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Boys and Reading

Elaine K. McEwan, Ed.D., on boys and reading ...

Excerpted from the forthcoming book, Teach Them All to Read: Catching the Kids who Fall through the Cracks, (Corwin Press, Forthcoming, 2002), by Dr. Elaine K. McEwan

This excerpt is reprinted by permission of the author.

    Boys seem to fall through the cracks more readily than girls, not because they are overlooked or ignored by their teachers, but rather because of their teachers' heightened anticipation of problems as well as their increased awareness and attentiveness to boys' slightest departures from behavioral and academic norms. In a sense, one might say that some boys are "picked on" or "singled out." Teachers are more prone to identify learning and behavioral problems in boys than girls (Vogel, 1990). One longitudinal study of literacy acquisition among low-income children found that teachers were more likely to contact the parents of boys regarding academic problems than they were to contact girls' parents, even though there were no overall difference in academic performance between the boys and girls (Snow, Barnes, Chandler, Goodman, & Hemphill, 1991).

    McGuinness (1985) points out that, in general, the male/female ratio in special reading classes is, at the most conservative estimate, three to one; in other words; 75% of the reading-disabled group are males. The sex ratios for those students with identified reading disabilities, once hypothesized to be biologically based, with boys more likely to have disabilities than girls, have more recently been found to be nearly equal, so any actual imbalance between the sex ratios is less a function of actual differences in the distribution of reading disabilities in boys and girls and more a function of a referral bias on the part of teachers (Shaywitz et al., 1990). Teachers, irrespective of their own gender, appear to respond differently to boys than they do to girls (Sadker, Sadker, & Klein, 1991).

    We can only speculate at this point regarding the emotional and psychological repercussions, to say nothing of the academic fallout, for boys who are labeled as disabled, slow learners, and hyperactive, irrespective of their actual status. Their teachers are more likely to:
    1. have lowered academic expectations for them;
    2. be hyper-attentive to their perceived or actual departure from strict behavioral norms, and
    3. experience a general lack of efficacy with regard to meeting their academic needs.
    If any of these factors are also combined with other risk factors (e.g. poverty or developmental delays), the odds of boys falling through the cracks increase exponentially.

About the author

Dr. Elaine K. McEwan is a former teacher, principal, and district administrator. She has written several books on educating children and dealing with the public school system. You are invited to visit her web site.

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