Why boys' literacy skills lag behind girls' and how to bridge the reading gap

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  • Hoosier Mom FISHERS, IN
    Aug. 1, 2012 8:07 a.m.

    Our son used to say, "I'm not reading that...you can tell it's written by a girl!" And it's true! Non-fiction seems better for boys; there's nothing like an almanac for short bursts of interesting reading that fosters curiosity and the desire to read more. Also, have your boys help you every time you buy something that needs to be put together.They read the directions and help construct the new item. It's a win-win situation. Discovering what interests them and then leaving books and projects around makes all of the difference!

  • cjb Bountiful, UT
    July 31, 2012 7:54 p.m.

    Why does the gap need to be bridged? Boys are better at some things (math) and girls are better at others. It actually would be surprising if any two groups of people were exactly as good at everything. We are all different and we all have different talents abilities and interests.

  • worf Mcallen, TX
    July 31, 2012 8:35 a.m.

    The biggest problem with schools is that it's government ran:

    * too many layers of administration with its accompanying rules, regulations, paper work, and funding.
    * wasted time and money with standardized testing which does little for learning and teaching.
    * provides little independent time for children to explore and build curiosity. Too much micro management.
    * philosophical ideas shaped by one central power can lead to the loss of independence and freedoms.

  • UtahUte16 Salt Lake City, UT
    July 30, 2012 9:05 p.m.


    When I learn about a mathematic/engineering principle, the numbers tell so much more than meets the eye, and I like that. It's a much more efficient way of presenting information. Numbers just make sense to me. They are concrete and rarely vague. I wish my primary education would have focused more on my strengths than just a breadth of information and subjects. I think the fact that I show up to class and girls are always a minority tells you that mentally we are different. That's not to say females can't be engineers, because they can be great engineers. It just seems that it is more along the lines of what guys like. I don't really know what the point of my post is, other than to point out that some people just don't like reading. But it doesn't mean they're not smart. I hope to enjoy reading more, and that has seemed to be the case as I have gotten a bit older. But numbers/math/science are my forte, and I think I'll work on improving those skills more than my reading skills. It takes all kinds!

  • UtahUte16 Salt Lake City, UT
    July 30, 2012 9:05 p.m.

    I am a male, and the last time I read a novel was my sophomore year in high school. It was the Count of Monte Cristo. I loved the book, but still hated reading it. I am now a junior in college, so it has been many years since I have read a novel. To be frank, I have always hated reading anything lengthy. All throughout jr high and high school I received low grades in English; not because I was 'bad' at it, but because I just never read the required 900 pages per term (100 per week). I just never had the patience to sit there hours on end reading line after line.

    Numbers are what I was/still am interested in. I'm currently and engineering major so that explains why I haven't read a book in years. Now, I do read, a lot. But most of it comes in the form of textbooks and online articles and comment sections. I will admit I am not the best reader, but I think the reason I have disliked reading is it, to me, is a very inefficient way of portraying information.


  • catcrazed Eagle Mountain, UT
    July 30, 2012 8:06 p.m.

    As a classroom teacher, I was a little surprised to hear that we have "feminized" our classrooms. We are reaching out to boys more now than ever at my school. We are aware that there are gaps for boys. I feel that using non-fiction for boys, and even comic books will help. But both boys and girls need hands-on experiences to help them make sense out of literature. We blend our own experiences with words to understand what we read. PLEASE take time away from technology, have family experiences, read, go hiking, and talk around the dinner table. These are the things which benefit boys and girls both.

  • ExecutorIoh West Jordan, UT
    July 30, 2012 2:30 p.m.

    Maybe there IS an innate difference between boys and girls? And to those that talk about the feminization of schools, let me share this: the vast majority of boys and the vast majority of girls can be easily categorized. Boys are competition driven and girls are collaboration driven. It can easily be seen as boys tend to enjoy sports where girls have dance class or book clubs, for example. The schools have moved to cater more to the girl's form of learning, that is to get into teams and do group projects; everything is about working together. When I was in school, I remember a chart that the teacher put in front of the class that had every child's name and which multiplication tables each child had passed off. Knowing where I stood, drove me in that regard. While reading skills are important, they are also far from the sole measurement of a child's learning. I really don't enjoy reading, but that hasn't stopped me from being successful in school and in my chosen career. Maybe it is time to revisit the tool we are measuring kids with.

  • cjb Bountiful, UT
    July 30, 2012 2:24 p.m.

    At least in the past, boys were better and more interested in math, but not as good in language skills. Has this changed?

  • raybies Layton, UT
    July 30, 2012 1:05 p.m.

    I personally believe women are generally more gifted at language, as they tend to use it more than most men. While there are men that enjoy talking, it is far more common to encounter groups and gaggles of cackling geese-women who enjoy it that much more. I think most boys read to accomplish a task, while girls do it more for the enjoyment.

    I remember a very manly friend of mine once expressing horror at the very idea of a book club. "What!?" he exclaimed, "You mean you ALL go through all the trouble to read the stupid book, and then after that you want to actually talk about it?" Then he suggested, "Why not have one person read the book, and report to the rest what it was about?"

  • clutch VERNAL, UT
    July 30, 2012 8:59 a.m.

    @ teachermom6 Your comment, "As a society, we have been focusing too hard on placing females equally with males in the classroom" is an interesting one, and one that echoes the attitutudes I hear (to my horror) often in Utah.
    First of all, while the genders are different in their learning preferences and (though it varies in degree by the individual) and their interests the majority of the time, boys and girls are EQUALLY able intellectually. I hope you are not suggesting that the school system in general is spending too much time "propping up" the learning of girls (in the attempt to make them equal and all) and that is why boys are falling behind.
    I'd love for someone to offer any kind of rational proof that supports the idea that the classroom has changed dramatically to assist girls AND that these changes can be linked to boys falling behind. Until you have that,

  • Jess29 SANDY, UT
    July 30, 2012 12:20 a.m.

    Well, I just graduated from high school and I do not know what this "feminization" of education is. Most of the classes I took during my school were very hands on projects that interested both boys and girls. The fact is, most of the time we actually learned LESS from these hands on projects because students just saw them as a time to goof off. There are some classes that really can only be taught through lectures such as history or else you couldn't get through all the information you needed to in a year.

    There are way too many generalizations going on here. Some boys do just fine in the lecture environment and girls prefer hands on projects. The best way to close the reading gap is to get boys to read not separate boys and girls.

  • libertarian Cedar City, UT
    July 29, 2012 10:19 p.m.

    The classroom is primarily set up for the kids to be still, quiet, obedient and focused on memory work and homework, All things which are natural to females, but totally foreign to most boys who learn best "hands on" and active. In spite of their seeming failures in school, it's primarily the boys that go on to be the innovators, engineers, and thinkers. Boys need to be taught differently than girls and the school system has not done this. I always thought that school just got in the way of my education.

  • Miss Piggie Salt Lake City, UT
    July 29, 2012 6:56 p.m.

    Why the emphasis on being able to read? I would prefer abilities to solve math an other logic problems. No wonder females score higher... testing involves whether you've read books and stories such as A Little Princess and Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass. Tests are skewed to the wrong abilities.

  • Nan BW ELder, CO
    July 29, 2012 6:25 p.m.

    One of the big problems is that many children of both genders, shouldn't be going to school so young. They should be playing creative homespun child play, minus television, computers, electronic games, and preschool and all day kindergarten. Our all-wise education system promotes younger children being stuck in classroom scenes when they would be far better off playing on a playground, with toys, and their parents (two of them of two genders).

    For most children, and boys more so, school is a drag. I realized that just as soon as I started at age six (no K then) and have been promoting less school ever since. I have taught school for about 25 years so I'm not entirely inexperienced.

  • sportsfan21 OREM, UT
    July 29, 2012 5:13 p.m.

    Doesn't it seem likely that the problems stem from the lack of male teachers in elementary? Grades K-3 have been proven to be the most vital in developing math and reading skills, yet these are the grades with the fewest male teachers. I would be willing to bet that since the girls connect better with their teachers, they are more willing to participate and more excited to learn. I had 1 male teacher during these developmental years of school and I've experienced firsthand that boys learn better when given a male teacher.

    Now,I'm not suggesting that we neglect the needs of the girls. But a more even spread of gender across teachers would even the playing field. The only way to do this is to increase salaries of teachers.

  • one old man Ogden, UT
    July 29, 2012 4:40 p.m.

    Demisana, your line, "Play games, go to the library, read to them. And turn off the TV and don't get a video game system at least until they are all well established readers." Is one of the best comments on here.

    Thanks for recognizing one of the worst problems our kids face.

  • Demisana South Jordan, UT
    July 29, 2012 3:23 p.m.

    The fact is all kids vary developmentally. If you try to force a kid to learn something they aren't ready for, they will hate it because it will be too hard. Would you try to "make" a 12 month old child walk? No, because that's ridiculous. It's not that much difference with reading. Some are ready to learn at 5, a few at 3, a few aren't ready until about 8 or so. Once a kid is ready to learn, it's actually pretty easy to teach them, but if they aren't ready it's torture for them and you. I homeschooled my 3, so I speak from experience.

    If you can't homeschool, and your child isn't ready, then keep them back a year. Play games, go to the library, read to them. And turn off the TV and don't get a video game system at least until they are all well established readers.

  • 1hemlock Tooele, Utah
    July 29, 2012 2:28 p.m.

    Nice piece on NPR years ago about a teacher that had taught first graders for 50 years and never had one leave her class that did not know how to read. She read "Moby Dick" and the readers read and the others could follow along with easy words along the top (words that had been pulled out of the narrative and placed at the top of the page). Her opinion was that with all the bodies on the boat and gore from the story . . . it kept them all interested and they wanted to read. She did lament that she wished it wasn't so but . . . 50 years. Before I heard this piece I had worked with my kids and did have one that didn't want to read. I made a deal with him. If he read his required stuff he could pick out the comic book of his choice. We eventually found comic book classics. The Edgar Allen Poe one with his stories in comic book form. Never had to look back after that.
    So as a suggestion: Reward reading with reading. Get Dad to do it

  • Miss Piggie Salt Lake City, UT
    July 29, 2012 1:32 p.m.


    "My fear as a teacher is the age difference will prove problematic at the high school level, but the discussion needs to take place."

    OK, here's some discussion... If boys are held back and not started in school until 7 or 8 they will forever be behind... and even worse.

    Perhaps an approach could be to separate boys and girls, until high school, and get teachers for each group who know how to teach each sex.

  • The Rock Federal Way, WA
    July 29, 2012 12:06 p.m.

    I publish a homeschool curriculum. I had one father call me asking how he could get his 12 year old son motivated to gain an education. I had thought for years that if you could take under performers in the middle school years (6ht through 8th grade) and let them experience life without an education it could do wonders.

    Turns out the father that called me is a general contractor. I suggested that he take his son on a "job shadow", by having his 12 year old help insulate crawl spaces. The father knew a contractor that did that. After a week of insulating crawlspaces (and the father had to go in with him at first) the kid was grateful to do his school work instead.

    Now anytime the kid balks at doing his homework he is offered a refresher under a house.

    Works wonders.

  • justhappytobehere Orem, UT
    July 29, 2012 10:21 a.m.

    During this past school year, I had the opportunity to substitute in a classroom of just boys. Sixth grade. All the girls were off on a field trip that day. What a great day! Those boys were delightful. I was able to change things up a bit from the usual way of doing things, and the boys enjoyed learning and behaved better than I had ever seen them behave. Just saying...

  • worf Mcallen, TX
    July 29, 2012 9:26 a.m.

    Some examples of our illiteracy in math:

    * when looking at our national debt, many people don't know the difference between million, billion, and trillion.
    * most of our citizens can't budget, and are in debt.
    * we are importing foreign workers because their math skills are sharper then ours.
    * we're becoming a nation of beggars, and whiners, as illiteracy spreads.

    Go into an elementary school and examine how math is being taught. It's terrible, and difficult to understand. Compare the teaching methods to how it was taught in the 50's.

  • teachermom6 Northern Utah, UT
    July 29, 2012 8:07 a.m.

    As an educator, I ALWAYS try to keep in mind the differences between how boys learn and how girls learn. They are vastly different. I believe that many of my collegues are not patient with boys. Sometimes we expect them to just sit still and listen like their female counterparts all day long. This is not only unfair, but torture for young boys who just need to move.
    As a society, we have been focusing too hard on placing females equally with males in the classroom. It is about time that we wake up and spend some energy on boys. Unfortunatly,they are, by and large, failing in our classrooms. As educators we need to remember that ALL students need success not only in the classroom, but in life.

  • Springvillepoet Springville, UT
    July 29, 2012 7:43 a.m.


    The trend used to be to cater to boys in school. Here are a few examples:

    Boys were:

    Called on more and given more validation for comments and questions.

    Given more help in math (Studies showed when a boy asked for help in math, he was more likely to get serious, productive help than when a girl asked for help)

    Encouraged to solve problems on their own while girls were told to not worry about it, work together, or, wait for it . . . ask a boy for help.

    The answer, for better or worse, was to teach teachers to create a scaffold for girls. Unfortunately many teachers believed the only way to effectively do that was to ignore boys.

    * * *

    One Old Man is correct in pointing out the developmental differences between boys and girls, and it is at least worth exploring if problems can be helped by delayed entry for boys. My fear as a teacher is the age difference will prove problematic at the high school level, but the discussion needs to take place.

  • My2Cents Taylorsville, UT
    July 29, 2012 6:15 a.m.

    Interesting article and good comments most are to the point and true. Everyone but education knows tht boys and girls interest are different and they need different motivations to learn and become what they are meant to be, men and women. The saying boys will be boys and girls will be girls is what makes an education system work. Schools have tried to wipe out individualism by forcing boys and girls to act, talk, and think like a unisex robot and it doesn't work.

    Gender is a dividing line whether schools like it or not. Gender is as different as night and day and boys and girls will never be equal in abilities and education, this is where schools are denying every child the pursuit of their individual abilities and dreams. Education has become a failed experiment to create robotic indifference.

    I don't think age should be a consideration to starting school, children have this insatiable learning appetite from birth and gender recognition and ability is very much a part of their learning.

    Schools policy are roadblocks a childs mind can't overcome so they regress and shy away and become anti social shuned spirits unable to learn.

  • clutch VERNAL, UT
    July 28, 2012 9:22 p.m.

    I keep hearing about the "feminization" of schools, but I can't find any books or research about this. My initial response is to call this claim baloney, BUT I don't really know how school was different in the past that made it more masculine. Any book or author suggestions that might enlighten me?

  • one old man Ogden, UT
    July 28, 2012 9:01 p.m.

    I spent many years teaching elementary school and think that I -- and many of my colleagues -- have an answer.

    We've known for a long time that little boys lag significantly behind little girls in virtually all aspects of development. They are mentally and physically about a year to a year-and a half behind. Yet we insist on pushing them in to school at the same as girls and then wonder why they can't handle what is expected of them. If brain cells haven't been connected, how can messages get through. What would happen if we gave boys a fighting chance by letting the girls start school at age five, but kept the boys out until they are six or seven?

    80% of our school behavior problems are boys. 80% of our dropouts are boys. 80% of our prisoners are boys. 80% of our illiterate adults are boys.

    I'll bet we'd solve 80% of those problems if we just gave them more time to grow up before pushing them through the classroom door.

  • srw Riverton, UT
    July 28, 2012 2:45 p.m.

    The Deseret News Graphic "Perceptions of reading by gender" wasn't well thought out.

    It's pretty clear that the "totals don't add up to 100%" because the boys and girls were allowed to select more than one option. It's impossible for round-off errors in three numbers to cause the total to be 122%.

    And because the categories overlap, it is meaningless to show the data in a pie chart.

  • G Blake West Jordan, UT
    July 28, 2012 2:02 p.m.

    Education has become feminized to the point that boys can't relate to it any better than girls could back in the 1940's and 1950's, when education was geared to men going to work and women to homemaking. Aside from sports, schools have very little to keep boys engaged, to channel their vast energy, or to help them feel the sense of accomplishment they must have on a daily basis. There has to be a sense of adventure, or they just tune out. Where have all the wood shop classes gone? Power mechanics classes? Metal shop? Along with a sense of adventure and pushing themselves, boys require more tactile interaction with what they're learning (although both boys and girls benefit from it), or they become bored and lose track.
    Why do you suppose there's been an astronomical increase in self-medication/drug abuse among kids as they become teens? They need to feel important, and they need a "rush." Or they'll just go find it somewhere else...