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Boys and girls benefit from literacy programme

News | Published in TESS on 22 February, 2013

International research has consistently found that girls outperform boys in reading and writing - but one Scottish education authority is bucking the trend with its literacy programme.

North Lanarkshire's active literacy initiative shows significant improvements for boys and girls, according to senior educational psychologist Nancy Ferguson.

Analysis found that in both the control group and the active literacy group, girls outperformed boys at the beginning of P1. But six years into the programme, the gender gap had disappeared.

"Both did equally well," Dr Ferguson said. "In the control groups, however, girls continued to do better than boys and this difference was statistically significant."

Dr Ferguson and members of the authority's literacy base believe that certain features of the active literacy programme have engaged boys more than traditional methods: its active thinking and challenging approach; more opportunities for discussion, investigation and problem solving in a structured way; no time-wasting; and more opportunities for extended periods of reading and writing.

Its multisensory approach and the physical manipulation of magnetic letters and boards at the early stages seem to suit boys.

An underlying philosophy is the removal of decontextualised workbooks and worksheets, which means that pupils engage in fewer low-level tasks and spend more time on high-level tasks. Instead, there is a list of approved children's books, graded for different stages, from which teachers work.

Teachers have often observed that boys who started school before the age of five were more likely to struggle throughout their education. But when North Lanarkshire spent five years tracking children who had started school at the age of four, they found they recorded an average standardised score of 112 - in the "above average range" of 111-131 under the Neale Analysis of Reading Ability (Nara) test.

Of the overall results for active literacy, Dr Ferguson said: "In the control groups where children didn't have active literacy, girls outperformed boys from baseline to P7, but with the active literacy group, this year's results show consistently that active literacy boys outperform boys who have not had this approach. And boys and girls perform at the same level in the active literacy group."


P5 Nara comprehension (Standardised scores)

Below average range (70-89)

Active literacy group 3.8%

Control group 22.9%

P5 Nara comprehension (Standardised scores)

Average range (90-110)

Active literacy group 35.4%

Control group 47.9%

P5 Nara comprehension (Standardised scores)

Above average range (111-131)

Active literacy group 60.8%

Control group 29.2%.

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