HOW DO BOYS AND GIRLS DIFFER ACADEMICALLY?
Andrew Martin, professor of educational psychology at the University of New South Wales Australia, says girls spend more time on assignments, pay more attention to detail, and are more organised in their tasks. They are more likely to ask for help, and have a more positive attitude towards, and place more value on, schoolwork. Finally, girls think more positively about their subjects, so they are a little more optimistic about school.
However, it’s not all sugar and spice, Prof Martin assures. They’re generally more anxious about their schoolwork and have a stronger negative emotional response when they don’t do well. They sometimes blame themselves too much when they don’t do so well, yet don’t take enough credit for their successes.
Boys, on the other hand, says Prof Martin, tend not to try as hard and give up earlier. They’re also more likely to get distracted and go off-task. Despite this, they have shown higher academic buoyancy than girls and have an easier time bouncing back after setbacks.
“Boys will prefer hands-on, practical tasks,” he adds. “They seem to benefit from the relevance of schoolwork, so the subject needs to be taught more clearly for boys.”
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WHY DO THESE DIFFERENCES COME ABOUT?
At the cognitive level, Prof Martin says, girls tend to have better “executive functioning” – a better working memory, better planning skills and a better ability to organise information in their head – and these advantages are helpful for schoolwork.
To give an extreme example: Four out of five students who have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are boys, he notes. This condition is related to information-processing and executive functioning.
Biologically, girls mature faster than boys do and are, therefore, developmentally ahead. Not only do they develop better executive functioning skills earlier than boys, but they also take on more mature attitudes towards learning faster, he adds.
A third difference, he shares, is the way boys and girls are socialised. Boys are brought up to be more active, and to be interested in things that may be less academic – for instance, sports – while girls are raised to be more diligent.
Sometimes, Prof Martin adds, even the nature of the curriculum may fit boys and girls differently. Girls are stronger in literacy, he elaborates, so if lessons and assignments are heavily based on text and reading, the curriculum can favour girls.
DOES THIS MEAN IT’S NORMAL IF MY BOY DOESN’T PAY ATTENTION?
Genevieve Chye, former principal of the all-boys Montfort Junior School who is now with the Ministry of Education’s HQ, emphasises that it’s not that boys do not engage in lessons; they simply engage differently.
Citing gender-based educational research studies from the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, the Gurian Institute and the International Boys’ School Coalition, Genevieve explains that boys are generally more interested when classroom and learning activities involve movement, teamwork, and problem-solving. Activities that give them a sense of responsibility for others’ learning also help in catching and holding their interest.
Taking these qualities into consideration, the teachers at her school actively incorporate movement and purposeful group work into the lessons, she shares. For example, in a Chinese language lesson, boys work in groups to write a composition, building on one another’s sentences to create a story. This creates an environment where pupils help each other by providing constructive suggestions and feedback.
As a result, they have greater ownership of their learning, and effort and teamwork are rewarded with group points. She adds that parents shouldn’t be too quick to jump to the wrong conclusion if their son is easily distracted – the average attention span of primary-school boys is seven minutes.
“If you’re wondering why your boy starts fidgeting after 10 minutes and needs to walk around, he doesn’t have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder,” she says. “He just needs to move around.” Because of this, her teachers use physical activities to transition between classroom lessons and activities – simple aerobic routines, for example, to help stimulate the brain.
Next page: Why is your boy giving excuses for not doing well? Why is your girl so stressed about schoolwork?