Strategies to close the gender achievement gap
Since my previous blog I have changed the focus of my research slightly. I still believe that there needs to be more focus on challenging higher ability learners but I’ve narrowed to focus to boys. For the purposes of this project I chose a group of year 9 boys, all of whom had high CAT scores but were underachieving in English.
Nationally, boys underachieve at GCSE in comparison to girls and it is an issue that needs to be addresses. When reading around this issue I found that many have tried to address this gender gap. From my research and my own practice, I feel that I have found some methods that do work (and a lot that don’t). However, the biggest finding was that these methods are not a “one size fits all” and it requires you to know your students and know what will work for them.
Numerous ideas were discussed and trialled but two ideas that kept coming up were single gender teaching i.e creating a top boys’ group and a top girls’ group and/or altering the curriculum to engage boys. I’ve seen research where this does work to motivate but I felt it would not solve the issue. DCSF (2009) released a document with guidance about issue with gender and attainment. They concluded: “Schools which attempt to alter the curriculum to provide a ‘boy-friendly’ curriculum not only exacerbate gender stereotypes, but their actions have been shown to be ineffective. In playing to gender stereotypes, they reinforce the idea that only some activities and behaviours are gender appropriate, and thus limit rather than enhance pupils’ engagement with the curriculum”. I feel that this approach may do more harm than good and may end up alienating both genders. “It’s in schools where gender constructions are less accentuated that boys tend to do better – and strategies that work to reduce relational constructions of gender that are most effective in facilitating boys’ achievement.” (Francis and Skelton, 2008).
I, myself, found the most effective strategies to be a mixture of praise, encouragement, competition and extra support. Competition was the most interesting element to incorporate in my classroom. The boys seemed to thrive off these elements and, interestingly, the girls were their fiercest rivals. It added an exciting and competitive nature to the room with students trying to outdo one another, in the beginning, and then using one another’s ideas to go further with interpretations. The group dynamic has become a much more positive and inclusive one, with the boys being just as vocal as the girls (if not more so), despite being outnumbered by 2:1.
I believe that there is a direct correlation with boys’ motivation and their achievement. We need to be able to show boys the value in studying authors like Shakespeare and Dickens. We need to show them that it is interesting and worth their thinking. Therein lies the solution: teachers need to be able to show the boys in their classes that there is value to what they are learning and that it is worthwhile. As teachers, we are all passionate about our subject area and all we want is for the students to feel the same way. Through employing strategies like praise and encouragement we can (hopefully) make those disengaged boys more engaged.
Teacher of English
Joyce Frankland Academy, Newport