a holistic approach which includes all concepts of literacy including reading, writing, speaking and listening will be examined, the project will predominately focus on ‘creative writing’ to provide a more detailed insight.
Research is not necessarily undertaken with the need for government reform, but as a tool to develop individuals’ knowledge through extensive research carried out by themselves (Roberts-Holmes, 2005). With the focus of the project being on a ‘hot topic’ in the perception of the main policy makers, this research can be useful for all practitioners, student teachers, teaching staff who already work or are interested in seeing a career in educational settings. With government also recognising the importance of home- school partnership projects, the study can also be beneficial for parents and carers. It can also serve an interest to those people who have a general curiosity in children’s writing.
The aims of this research are to understand the inherent differences associated in writing between the two genders. In particular, the different strategies and techniques introduced in schools today to try and motivate both genders to write will be examined. The study will also endeavour to try and understand the constituents of different motivational attitudes and experiences that both genders bring with them into the social context of the classroom, and whether these have an influence on their writing.
- What possible differences are there between boys and girls writing within the literacy curriculum?
- What possible challenges do teachers face in teaching boys and girls to write?
- What possible factors, attitudes or experiences affect boys’ and girls’ motivations to write?
The achievement dispute in gender performances within the English curriculum in primary schools has been contextualised by political agendas (Warrington and Younger, 2006). In 1991, attempts to measure the performance levels of children in primary schools for the first time led the then Conservative government to enforce formative assessments. Standard Assessment Tests (SATs) became statutory for years 2 and 6. In further efforts to raise national literacy standards, new government reform in 1997 inevitably resulted in consequent changes. The Labour administration introduced the National Literacy Strategy (NLS) (Beard, 2000). Both strategies led organisations such as the Office for Standard’s in Education, to initially raise apprehension regarding gaps in achievement between boys and girls in all areas of English and predominantly in writing (OfSTED, 1993). Consecutive government reports published in later years to come more emphasised similar concerns.
Differences in writing skills between boys and girls can be attributed to the fact girls mature earlier than boys. Sex-linked maturation differences are apparent in all levels of analysis: from the neurophysiological level such as the cerebral blood flows to sensory function levels for instance auditory acuity to higher cognitive levels such as reading skills and language acquisition (Corso, 1959). A child developmentally appropriate educational curriculum should be one that recognizes and accommodates these diverse but substantial sex differences.
Although assessment scores offer a basis for reflection, they need to be observed vigilantly as defining underachievement is very difficult in itself. Fisher (2006) believes that writing assessments can be discriminatory, where performances are forced to meet criterion understated by policy makers. Furthermore, formative tests implicitly assume aptitudes as being constant. Hart et al (2004) emphasises that this view is dangerous as children become identifiably labelled for their future successes. Nevertheless, these assessments as Drummond (1993) argues that these are the only measure currently used to preserve and safeguard children’s progress, development and failures.
It is paramount when reflecting upon boys’ under-achievements to inclusively and equally acknowledge girls’ performances in writing. Thirty years ago concerns were mirrored politically regarding girls’ under-achievements in English as well as other subjects. In the 1980’s the gender underachievement seemed to have reversed and a debate transpired regarding the apparent causes for recent underachievement’s in all components of literacy and especially boys’ creative writing.
Millard (2000) suggests that many view aptitudes results to have shifted due to teaching strategies and the curriculum targets as being more suited for girls. She expresses that previous pervasive inequalities and stereotyping of girls such as society having low expectations of them, and classrooms being dominated by their male peers were challenged by feminist movements (ibid). Delamont (1999) however perceives that boys’ achievements have remained consistent and gaps were always present, but only became highlighted following equal opportunities which allowed girls to surpass their previous successes. Furthermore, Reay (2001) argues that if boys face the challenge of feminism in today’s classrooms, then girls too face similar stereotyping and always have from masculine attitudes such as aggression and intimidation.
The neuro-anatomical differences between girls and boys can be viewed at in two ways. First are the differences in the speed and rate of maturation of brain structures in which boys brains consistently mature less than that of girls. Second is the neuroanatomical sex differences which incidentally persist into adulthood. Numerous research studies have documented reliable evidences to suggest that the brain maturation of boys and girls occur at different rates. Hedges & Nowell (1995) found that the brain of female human beings are on average more mature than those of females from ages six to twenty nine. In this research, it was found that although the range of the girl’s ‘upper hand’ in brain maturity was more pronounced at age six, boys did not on average catch up till age 29.
Cavines et al (1996) in their study revealed that the subcortial gray matter structures in the forebrain are already at the adult size in girls at age eleven but the same structures in boys did not even approximate adult levels.
In the same manner, Allen & Gorski, (1991) using electrophysiologic means to measures the rates of brain development in boys and girls found that the brains of girls were predominantly more mature than were boys’ in all ages from 7 to 17. These differences are translated in classroom as evidenced by higher performance among girls than boys in respect of creative writing. Recent technological and scientific advances have made it possible to establish substantial sex linked differences in the microscopic anatomy of the human brain but the exact age at which these differences show up or start to diminish is still a subject of debate and extensive scientific research.
Apart from neuroanatomical sex differences, researches have also identified remarkable sex differences in the functional organization of the human brain which can significantly impact on their academic capabilities. A research by Cameron (1990) and his team revealed that language functions seem to be arranged in a strikingly different fashion in males than females. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, the researchers found that among the right handed males, the area of the brain that is mostly affected by phonological tasks is located to the left inferior frontal gyrus whereas in females the pattern is very different and engages several neural systems which involve both the right and left inferior gyrus.
Questions whether classrooms really have been feminised and suggest that these differences in creative writing are just reflective of boys themselves. Brain development researchers regard the comparative underachievement of boys as being coherently linked to biological abilities. Biddulph (1997) implies that girls’ cognitive development is six to twelve months ahead of boys. This notion assumes that boys thus will catch up to their opposite sex peers in later schooling years but results have been found to the contrary (DfES, 2003). Boys’ masculinity has also been suggested to challenge their triumphs in school to some extent. Intellectual achievement can be perceived by boys as feministic causing some to defy their abilities and oppose authority figures (Willis, 1977).
Blaming one gender for the others supposed failures can however be unfair as contributions of sex theories are subjective. Traits of feminism and masculinity have been categorised by society rather than biology itself and can be dependent on many other factors including culture, social class and pedagogical approaches (Connolly, 2005). However, a persistent common variation that has been found between boys and girls is the differences in motivations for writing. Warrington and Younger’s (2006) research study demonstrated that girls tended to be able to adapt to passive pedagogical approaches more easily, whereas boys generally preferred writing when teaching strategies were more kinetic.
It also showed that boys preferred writing at home where the curriculum did not restrict them to write in meticulous technical forms. Preferred learning style theories thus recommend that boys in particular need more active, exploratory strategies to motivate writing and that they were more motivated when creative writing was meaningful and purposeful to them (West, 2002). Coffield et al (2004) though deems research of learning style approaches to be inconclusive. Children’s and teachers’ reactions to these differing learning styles nonetheless demonstrate improvements in both genders’ motivation and engagement in SATs (Warrington and Younger, 2006).
Lev Vygotsky was one of theorists who illustrated ‘social constructivism’ which concentrated on the social contexts of learning. Vygotsky believed that adults can be vital contributors in child development and that they could help to extend children’s’ learning (Penn, 2008). Furthermore, Jerome Bruner’s ‘scaffolding’ theory suggested that the teachers’ role was pinnacle in nurturing cognitive development (ibid). Teaching practice evolved from the duplicate copying exercises to a more child centred, creative, self expressive activity following the Plowden Report (Millard, 2000)
The Bullock report in 1975, drew further attention to a child centred curriculum and presented writing for an ‘audience’ (Ibid). Guidance regarding what contributes towards quality teaching practice in writing has been reassessed by government policies to emphasise on teaching strategies to create more inclusive learning environments for boys (Connolly, 2005). Misconceptions within these current teaching strategies itself have been found to have adverse effects on boys’ writing performances. Millard (2000) concludes that boys’ relative disadvantage in writing is due to the profound dependence on reading and writing of fiction in the NLS, where boys’ reading can go unrecognised by teachers. Millard (2000) also found that masculine motivational preferences for reading and writing can be deemed as inappropriate by some teachers.
Furthermore, West (2002) suggests that teachers often assume that boys understand more than they do, such as when it comes to actually organising their writing. However, it has been argued that one cannot blame teachers for these perceivable misconceptions, as the guidance they receive in relation to the NLS is vague and unclear (Coffield et al, 2004). Coffield et al (2004) research in primary schools also suggests that the target driven curriculum poses difficulties for teachers in being able to meet the different learning styles, whilst also trying to adhere to the curriculum (ibid).
Chapman et al (1990)’s research revealed significant disparity in regional blood flow between girls and boys. The researcher consistently revealed that men have low rates of cerebral flow than have women, notwithstanding the fact that the male brain is on average ten per cent larger than that of a woman. These differences were found to be more pronounced in childhood but declined gradually throughout adulthood.
Across a variety auditory modalities, girls have somewhat better hearing than boys, (Galaburda, Albert, & Gartrell, (1992). According to this research girls hear pure tones at lower amplitudes than boys. For instance, the mean threshold for a 2000 hertz tone was at 5.7 dB for girls and 8.9 for boys. This means that on average girls could hear a 2000hertz tone that was less than half as loud as that which boys could hear on average. Dickinson, (1999), found that for any given mid range sound, a girl experiences that sound as being twice as loud as boys experienced that same sound. This means that the auditory stimulus volume for boys must be doubled at least so as to be significant to the boy as it can be to the girl.
Boys’ inferiority in verbal skills becomes apparent in early ages. As soon as the children begin to speak, girls seem to articulate better than do boys. Gorges, (2000) argues that girls sentences are systematically longer and more complex than those of boys. He concludes that at age two girls are more fluent than boys. Girls them maintain that leading edge throughout school years. They easily outdo their male counterparts in verbal recall tests right from the kindergarten through secondary. These superior verbal abilities for girls seem to be independent of culture and race Camer.............
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