How Does Gender Affect Student Reading Ability?

October 4, 2011, Angie Barnett

How Does Gender Affect Student Reading Ability?

As you have taught over the years, have you noticed a difference in the performance among your male and female students? Have you found performance gaps more of an individual issue or gender issue?

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Popular has been the phrase “men are from Mars, women are from Venus” deriving from a book published under that very title in 1992 by John Gary. And for years the notion was accepted: boys and girls have different brains with different strengths. Several parents and educators began excusing poor performance as a result of gender.

However, as researchers have continued to study the differences of the male and female brain they have found the differences to be much more minimal than originally believed, now a popular saying among researchers is: “men are from North Dakota, women are from South Dakota.”

In terms of education, stereotypes have emerged that boys are better at math and science and girls are better at reading and language tasks. Is this true? Nationwide results on tests do in fact show that boys on average perform below girls on reading and above girls in math. If the gender differences between male and female brains are minimal what is causing this gap? Some researchers have found that the stereotypes themselves have become a self-fulfilling prophecy, but they are not necessarily based on science.

In a recent study supported by the National Institute of Health, a researcher took two groups of college students and had them complete a math test. The first group was told that there was typically no gender difference in performance. The second group was told that there were usually gender differences in performance. The results? In the first group, the men and women performed at about the same level. In the second group that was told that there were usually gender differences in performance, the women performed below that of the men. 

Again and again, researchers are finding that gender differences in intellect are mostly contributed to the stereotypes that replicate those ideas.

So does gender affect reading ability? Only if you let it.


Learn how Reading Horizons reading curriculum helps all genders master foundational reading skills, both in general education and reading intervention settings. 


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