Boys turned off by 'passive' literacy and numeracy hours

8th September 2000 at 01:00
THE literacy and numeracy hours are not offering boys the active, hands-on learning experience that they prefer.

Exeter University researchers investigating the roots of boys' under-achievement have found that teachers have particular misgivings about the curriculum and teaching styles prescribed by the Government's literacy strategy. The researchers are studying one high school, three middle schools and 12 first schools.

Elizabeth Wood, reader in early childhood education, said that some teachers had pointed out that Year1 children were "predominantly passive" and sitting down for long periods during the literacy hour.

This was considered to pose particular difficulties for physically active boys. As one teacher told Exeter researcher, Cathie Holden: "You can't read a book when you're on a bike."

Teachers also told Ms Holden that the root causes of children's misbehaviour were outside school. But the 48 Year 4 and 5 pupils she interviewed had a different perspective. "The children indicate that many of the pressures come from within the classroom ... They are aware of the poor behaviour of some boys but feel they are not always as bad as teachers make out, and not always treated fairly, she told the BERA conference.

Fellow researcher Debra Myhill also found that the whole-class teaching of the literacy and numeracy strategies fails to involve under-achieving pupils.

Dr Myhill, who observed 144 children, noted that high-achieving boys in Years 1, 4 and 5 were very involved in classroom activities. But in Year 8 they appeared to withdraw or opt out. "It may be that this is a response to ... peer-group pressure to maintain an appropriate masculinity by not appearing too eager; a 'boffin' or a 'keener'."

High-achieving girls remained consistently focused. However, Dr Myhill speculates that the attributes that give them an advantage in school may not always help them in the workplace. "Few company executives, politicians and lawyers would be described as compliant and conformist, though their PAs may be."

"The roots of underachievement of boys in the early years", by Elizabeth Wood. E-mail: "'You can't read a book when you're on a bike': gender and achievement in the middle years", by Cathie Holden. "Boy zones and girl power: patterns of interaction and response in whole class teaching", by Debra Myhill.

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