Andrew Newmark – Literacy and the Gender Gap

There is no question that boys and girls learn differently.  Ask any elementary teacher which students struggle the most in literacy and you’ll find that the overwhelming amount of students that face difficulty are boys.  This gap has serious implications.  Literacy is the basis for almost all learning in school.  When a student fails to develop appropriate literacy skills, that student succumbs to a severe disadvantage in education.  Not only will grades drop as the literacy skills needed to obtain higher grades become more advanced, but the student will fall into a cycle of failure and self-defeatism which cause the student to give up and the student’s subsequent grades will remain low as others in the class surge ahead.  This cycle leads to a plethora of behavioral and developmental issues.  I’ve listed some eye opening facts detailing the repercussions of the differences in the ways men and women learn.


• Get 70% of D’s and F’s.

• Make up 80% of discipline problems

• Make up 70% of learning disabilities

• Make up 80% of those on Ritalin

• Are 1 to 1 ½ years behind girls in reading and writing

• Make up 80% of HS dropouts

So, we know there are differences and in the last ten to fifteen years we have begun to understand why these differences exist.  In the last decade, breakthroughs in functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) have allowed scientists to closely examine the ways in which boys and girls minds interpret and process language.  The findings have shown radical distinctions in the language processing area of the brain.  Girls have a more developed inferior frontal gyrus (area involved in word meanings), superior temporal gyrus on both sides of brain (sounds of words) and fusiform gyrus on the left side of the brain (spelling of words and their visual identification).  Also, girls’ language abilities are rooted in the auditory/listening areas which translate easily to literacy, where boys’ language abilities are rooted in the visual areas of the brain which translates more easily to visual-spatial skills such as math and orientation [ /Ref_Gender_Differences].

In order to gain a more enhanced understanding of the implications of this data, I will be working with Dr. Sister St. John Delany to implement a professional cognitive development service to test and follow student progress throughout the program.  We have enlisted the aid of Dr. Mark Sirkin, a developmental psychologist, in order to guide our research in the best direction possible.  We have been in contact with representatives from some of the best available programs to fit our needs and have found a group of students to utilize in our experiment.  We simply need to work out a definite hypothesis after we find an acceptable program.  In addition to finding a program and solidifying the logistics of the experiment, we have been reading through numerous articles to grow our schemas on the topic.  Hopefully through our research we can begin to better understand how to narrow the gap.

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