Glasgow uses its noddle to target the gender gap

21st September 2001 at 01:00
BOYS just wanna have fun, girls wanna stick in. From pre-school to secondary, teachers find boys are easily bored, over-boisterous and unenthusiastic about reading, fail to complete tasks and perform poorly in essays.

Patrick McDaid, English adviser, and Margaret Dobie, senior education officer in Glasgow, said research showed that on average a 16-year-old boy's concentration span was six minutes, against 16 minutes for girls. The origins of the difference began early on.

Gaps in gender attainment continued to widen as pressures mounted to lift overall achievement. It was therefore natural for schools to focus on improving boys' performance while not damaging that of girls.

Glasgow has launched an action research project in five secondaries, two primaries and four nurseries to focus on narrowing the gender gap. At Standard grade 1-4, girls in Glasgow are 8 per cent ahead and 11 per cent ahead in levels 1-2. In English, twice the number of girls gain Credit passes.

Mr McDaid said: "The gender effect has been outweighing the teacher effect. Therefore we have got to look at it."

Research over the past five years into how the brain worked was beginning to explain inherent differences between girls and boys. Girls were more auditory learners, more left-brain dominated and better communicators. Boys were more visual-kinaesthetic learners, more right-brain dominated and poorer communicators.

"Evidence indicates that 70 per cent of experiences in schools are auditory experiences but for 70 per cent of pupils in front of us that is not their preferred learning style. These are things we have to think about," Mr McDaid said.

Mrs Dobie said that styles of learning began to develop between the ages of four and eight. But the divisions were not strictly according to gender.

Ten per cent of girls learned like boys and 20 per cent of boys learned like girls.

Left-brain dominance meant girls tended to speak sooner and a three-year-old girl had twice the vocabulary of a boy. Girls are better listeners and pick up what teachers tell them more easily. They are also more interested in books and linguistic activities and read earlier. Most of the books in nursery and early primary were non-fiction, a feature that helped girls.

Boys, Mrs Dobie said, were more spatially aware and on the move, liked non-fiction books and preferred learning by doing.

Left-brain learners were more fluent verbally, interested in letters and words and reflection, and liked linear processes. Right-brained learners liked the "big picture" and tasks to be chunked down. Boys tended to talk inside their heads, communicated less and talked to relate facts.

Mr McDaid urged teachers at all stages to conduct a review at the end of the lesson. "If there is no review, 80 per cent of knowledge is lost within 24 hours and schools which take on review find that it is really successful for boys and girls. A competition at the end of the lesson is popular."

Research also found that listening led to a 5 per cent retention rate, reading 10 per cent, audio-visual approaches 20 per cent, demonstrations 30 per cent, discussion groups 50 per cent, practice by doing 75 per cent and explaining to others 90 per cent.

BOOST FOR THE BOYS

* Plans have to be structured and build on prior knowledge.

* Purpose has to be clear.

* Outcomes have to be clearly stated, often they are not specific enough.

* Tasks have to be broken down and standards shared.

* Reviews at end of lessons.

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