In the United States and Canada, there is a growing gender gap in academic achievement, particularly in reading and writing. This gap is not based on any innate differences between girls and boys. Boys are just as capable of reading well and writing well as girls are. The big differences between girls and boys are not in ability, but in motivation. In other words: the big differences between girls and boys are not in what they can do, but in what they want to do.
Fifty years ago, Sam Cooke had a #1 hit song in which he sang “Don’t know much about history . . .now, I don’t claim to be an ‘A’ student, but I’m trying to be / ‘cause maybe by being an ‘A’ student, baby / I could win your love for me.” Fifty years ago, even forty years ago, many boys believed that earning an ‘A’ instead of a ‘B’ would raise your status in the eyes of the girls. Not anymore. Students today do not live in the era of Sam Cooke and Simon & Garfunkel; they live in the era of Akon, Eminem, 50 Cent and Justin Bieber. It’s hard to imagine a #1 hit song in the United States or Canada today in which a young man sang about his desire to earn an ‘A’ instead of a ‘B’ in French and trigonometry, as Sam Cooke did.
For White, Black, and Latino boys today, working hard to get an ‘A’ instead of a ‘B’ is seen as unmasculine. (This is much less true for 1st or 2nd-generation Asian boys, for reasons we review very briefly.) So that’s the challenge for teachers today: to create an alternative culture in the classroom in which it is cool for the same boy who loves violent video games such as Grand Theft Auto also to love – and to publicly show his love – for Jane Eyre and Emily Dickinson.
In this presentation, I share classroom strategies as well as school-wide strategies which I have learned from my visits to more than 380 schools worldwide (mostly in the United States and Canada). These strategies cost nothing to implement. They have been proven effective in boosting achievement for boys in reading and writing. I learned some of these strategies at boys’ schools. But most of these strategies can be, and have been, deployed successfully at coed schools. You can get a taste of these strategies in chapters 2 and 8 of my book Boys Adrift.