MAT Blog

Boys don't read? Girls don't like math? A look at gender and learning.

Posted by Colleen Cadieux on Jan 12, 2012 5:30:00 AM

are teachers combatting cultural stereotypes in class? Marygrove looks at gender and learning.There are many long-held assumptions that "girls don't like math" or "boys don't like to read." A recent blog by Andrew Meltzoff and Dario Cvencek on NBC’s Education Nation  takes a look at gender stereotypes, and raises questions about how we may be socializing our children in this country to prefer one subject over another. While there is compelling research that suggests boys and girls do learn differently, there are no definitive conclusions that both genders can't succeed in any area of learning.

There are things teachers can do to promote learning for all, regardless of gender or subject area. It is a suitable and appropriate role for teachers to help students understand that their academic and cognitive abilities are not predisposed from birth. This understanding and concerted myth de-bunking can help students be more adaptable and open to a variety of learning approaches and instructional methods. They may also be more willing to take academic risks.

  • Girls who have more confidence in their math and science abilities, and have had teachers explicitly emphasize these abilities, are more likely to enjoy and excel at their math studies. Long term, they also are more likely to opt for math and science electives in high school while also considering a Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) career.

  • Boys who learn in a boy-friendly, print rich environment will understand that reading isn't just for girls. Teachers need to research and provide books that are interesting to boys (non-fiction, science fiction, mystery, action) to demonstrate that no matter what they like to read; there are many great titles available.  

Teachers should provide direct feedback on a student's performance and work production. When feedback is both explicit and prescriptive and focuses on the learning process, specific learning strategies, and a students' effort—achievement increases. This feedback will help to improve persistence during a difficult task, increase performance, and support students' beliefs about their abilities.

  • Direct feedback during math or science instruction will help to support girls' learning by providing explicit instruction on their performance and the logical/mathematical processes likely accompanying a math or science task. When teachers place emphasis on the strategies that were used and whether or not they were successful, girls will understand the sequential process of math and science learning. 

  • In order for any student to be a successful reader, he must be able to independently apply a variety of comprehension strategies during reading. Teachers need to provide direct feedback to boys regarding their use of these strategies. Particularly when reading fiction texts, boys should be engaged in conversations regarding their use of comprehension strategies and whether they enhanced their overall understanding. 

Teachers can expose all students to a variety of opportunities and possible careers that break gender stereotypes. Students need to understand that your gender doesn't determine what you enjoy learning or what your future career may be. Exposure to these beliefs in elementary school will shape early understanding for both boys and girls.

  • There are many prolific female mathematicians and scientists available as examples for girls (including Marie Curie, Jane Goodall, and Sally Ride). Profiling these successful women will help to demonstrate to girls that there are a variety of STEM careers available to them that take advantage of their math and science abilities. Teachers should explore how to use the text and website, Math Doesn't Suck, by Danica McKellar which demonstrates that math can be both easy and relevant.

  • The website "Guys Read" is a place where boys of all ages can discuss boy-centric books, provide literary reviews, and learn what some of their favorite male authors are currently working on. Created and maintained by Jon Scieska, this terrific website focuses on books and genres that boys like most, while providing substantial support and encouragement for boy readers.

Let us know your thoughts about gender and learning--we acknowledge that we are just scratching the surface of this very complex issue.

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Tags: Marygrove MAT, Reading, mathematics, gender and learning

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