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Boys and Writing: Tolerance or Desire?

In 2010, EQAO discovered that girls were outperforming boys on the OSSLT — a large-scale high school literacy test in Ontario, Canada, designed to measure Grade 10 students' reading and writing abilities. This finding is consistent with the results of the PISA assessment conducted in 2009.

The trend has persisted in many Ontario schools. The research on boys and literacy suggests potential reasons for this trend, and some educators have suggested differentiated instruction as a solution to bolstering boys' literacy levels. But differentiate how?

Ralph Fletcher, author of Boy Writers: Reclaiming Their Voices, suggests that one of the best and easiest things teachers can do to help boys develop as writers is to allow them to choose what they want to write about.

This idea is fairly consistent with what we already know about boys' preferences for other things. For example, it's fairly uncontested that boys are more likely to appreciate movies and stories with male lead characters, and they tend to prefer nonfiction reading materials over fiction materials in the elementary grades. So... allowing for other writing options isn't too much of a leap.

While I'm aware that choice isn't an option on the OSSLT, allowing for choice can be a great way to help boys want to write, so they can develop their skills as writers before they're required to write to someone else's dictates.

Finally, professional writers will tell you that to become a better writer, you need to read a lot. Girls in Ontario, and all over the world, tend to read outside of school for pleasure more than boys do, so it stands to reason that girls' literacy muscles are better formed. It doesn't have to be this way.

For ideas on how how to encourage boys to read outside of school, visit the Boys' Literacy page at the Ontario Ministry of Education website.

By Corina Koch MacLeod
Image by Eric