Why Our Boys Are Failing As Writers?

If you ever volunteered in any classroom, the differences between boys and girls are distinct.  The girls sit quietly listening to the teacher while the boys fidget.  The girls make a painting of a house as realistic as possible while the boy’s renditions are abstract, Picasso like.  The girl’s are first to raise their hands to answer while the boys are more reluctant.  With all these differences, it makes one wonder how one teaching style can fit all.

These differences, I observed while volunteering in my son’s Pre-K class, an invaluable experience.  It allowed me to see: where  my son stood amongst his peers, what sorts of activities I could do with him at home and to know that he was right where he was supposed to be academically.

Fast forward two years to 1st grade, and academically things had changed after a move back and forth to the USA.  My son had started reading in Kindergarten while attending a Montessori school in Seattle.  But when we moved back to Doha, we noticed a drop off in his reading and writing.  What happened to his recognition of all those sight words?  I discussed this with a girlfriend who said: “Don’t worry the boys all catch up in the end.”

I was not reassured.  I purchased age appropriate workbooks and gently worked with him the remainder of the year.  It had seemed that things had improved… until the first week of 1st grade.  All the children had posted a short piece of their writing on their lockers.  My son’s was completely illegible.  I asked him what it said.  “I don’t know.” he said.

I met with his teacher and relayed my concern.  By placing him in a writer’s workshop his reading and writing improved.  This same teacher, every child should have at least one like her, recommended a book:
Boy Writers” by Ralph Fletcher.  I was intrigued. I wanted my son to thrive in all subjects.  Here is what I learned:

Facts on Boy Writers

The Author of Boy Writers, Ralph Fletcher noted this same lack of enthusiasm for writing in school amongst boys.  This along with an inquiry of 100 teachers around the globe led to his book.

He says: “Boys have unique strengths, quirks and weaknesses that every thoughtful practitioner or parent will want to be aware of.”

The thought that boys ultimately “catch up” with girls in regard to writing is wrong.  Studies show otherwise.  This gap between the sexes exists even into high school.  Results on standardized tests across the board show that girls are more proficient writers.

What Hinders Our Boy Writer?

Boys tend to gravitate towards writing about action and violence.  Their preferred topics have long been discouraged in the classroom.  This is even more so now with the tragedies of recent years: 911, Columbine etc. Additionally, a boys humor tends to be cruder, another discouraged trait.

Choice is further limited when having to prepare students for standardized tests and having to dictate topic matter.

With women making up 90% of all elementary school teachers, classrooms tend to be created to favor the tastes, strengths and learning styles of girls.

Lastly, boy’s handwriting tends to be messier than girls. And unfortunately several studies have confirmed that poor handwriting negatively affects the way teachers respond to a student’s writing in regard to grades and praise.  As children learn to type, this factor will be less important.

How can we Engage our Boy Writers?

Give them a choice of topic as often as possible in school. It is human nature to be more enthusiastic about doing something one likes.

Encourage them to write frequently even if it is texting or instant messaging online. Have them write, write, and write some more.

Frequency of writing is key as one well known blogger, Marcus Sheridan knows.  Despite being told he could not write very well, Marcus launched his blog 2 years ago.  400 articles and nearly 400,000 words later, one can see why his blog is popular drawing 100 comments or more per post.  He is the prime example that practice makes perfect.

Allow them to draw pictures along with writing.  A drawing often times will include a lot of information that can tell the story in and of itself further aiding boys in their writing.

When sharing stories, ensure that there is equal sharing of both boy’s and girl’s writing.

Allow them to write while sitting on the floor or wherever they are comfortable.

Have them draw: a map of their neighborhood, a self-portrait, a drawing of what they see in their dreams, a picture of where they see themselves in 10 years and a picture of their favorite hero.  Have them do this periodically.  It is fun to watch the progression, see for yourself.  I have included some of my son’s self portraits from age 3-7 below.

Self Portrait 3 years of age

Self Portrait 5 years of age

Self Portraits.Top Photo: 6 years of age. Bottom Photo: 7 years of age

As a teacher, type the story if you are having a hard time reading it.  This will help with flow.  As a parent ask your child to read the story to you.

Keep a journal at home in which they can write in.  We had our son write just a few sentences about what he did each day over summer break.  This year, I have suggested we write a “book” together about a topic he has selected.

With the right environment, boys will flourish.  We just have to acknowledge and honor the differences between boys and girls.

Have you noticed the same differences in your boy writer? Or how have you fostered your boy writer?  I would love to hear your stories.

7 years ago by in Health/Parenting | You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
18 Comments to Why Our Boys Are Failing As Writers?
    • Fred Leo
    • I have been thinking about these topics a lot lately as My boy is 5 and I notice some of the same things with him. I must say that your article is excellent.

      I think that we are not allowing our boys to be boys. Boys like guns, long walks in the woods, and playing rou. All of these things are discouraged today. We are so scared of violence and harm coming to our children that we are not letting them live.

      Great article,
      Fred

      • Rajka
      • Thanks Fred! I agree, we need to let our boys be boys!
        I am so pleased you enjoyed the article. It was close to heart.
        Enjoy the day and your boy!
        Rajka

    • john Falchetto
    • Love this post Rajka. As a new father I think a lot about schooling and how it is completly ineffective at producing creative happy people.

      Beyond the gender issue, there is also the ridiculous idea of putting all kids in a class based solely on their age. Like every 7 year old learns at the same rate. Stupid.

      I don’t think girls are necessarily less boisterous than boys, perhaps they get conditioned that way. I see my daughter is quite happy climbing over furniture, walking, pulling her toys everywhere.

      But I do agree that mixing boys/girls in school creates some serious learning issues, especially when they are the same age.

      Great discussion piece.

      • Rajka
      • I chuckled when you wrote that school is completely ineffective at producing creative happy people. Agreed. I think the learning needs to be more applicable to life as well.
        And what about entrepreneurship? This doesn’t get taught at all in most schools. Can you imagine how far we would be now if we had learned from a young age!
        Our daughter is proving to be more boisterous than our son so perhaps more of personality trait rather than gender!
        I really liked the Montessori school in the USA which allows each child to learn at his or her own pace. I was skeptical at first until I went in and observed the class and met with the teacher and then later saw the results in our son!
        So much to think about as parents!
        Thanks for stopping by!

    • Tanya
    • I totally agree. At 3years old, my son’s teacher is already complaining about how he holds his pencil or crayon!! I am just happy that he is enjoying doing pre-writing scribbles & telling me what words they are (in his mind). My brother LOVED writing about sports…. he was strongly encouraged to seek other topics & was not praised for his details sport stories. He was really discouraged, but being stubborn, only wrote about sport! He calculated his grades carefully in high school & only handed in the english assignments needed to get him the grade he wanted (he’d do the ones that HE liked & felt he’d do well at). In the end, he did sport jornalism for online magazines on the side through university & became a university soccer coach. I hope lots of people read this article & the book you mentioned!

      • Rajka
      • Dear Tanya

        Thanks for sharing the story about your brother! Thankfully he followed his instinct and only did what he was passionate about!

        We too were told our son holds his pencil wrong endlessly from age 3… My thoughts were isn’t that your job to teach him! I looked to my husband (who I think is successful) and he holds his pencil wrong even now. I did chide my husband about this saying it must be genetic. This year I even bought the Yoro pencil to help my son hold the pencil correctly (at the recommendation of this great teacher!) but unfortunately it has not made him change his pencil hold. When he does try and hold a pencil correctly he says he has less control and can’t write as neat.

        Hope to see you back!
        Rajka

    • Shellie
    • What a great article. My son is in 2nd grade and is struggling with answering the open ended questions like “Tell me why….”. They will come home from school blank and when I ask him why he says he didn’t know what to write. However, if I quiz him, he knows the information. I’ve been trying to find ways to help him put his thoughts to paper so it was great to see your article to know i’m not alone.

      I’ve also discovered with him that he wants to do everything perfectly. If he’s unsure, he won’t write anything. We’re working a lot on just writing down our thoughts without worrying if they are “perfect” and I am trying to find ways to make it more fun and less stressful for him. This was never an issue for my daughter so i’ve been searching for ideas on how to help him. Thanks a ton Rajka!

      • Rajka
      • Dear Shellie
        I am sorry your son is struggling. I remembered struggling with homework (in my case the reading comprehension) and I didn’t have parents who could help as English was their second language. He is very lucky to have you there to help him out.

        I love that you suggested he write down his thoughts without necessarily getting them down perfect and that you try and make writing fun. All good tips!

    • Beth
    • I agree that our boys need more male teachers. My 9 year old boy has flourished these past 2 years when he had male teachers. Ironically I was skeptical at first about male teachers (I don’t know why that is). But now it makes total sense! My boy can identify/relate to the male teachers better and is more interested in what they say or how they say it. Or perhaps it’s the teacher that understands better the boy’s learning, interests and motivations. Thanks or the article.

      • Rajka
      • Beth
        I am glad your son flourished with the right teacher!
        People who come abroad ask me if the American School here is good… I always say it depends on the teacher. This is true for any school! And this year we have a good one. She is female but gets this difference between boys and girls and recommended the book! My son is lucky to have her.
        Thanks for commenting on the article and for stopping by the site. Hope you enjoy the upcoming articles!

    • Ralph Fletcher
    • Great post! Thanks for the mention of my book Boy Writers: Reclaiming Their Voices. It’s an important issue that I continue to be interested in. I have two other resources that may be of interest. DUDE, LISTEN TO THIS! is an instructional DVD on this subject (Stenhouse). I also have a forthcoming book, GUY-WRITE: WHAT EVERY BOY NEEDS TO KNOW ABOUT WRITING, will be published next spring by Henry Holt. That book will be geared to boys in grades 4 and up.

      Ralph Fletcher

      • Rajka
      • Ralph

        What an honor to have you visit my site! Thanks so much! Pleased you like the post! It is a subject I am interested in as well.

        Thanks for the information on additional resources. I will definitely be checking them both out. As well as your website.

        Would love to briefly pick your brains on publishing…I am favoring self publishing with either Lulu or Blurb or like. Would love to email you but only with your permission.

        Regards,
        Rajka “Ryka”

    • Shua'a
    • Rajka, i just read your article. Very very interesting facts. I will start some of these ideas with my boys to encourage some more writing at home. Summer vacation is very close, so the journal will be a great idea..

      Good Luck..

    • Ann
    •            What is occurring is that Males are given more aggressive; less kind/stable, verbal interaction as early as nine months from the “old idea” boys should be tough.  At the same time, Female children are given much kind/stable, verbal interaction and not given the same aggressive treatment.  Over time, the girls are able to learn and develop more easily, while boys lag behind.  The lower the socioeconomic environment, the “more pronounced those differences in treatment”.  I feel not only is there is an accepted belief in harsh treatment for Males in lower socioeconomic areas, but there is also a differential catharsis effect or releasing stress upon young children where Male children will receive more accepted harsh stress release and Female children will experience a more kind, caring, even doting stress relief.  So over time, this creates a much larger academic gap between those Male and Female children.
                This difference in treatment has led to less maturity due to more social/emotional distance for boys (fear of adults/significant others); less verbal skills; higher average stress that hurts learning/motivation; higher muscle tension that hurts handwriting (tighter grip on pencil and more pressure on paper); and more activity due to need for more stress relief.  Another problem created from tough treatment is the need to generate love/honor from other sources if not provided for in academics.  This will drive boys into sports, video games, or stunt behavior to generate love/honor not provided elsewhere.  Girls are given essential love, honor, and care, simply for being girls.
                In the information age or academic world, the treatment of Females from a young age is providing much kind, stable, verbal interaction and support “in all socioeconomic areas”  This provides much mental, emotional, social, verbal, academic support, knowledge and skills; early maturity; more reliance on and closeness with teachers; less stress for improved learning and ease of learning; more ease of writing and motivation to write; and more ease with performing mental work without the agitation or need for activity for stress relief.  Note, these differences in treatment by parents and society continue from infancy through adulthood. 
                   By showing students how their individual environments greatly affect their ability to think, learn, and motivation to learn, and grow, students will have much more respect and esteem for themselves and for others.  By providing students with tools to approach their lives more delicately and differently to continually change and improve their lives, students will then have a continuous hope of developing in time, many if not all of the qualities they admire in others over time.  Students will then have a continuous hope of changing and becoming newer and better persons with each passing day.  This will reduce much hopelessness, many harmful escapes and other problems created by the terrible teachings of fixed intelligences in school such as dropouts, drug/alcohol abuse, catharsis of violence, and suicide. 
       
      The growing Male Crisis will eventually become so acute there will be an outcry from both the public and the press for educators to help their Male children.  I hope so much they will look at my environmental model long before they press for genetic differences.  I fear that will lead to stigmatizing Males even more so than the press and schools are doing now due to present feelings of genetic weakness in Males.

      • Expat Doctor Mom
      • Thanks Ann for taking the time to comment. I left the inner city schools after the first grade so do not have as much experience in this area as you have.  The Male Crisis you highlight is definitely an area I hope educators are aware of and will begin to intervene.

        We are fortunate to have our son in a very nurturing school(abroad) for both boys and girls.  It was my son’s teacher last year that gave me the book  “Boy Writers” to read.  She really gets it in regard to male female differences.  And his teacher this year is much the same.

    • Heather
    • I have two boys with entirely different perspectives on writing.   One has had an aversion to writing from the get go and constantly struggles with what to write even when I give lots of guidance.  The other needs just a few instructions and then takes off.  Although, he does not choose to do a lot of writing on his own, he is more apt to write lists for various purposes.  Same household.  Same parents.  Thus, the differences we see are not strictly the result of nurture.  They do, however, have very different personalities. 

      The first is quite cautious and thoughtful while the second is more spontaneous and tends to be a risk-taker (both, however, are perfectionists in many areas).  As a former English teacher, I do believe there are definite gender differences when it comes to writing.  Check out “Why Gender Matters” by Leonard Sax for some of the most recent research.  Brain wiring, temperature sensitivities, auditory differences, and different developmental patterns are all reasons that similarly aged boys and girls may respond differently in the classroom. 

      I don’t point out the differences to suggest discrimination, but rather to emphasize the complexity of the classroom dynamic.  Nothing should be taken away from either gender.  In our world, men and women complement one another in the home and in the work place and each environment is going to be completely unique due to varying strengths and areas of giftedness.  Variety is an asset and we should celebreate it!  As the mother of two boys, it does sadden me to see far too many people in our culture and educational system place a greater value on femininity over masculinity.  To expect boys to behave as girls is ridiculous.  We need to celebrate the individual whether they are like us or not.

      As for educational tools, the methods laid out in the Institute for Excellence in Writing have been a God send.  It eliminates the terror of figuring out what to write and introduces rules one by one so that ultimately, your child creates interesting stories and essays with varied sentences.  I have been amazed by the results.  I am also a firm believer that to make good writers, you must expose children to good writing.  As parents, we can steer our children toward good authors that both excite and challenge. 

      • Rajka Milanovic, MD
      •  Hi Heather.  I like all the points you make.  I just finished watching “Raising Caine”, great PBS documentary on the difference in raising boys.  The film follows as a class imposes rules on what boys can write about… It dampens their ability to write as you can imagine.  I am fascinated by the nature vs nurture and fully support my boy for being just that: a boy!

        I have had a hard time when friends, teachers etc have imposed their views which I may not agree with: The friend who scolded my son for using a stick as a gun “as they don’t allow guns into their home.”  The art teacher who won’t let the children draw battle scenes but yet this is what many boys like drawing the most.

        To our boys!

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