"Bear in mind that the wonderful things you learn in your schools are the work of many generations, produced by enthusiastic effort and infinite labor in every country of the world. All this is put into your hands as your inheritance in order that you may receive it, honor it, add to it, and one day faithfully hand it to your children. Thus do we mortals achieve immortality in the permanent things which we create in common." - Albert Einstein

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Girls Write Better Than Boys Do

Girls outperform boys in various standardized reading comprehension exams. Girls likewise score higher in writing tests. This should not be surprising since one's writing ability depends to a certain extent on one's reading ability. Writing can be distilled into two parts: generation of ideas and their subsequent transcription. In other words, there is quality, which can be measured by organization and theme, and productivity, which can be roughly gauged, for instance, by the number of words written.

A recent study published in the Journal of Educational Psychology examines in detail how girls differ from boys in terms of writing skills. Included in this study are about 500 students (grades 2 and 3) from 76 classrooms in 10 schools in a midsized city in the United States. Three writing tests are administered to gauge both writing quality and productivity and the differences found between the two genders is shown in the following figure:

Above graph drawn from data provided by
Toward an understanding of dimensions, predictors, and the gender gap in written composition. Kim, Young-Suk; Al Otaiba, Stephanie; Wanzek, Jeanne; Gatlin, Brandy. Journal of Educational Psychology, Vol 107(1), Feb 2015, 79-95.
What is graphed here is the difference between the mean scores of boys and girls as a fraction of the standard deviation. In writing quality, for instance, boys scored, on average, 0.39 standard deviation lower than girls. The above are therefore quite significant differences. In an attempt to explain these, various assessments have been likewise employed to measure language and cognitive variables. The study considers oral language, reading, spelling, handwriting fluency (letter writing and story copying tasks), attention, and rapid automatized naming. With these variables or predictors, gender differences have also been observed.

Above graph drawn from data provided by
Toward an understanding of dimensions, predictors, and the gender gap in written composition. Kim, Young-Suk; Al Otaiba, Stephanie; Wanzek, Jeanne; Gatlin, Brandy. Journal of Educational Psychology, Vol 107(1), Feb 2015, 79-95.
The values shown in the above graph are likewise the differences between the mean scores of boys and girls as a fraction of their respective standard deviations. Of course, these variables cannot be expected to be independent from each other. Still, it is noticeable, that the differences between boys and girls observed in any of these variables are not as big as those observed in the writing exams. This is truly multivariate but even with multilevel modeling, it becomes clear that the language and cognitive variables alone do not explain the gender gap in writing. One can imagine other factors that may be in play, as the authors of this study have done. There is motivation and engagement. Likewise, other executive functions in addition to attention have not been included.

What this study shows is that writing is a very complicated task that involves so many factors. To help a child who is currently struggling in writing, the key challenges among the various indicators need to be identified since each one may require a specific intervention. In addition, since not all the gender differences can be explained by language and cognitive variables, attitude probably counts. Teachers may therefore need to find ways to make writing an activity of interest to boys.




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