Monday, March 20, 2017

Movement Improves Boys' Reading Scores

Quiz time. What are the two most common educational observations about boys? Answer: (1) they like to move, and (2) "they don't read good." Boys are zooming through hallways, jumping on chairs, and running in circles in classrooms the world over, and anyone who's spent time in a kindergarten knows this. Another thing they know is, just as boys seem to embody the "hyperactive" trope, they also reign as the perennial princes of the "poor reader" one too. 

But the more boys move, the more boys seem to thrive. So what's going on here? It would seem that when boys are being deprived opportunities to move around during their day, they are being set up to fail more where it (literally) counts, and especially in reading. It shouldn't be surprising then that a new study has found that boys who move more do better at reading than those who spend too much of their time at school "parkin' it." Perhaps a new rhyme for educators should be: "too much time sitting makes a boy feel like quitting."

In the study, researchers analyzed findings of 153 kids aged six to eight using heart rate and movement sensors to track their activity levels and tested them for gains on their reading and math skills. It turned out that the more the boys spent sitting (and the less active they are), the less likely they are to show gains on their reading (and math) abilities. And just so we know how much of a "boy thing" this is, the performance of girls in the study didn't seem to be affected as much by their activity level. Movement or no movement, they more often made the grade, but not by as much when activity was structured into their days. Afterwards, the study confirmed something we've probably known all along, that boys aren't getting the kind of education best suited to their strengths. 
"We found that lower levels of moderate to vigorous physical activity, higher levels of sedentary time, and particularly their combination, were related to poorer reading skills in boys," the study says.
Unfortunately, in most schools, phys-ed and recess are more often accounted as optional extras unrelated to "core" subjects like reading and math. Most U.S. schools don't require phys-ed or recess, which hurts both boys and girls. So if anything, these studies show there may be many more natural benefits to recess than it just being regarded as a "break" during the school day. One thing is for sure, too much sedentary learning isn't doing boys much good in particular. The study goes on to show that boys who are forced to spend too much time being sedentary in Grade 1 don't carry their gains over in reading or math to Grade 2 and 3 as well. The researchers aren't sure why the same wasn't true for girls, but their faster cognitive maturation rates may have something to do with it. The reason girls tend to be better readers than boys doesn't seem to have as much to do with motivation, since the prevalence of reading disorders is higher for boys even among those who enjoy reading

A higher activity level among boys (of course not taking into account ADHD) may simply be untapped energies that boys need to utilize to apply what they have learned and stimulate their brains through the activity. If their activity level could therefore bolster the learning they've absorbed, then it could be used to help them in their performance rather than hurt them, as nature intended. Along with giving boys more humor and non-fiction, modeling behavior, and turning reading into a game or goal, boys may also simply need to be given time and place to run it out and get their neurons firing. Once again we find that the reading gap is not so much a "problem" with boys, but just that their boyish ways are not being catered to in school. 

Monday, March 6, 2017

Boys Think "Girls Rule" at School

New research suggests the troubling finding that girls as young as six are less likely than boys to view their gender as smart, and less likely to remain interested in activities supposedly reserved for "really really smart" kids. The study has generated a lot of media attention, from the BBC to Newsweek to The Washington Post. What hasn't made as many headlines is the fact that the research also found that boys are less likely to say their own gender "gets good grades" in school. Self-fulfilling prophesy anyone?

Often this gets overlooked precisely because it's the norm, because boys really do tend to get worse grades than girls, despite the fact that girls struggle when it comes to standardized tests. A lot of research has looked into the stereotypes that may keep girls from thinking they're smart, but just what is keeping boys from thinking they can do as well in school as girls has been largely overlooked. A 2013 experiment once showed that telling kids that “girls do better than boys” in school harmed the boys' performance, and that telling the kids that "boys and girls can perform the same" improved the scores of both, but that's about it. Regardless, it's quite clear that stereotypes don't help anyone—boys included. 

So girls are less confident about being as smart as we now know girls are, and boys are less confident about doing as well as those girls in school. These two things imply that girls doubt their own abilities but have faith in the school system to help them, while boys have faith in their abilities and doubt if school can help them. The problem is, these ideas persist long past the "cooties" phase. For example, fifth grade boys and girls alike were found to say that girls work harder at school, want to learn more, listen better, follow instructions better, are more polite, are liked by teachers more, and perform better in school as a result. Unfortunately, their opinions mirror reality to a degree, so these expectations can become self-fulfilling prophesies. For example, girls have gotten better school grades in all subject areas for nearly a century, from elementary to college, and all over the world. Girls get better grades even in math and science, and now earn more bachelor’s degrees. Meanwhile boys are... more often running around, which negatively impacts their grades.

So are these kids right, or are their opinions self-fulfilling prophesies? If girls doubt their intelligence, do they avoid activities they regard as "smart"? On the flip side, if boys are convinced of their academic inferiority or poor reading ability, could that dissuade them from trying hard at school, cause them to drop out in higher numbers, and avoid college? The answer may be yes, since it's been found that teachers' beliefs that "girls are better readers" tend to predict declines in boys' estimation of their reading abilities and interest. Stereotypes that insist boys as being "lazy, disruptive, unfocused, and lacking motivation" have been shown to negatively influence teachers' perceptions of boys and their learning. 

In any case, it's time to remind boys that they can "rule at school" too. 

Monday, February 13, 2017

Boy Scouts: "Be Prepared" for Transgender Boys

Make some room boys, because the Boy Scouts of America has decided to officially accept transgender boys into its programs. The century-old organization has marked an end to the equally-old penis requirement for admittance, and will now register any youngster who identifies as a boy, regardless of genital shape. Why is this being done? For the same reason the BSA opened its doors to gay youth: because the times they are a-changin':

Chief scout Michael Surbaugh said in a recorded statement published Monday to the organization's website: "After weeks of significant conversations at all levels of our organization, we realize that referring to birth certificates as the reference point is no longer sufficient. Communities and state laws are now interpreting gender identity differently, and these new laws vary widely from state to state. I hope you'll join with me in embracing the opportunity to bring scouting to more families and children."

Joe Maldonado, the first transgender
of the Boy Scouts of America.
The move of course is bound to be controversial to some who don't want the biggest boys'-only club to be "goin' to the girls," but for others, it's a change necessary if scouting is going to continue at all. The Girl Scouts has already embraced transgender "girls" and has benefited from the cultural rebranding, so the BSA now stands poised to follow the trajectory. As for the inevitable controversy, it exposes just how regimented traditionalists are at defining "boys" by a particular genital shape rather than by the positive masculine character traits that the BSA has always tried to instill in its young members.

When you come right down to it, the move only "changes the definition of what it means to be a boy" if we define "boy" by a certain genital shape. If indeed there's more to being a boy than that, then it doesn't change anything. The organization has as its mission to help boys become men of resourcefulness, valor, integrity, and responsibility by providing them opportunities for personal growth and pro-social expression both in nature and in the community. Males are not the only ones who can benefit from masculine-oriented outreach. And as for whether these kids can bond with each other, regardless of the shapes of their genitals, it was never an official BSA practice that a young member's genitals played any significant role anyways, so who's to know? The organization will do what it's always done, which is foster pro-social masculine development among youths. That's not going ff change. It's just now going to be the case, within the BSA, that their necessary pro-social outreach will no longer be restricted to those with a penis.

Some say that it's not just "much ado about genitalia," but that the very "nature" of transgender boys will somehow be different from the so-called "normal boys," preventing unity and bonding. But once again, unless there are merit badges for peeing contests (and last we checked, there aren't), who's going to know who's a "trans-boy" and who's a "normal boy," and what difference would it make? Unless you're admitting that bodily exposure is essential to scouting, there's no reason to suspect the quality of the experience will change. All things being equal, there's enough temperamental diversity among boys within the organization already. Some "normal boys" already choose to wear their hair long, and that doesn't make them "girly." Some are fidgety and outdoorsy. Some are calm and indoorsy. There's no reason to inherently suspect that the natural variation present among transgender boys and "normal boys" will be any different from the natural variation already present among the membership. 

There is always a potential for bullying and harassment, which is why such things are already not tolerated, and the suggestion that transgender boys shouldn't be involved because the "normal boys" can't be expected to handle themselves around them really shortchanges not only the boys but also the organization's lofty purpose. To suggest that "boys can't conduct themselves respectfully and shouldn't be expected to" really undermines the whole purpose of the scouts to begin with. In fact, the only danger in rolling out this change comes not from the scouts themselves but with their den leaders and the cultures they set within their packs. It will be up to the adults in the organization to expect the high standards of personal conduct from their young members that the BSA prides itself on. We don't think the boys themselves will have much trouble with it. They're Boy Scouts. They're prepared for anything.

After all, it's not like those "normal girls" will be wanting in next... Oops! Spoke too soon!

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Are Girls Really Better Readers than Boys?

"Girls rule and boys drool" at reading, right? Well, maybe not so. It could just be that many reading tests inadvertently give girls the advantage (similar to how boys tend to get the math test advantage). The fact is, boys have a longstanding, ubiquitous, and consistent reading gap with girls, and it's probably the biggest hurdle they face in their education worldwide. After all, you need to be able to read to learn. Fortunately for them these gaps seem to disappear in adulthood despite this rocky start, but then this begs the question: are these gaps for real? 

We know that girls cognitively peek earlier than boys and that boys don't necessarily "catch up" later, so could it be that these tests are simply playing to those earlier developmental strengths of girls? It turns out that a number of factors involved with these and other reading tests may be plotting against the Y chromosome, thus explaining their overall poorer performance early on and then surprising "rebound" later. That was the recent finding of PIRLS and PISA, two international reading tests. The tests were administered to students of multiple age groups and adults in multiple countries and measured whether students could extract information from text, interpret and make conclusions based on it, compare information, and pick out literary devices. In all these skills, girls proved to be more competent early on, but later, between 16-24 year olds, these gender differences decreased to almost nothing. This raises the question of whether girls are indeed objectively better readers, or if these tests are simply disadvantaging the younger boys in some way. 

Literacy researchers Oddny Judith Solheim and Kjersti Lundetræ, of the Norwegian Reading Centre, University of Stavanger, compared the tests, and here's what they had to say about them: 
"Based on earlier research, it appears that PIRLS and PISA -- i.e. the tests used in schools - are designed in a way that may favour girls. PIAAC is designed differently. This could be one explanation as to why we are seeing gender differences in the results," says Solheim.
One of the issues with the tests that may advantage girls is the fact that more boys go into "TL;DR" mode, owing to their shorter attention spans and motion-activated brain wiring. There are a preponderance of 'continuous texts' on these tests, or long blocks of description, story, or explanation that previous research shows girls are generally better at directing their attention through. On the flip side, boys tend to be better at extracting information from 'non-continuous text', things like graphs, charts, forms, and ads. Also, boys tend to be better at extracting information from factual texts over fictional ones, which means boys may be very prone to focus on non-fiction while girls tend to be able to focus more on fiction and narrative. 
"Since we know that it is an advantage for girls to read long, fictional texts, it could be giving them an advantage to provide them with this type of text in the reading tests, which could affect the results in terms of measuring pupils' skills," says Solheim.
Also complicating things for boys taking these tests is the large amount of writing that accompanies them. Studies have found that boys don't do as well at long-form, open-ended questions, but at repeating facts in the form of multiple-choice questions. The majority of these tests rely on open-ended essay writing as a means to display information acquired from a text, but boys may not be able to remember it as well when being forced to write it (relying more on long-term memory, a girl strength) out as they would if they were being forced to pick the right answer from a list (relying more on short-term memory, something boys tend to be better at). 
Some of the questions in PISA and PIRLS are multiple-choice. However, in recent years more of the questions are open-ended and require a written answer. This gives girls an advantage. In PISA, where the difference between girls and boys is greatest, 65 per cent of the exercises involve writing. Several studies have shown that the gender differences are greater in written exercises than in multiple-choice questions and that boys have a greater tendency to skip the written questions.
Boys also need better motivation. We already know from other research in fact that boys can do just as well or even better than girls at reading when they're told the tests are a form of "competition" or "game" than they do when they're told they're just boring old "tests of their skills." The more they are sucked into something they are reading, the more they are likely to draw information from it and recall it. For a boy to effectively be "sucked into" what he's reading appears to be more condition than it is for girls. The subject, the protagonist, the pacing, and such, all either help or hurt boys' performance. Texts that focus more on issues and stories related to "the boy experience" (fill in the blank) naturally tend to be of higher interest to boys than topics that they don't have as much personal experience with. Girls are also more likely to perform to the expectations of teachers while boys are more likely to want to see some "point" to doing what they're assigned. They want to see if there's some benefit in it for them besides just getting on the "teacher's good side." 
"Since we know that boys are more critical about doing things that have no direct significance for them, it is conceivable that they are more likely to avoid expending energy on a test that will not affect their qualifications. Motivation could also explain part of the reason why the differences are greater at lower secondary school than primary school, since it is well known that teenagers are more likely to question authority, such as the school, than younger children," says Solheim.
In the end, the researchers stress the importance of rooting out potential advantageous biases that may be hard-wired into these tests (whether they benefit any demographic more than another), since such can skew results and then skew our thinking about where schools need to focus their attention when it comes to the vital skill of reading comprehension.
"Reading is described as a skill, which we have the potential to achieve. We may question whether the various tests, in their current design, give boys and girls, and men and women, an equal basis for achieving their potential as readers. We now know that reading tests in schools are designed in a way that affects girls positively. We also have to question whether PIAAC reflects men's reading skills more accurately than PIRLS and PISA, or whether the adult tests may be giving the men an advantage. This means that the challenge now is to find out how we can create reading tests that accurately demonstrate the actual skills of all boys and girls, and men and women, in terms of reading. That would give us a better basis for saying whether there really is reason to be concerned about boys' reading skills," says Solheim.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Some New Years Resolutions For Boys

Happy 2017! It's time to make some personal resolutions to get the year off on the right track. So here's a little something we concocted for school-aged boys about some resolutions (plans or changes) they can make with themselves and with others to improve their chances in life (and survival!) in the upcoming year. Some are funny, some are important, and some are just totally random, but all are good resolutions to make (and even better ones to KEEP). Mind you, these are but ten suggestions just to get them thinking, so they should of course feel free to add their own. Fair warning though, this post is targeted for boys, so it's going to get a little, well, boyish. But nothing wrong with that!

1. Get off your hinder! Just in case you were that one kid who didn't play Pokemon Go! last year, you spent enough time just sitting around wracking up points and unlocking new achievements. It's time to get some circulation back in your legs and move. This winter, get out and huck a snowball. In the spring, go climb a tree. In the summer, go splash in a pool. In the fall, go hike a trail. Think of the stories you'll have to tell by this time next year. Get a parent's permission and then go explore. Go have a real adventure while the sun's still shining. Don't worry, your tablets and phones will still be waiting for you when you get back. Pokemon Go! anyone? 

2. Stop saying "that's so gay." Because it's not okay. Some people identify as gay and it's disrespectful to them, especially when you're using it to say something is bad. If you want to say something is bad, whatever happened to "that sucks" or "that's stupid"? Also try avoiding words like "retarded" or "lame" to describe things you don't like. Some people do have mental retardation, and some people can't walk. So if you don't want to be called a "loser" or a "jerk" in return, don't act like one! 

3. Dance daily. Break dance. Hand stand. Jump around. Twirl. Spin. Air guitar. Pirouette (if you know what that is). Shake. TWERK! (That's right, guys can twerk too!) Treat your energy like you treat your farts... whatever you gotta do, just let it rip! Be loud and proud! If you got to do it in private because you're embarrassed, that's okay, go in your room and rock out. If you want to do it with your friends, show 'em what you got! If you're sad, you'll feel much better. If you're getting lazy, you'll be getting good exercise. And newsflash fellas, girls love a great dancer.

4. Learn to say "girls rule too." That Star Wars movie rocked, right? Of course it did. Did it matter that a GIRL was the main hero? Heck no. You know Rey was as badass as any Jedi in training ever was! So next time you find yourself losing to a girl at something, remember this and your training will be complete young padawan: girls rule too. So never say " a girl" like it's a bad thing. Anything boys can do, girls can do, and sometimes often better. Remember that, and you'll have fun, even if they're "making it look easy." Let the girls play along, and may the better man, or woman, win. Sometimes the Force is just strong with her!

5. Read an awesome book. Yes, even if that means reading one on your tablet. Also, the ones with real paper pages aren't bad either. Visit a bookstore, because there's no telling what you'll find. It doesn't matter what you read as long as you read something, because reading is how you learn things, get new ideas, and get silly, whether it's a comic book, a game novelization, or Homer's Iliad! Whatever your pleasure be, reading stuff shows you all kinds of new things and puts all kinds of new ideas in your head that help make you more awesome. If you're not reading, you're not being as awesome as you could be.

6. Stock up on new jokes. Those old jokes you've been telling all year are getting, well, old and stale and smelly. Now's the time to restock your supply of yucks. We're not talking "knock knocks" and "a man walks into a bar" stuff. We're talking memes, caption this, animal macros, epic fails, youtube challenges, and of course, using your phone for its intended purpose. Okay, some jokes never get old, they just get funnier with the internet. Shall we say #pullmyfinger?

7. Do your homework. Remember back in September when you said "This school year's going to be THE year"? Now's the time to start saving what's left of THE year. This sounds like your mom talking, doesn't it? Well, like they always say "mother knows best." You want a nice job someday right? This is the year to get your butt in gear and stop slacking!  You'll thank yourself later when you're thinking about college, and your mom will thank you too.

And remember, if you work hard, you earn the right to play hard, which leads us to number 8:

8. Learn a new hobby. The English have a saying: "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy." Well, whether your name is Jack, or Bill, or Nick, or Phil, please, don't be a dull boy this year. Fly a kite. Ride a bike. Learn a craft. Learn a sport. Learn to carve wood. Make a bottle rocket. Learn gymnastics. Buy a drone and take it for a spin. Lift some weights. Take up skateboarding. Learn to cook. Tinker with electronics. Go fishing. Learn to paint. Learn to play an instrument. Take up karate (just give yourself some room when watching the videos). Join scouting. All you need is some adult supervision (and permission), and you're good to go. Yes, learning to burp on command counts.

9. Speak out! Alright, time to get serious for a minute. Remember that thing that's bothering you, whether you've heard it's "nothing to be a crybaby about" or not, this is your time to speak out about it. If you're dealing with bullies, whether at school, at home, or online, speak out! You're not being a crybaby, you're being brave! If you're dealing with rough stuff at home, speak out. If you have a friend who's dealing with some rough stuff, speak out for them. There's all kinds of people and places who can help. Nobody worth your life should stop you or guilt-trip or embarrass you into staying silent. Don't put that stuff off another year. It's important, man stuff, and it's time to "get it off your chest."

10. Stay clean. Stay safe. This goes without saying. Basically, make a resolution to always wash your armpits, brush your teeth, wipe your uh, personal card swiper, and eat healthy. Also, make a resolution to not do anything too stupid this year, okay? A little stupidity here and there is fun (and may come natural at times!), but a little always goes a long way. Be silly, be bold, be goofballs, be gross, be funny, but remember, it's all fun and games until someone gets hurt. So please, no hitting below the belt!

Follow these suggestions and you'll be happy and at least remain in one piece for next year!

Sunday, December 4, 2016

5 Ways Girls Should Respect Boys

We've talked before on this blog how boys should always respect girls. It's one of the most important things we can teach our sons. But part of ensuring that boys will respect girls is making sure they are being respected by them in return. Yes, respect is always earned, but it's also always a two-way street. It should be obvious that ALL of the following points apply to both boys and girls equally, but media portrayals often perpetuate double standards that render boys as "fair game" for girls, often under the notion that they are promoting "girl power" by doing so, or being funny.

Example from "Good Luck Charlie"
While the responses of boys who are randomly asked to "slap a girl" often show us very encouraging results, the reverse may not always be true about whether girls or boys can even recognize disrespect or abuse against boys for what it is. Sometimes, instances of girls overtly carrying out acts of malevolent aggression or pychological threats against boys can be so commonplace within society and the media that they will often be overlooked by both sexes. This is not healthy, and breeds further animosity and retaliation.

Here are five ways we can empower girls (and boys) to reverse this phenomenon: 

1. No hitting: This should go without saying (like everything on this list), but aggressive bullying isn't just a "boy thing." Double standards on this issue, perpetuated in the media, can sometimes teach girls that it is "okay" to hit boys, just so long as "boys can't hit girls." Such behavior is never acceptable (unless the victim is acting in self defense), and kids should not get the impression that physical violence is acceptable for anyone, and certainly not on the basis of gender-coded acceptability. This includes "below the belt" hitting, which kids can sometimes get the idea is "funny" based on images they're exposed to in the media and seek to imitate. Boys should never hit girls, and girls should never hit boys, and consequences should be equally enforced against those who do. In stomping out "boys will be boys," let's not inadvertently create a "girls will be girls" culture. This includes girls "slapping" boys out of frustration, and also using just the threat of physical violence even when no overt physical abuse has transpired. Girls and boys should also report acts of violence they witness, whether the victim be male or female. 

2. No teasing: Another one that should go without saying. It's no surprise that girls can be very mean-spirited when it comes to non-violent or verbal aggression. Sometimes because of various standards perpetuated by the media, boys can be viewed as targets of this kind of "girl power!" harassment. This type of teasing is distinguished from healthy "girl power" expressions by being primarily about bashing or belittling boys, rather than being about empowering girls. Boy-bashing shouldn't be acceptable. "Boys are Stupid! Throw Rocks at Them!" and other boy-bashing slogans fall into this category. Joking and gentle-ribbing is one thing, as long as it's generalized and genuinely observational, but should never be used as a taunt to demean or demoralize someone. Basically, a boy's biological status as a "boy" shouldn't be something used against him personally for other's enjoyment. 

3. No stereotyping: This kind of continues from "no teasing," but it involves the more specific stereotyping of boys that girls can be just as capable of doing as boys can be about girls. Often we hear about why boys shouldn't use phrases that are disrespectful of girls and their capabilities, such as "you throw like a girl!" Just as well, girls should be taught to avoid phrases that are disrespectful of boys. For example, girls can sometimes be as dismissive or derogatory of boys who choose to wear pink as other boys can be toward those boys. They can also exclude boys from toys or activities that are typical of "traditional girlhood" and make fun of them for preferring them, either calling them "girls" (when they don't identify as such) or "gay" (when they are not). This shouldn't be any more acceptable than boys who make fun of girls for being into any activity that is traditionally boyish. Girls can be just as intolerant as boys, and this is a form of bullying regardless of which sex is doing it. 

4. No manipulating: There is another form of "being mean" that some girls can fall into against boys, and that is to take advantage of them. The girl in this case may not be overtly violent, verbally abusive, or condescending toward the boy, but may be simply taking advantage of his kindness, shyness, or, let's face it, his "slower cognitive maturation" (or the assumption of such) in order to gain some kind of material or personal advantage over, from, or through him. Girls can be quite manipulative at times and try to play boys like pawns for one reason or another, or just use them for their own advantage in a social situation. Sometimes this behavior is regarded as "girl power" and encouraged. It may or may not be directly harmful (and sometimes the boy may not even be aware of it!), but it's still very disrespectful. Girls and boys should be able to be upfront and honest with each other, because using someone else to gain some kind of personal advantage can be hurtful, and mostly, it's just not nice. 

5. No patience: This one is easy. One way girls can respect boys is by not tolerating boys' bad behavior when boys are the ones being mean to them. Girls don't "owe" boys respect, because respect is always earned. Remember, it's a two-way street! If a boy hasn't earned it, or has abused a girls' good will towards him, then she has every right to put a stop to it, either by demanding it be stopped or bringing it to the attention of those who can intervene before it escalates. By standing up for themselves, girls are ensuring that bad behavior coming from boys doesn't go unnoticed. This not only has the benefit of stopping the behavior, but also forces boys to recognize that "boys will be boys" should not be an excuse for it. Better behaved boys are better boys period, and that's a win win for everyone. 

Thursday, November 17, 2016

"Beautifully written! For a Boy!"

A mother looks over her third grade son’s homework and notices an alarming bit of teacher feedback. "Beautifully written! For a boy!" it reads. The mother tweets: "Pointlessly gendered comments. Actual teacher feedback to my 3grade son."

While it is true that boys overall don't do as well as girls in terms of literacy and the fine motor skills it takes to develop their writing abilities, these comments do nothing but but reinforce certain lower expectations for boys along gendered lines. Imagine if a girl’s math homework was graded in this way – “Excellent calculations, for a girl!” What were they thinking?

Whatever teacher wrote this, two words: not cool.