Books for BOYS different learning needs?


In the late 1970s and 1980s UK education policy was based on the equality of the sexes. British teachers in YL classrooms were expected to see that they gave the same learning opportunities to both girls and boys. Textbooks were edited to reflect this policy showing boys in the kitchen and girls in the garden. Since the 1990's it has been acknowledged that in the UK boys are underachieving in reading and writing and seem to have more difficulty in communicating and learning language than girls. It is now accepted that there are fundamental differences between the sexes' learning skills and interests. These differences show-up from the very first months in the way babies develop (nature), but also in the way that adults mould them to fit the cultural stereotypes that individual societies expect of male and female behaviour (nurture). In most western societies boys are spoken to differently from girls from birth and are treated to more vigorous 'rough and tumble' play, especially by fathers.

Some Physical Differences which influence learning?

·        The Brain

The role of the brain is complex and through research we are gradually getting closer to understanding the brain's role in both nature and nurture. Newberger* explains that although the adult male brain is 15% larger than the female, the actual size is not as important as the different methods of functioning of the male and female brains. The lobes of the female brain are connected by a greater number of nerves, which appears to create marked functional differences like, for example, the females' ability to cope with more than one task at a time. Some of these same nerves in boys' brains actually enrich the right lobe and develop life-long spatial relationships. This affects boys' ways of thinking; for example they find Maths and Science more enjoyable and easier than most girls. Their play tends to be different, too; they enjoy building in the playground and many later become architects designing buildings! Young boys are generally more restless than girls. They seem to need space in which to move around. They also enjoy large-scale games like football. Many boys around 6 and 7 years old find more difficulty in sitting still and concentrating on one activity than girls. As reading appears to use both sides of the brain simultaneously, it is therefore not surprising that girls have better literacy skills than boys. Research data in UK shows that many more young boys than girls have reading difficulties in their home-language (dyslexia) and stammer. This could be the case in speakers of other languages.

·        Intelligence

Previously it was thought that IQ was innate, could not be altered and could be measured in one type of test. Any classroom teacher who does different activities with the same group of children knows that boys and girls show evidence of different types of intelligence and have preferred ways of learning. However many methods of assessing give little value to these different strategies and skills. Dr Howard Gardner's Theory* of  Multiple Intelligence identifies 8 types of intelligence - Linguistic, Logical/Mathematical, Musical, Spatial, Bodily, Interpersonal and Intra-personal intelligence and Naturalist. This broader view of Intelligence may help teachers to assess young children and especially boys as they develop holistically at their own rate. It may also help to identify the very different interests and learning needs of boys.

·        Developmental Differences 

Development disparity is greater in the early years of development and it is generally accepted that most young girls reach the accepted 'developmental milestones' before boys. However where some boys may have difficulty in reading at the age of six and write slowly and laboriously, by the age of 8 most boys have caught up with expected levels. Toddler girls generally talk before boys so they have a 'Headstart' in using language and learning through dialogue. In fact girls seem to process language more easily than boys and their constant desire to chatter gives them more practice and opportunities to acquire different levels of language and vocabulary. This is especially so in the period just before they become  fluent readers.

·        Hearing

Newberger* points out that girls' senses of hearing, touch and smell are better developed and this advantage remains throughout life. Boys appear to have less sensitive hearing at all ages, which may reflect on their ability to imitate and pick-up language and songs. Girls tend to be better listeners than boys and this could be linked with their hearing as well as their ability to concentrate for longer periods than boys. In Western Societies boys are frequently talked to differently from girls so some of the language they hear and use as a model on which they base their learning is different. This may result in boys using language differently and possibly not as fluently in some situations as girls.

·        Voice

Boys tend to speak more loudly than most girls and many appear to have less control of their voice than girls. Young girls' voices tend to be softer and girls appear to find it easier to modulate their voice, which makes dramatic reading easier for them.

·        Muscular control and eye coordination

Boys generally read later than girls and reach fluency later. Many boys have difficulty with handwriting and take longer to reach the same standard of co-ordination as girls. This could well be due to later and different types of muscular development.

·        Concentration and Perseverance

Concentration spans seem to be shorter as young boys manifest a need to move. Young girls seem to have an ability to persevere and finish off an activity from an early age. They generally finish of a piece of work, like colouring, neatly and rarely give up even if they find something is a bit difficult.

·        Frustration

Young boys find comparison by teachers of their school-skills with that of girls' difficult to accept. Many feel that girls are more successful at school subjects than they are which can lead to loss of self-esteem and confidence in using language.

How can REALBOOKS help?

·        Selection  This should be balanced to include books to interest both genders. Books for boys should include:

-Boys' interests in transport, animals, football, space etc,

-Boys' special robust and joke-type humorous stories

 -Shorter text stories supported by easy-to–read–speech bubbles, simple comic-style stories

-Information books with facts, figures, maps,

·        Illustrations to include humour and vigour, pictures as well as photographs and maps.

·        Classroom Environment

The home, school and classroom environment, including language, tends to be feminine as carers and teachers are generally female in the early years. This feminine environment may be more difficult for some boys to relate to than we appreciate. It is important to try to balance the environment and include some special things for boys if they are to feel comfortable and thus enthusiastic to learn.

·        Language to use with the books and related activities

It is important to include the type of vocabulary and phrases that stimulate boys' minds. To help learning, boys can benefit from more 'teacherese' language techniques and scaffolding of language in dialogues. Boys also need praise and encouragement for individual effort or achievement if they are to feel successful and thus motivated.

·        Parent involvement

Parents need to appreciate the differences in the ways boys and girls learn language if they want to motivate their children. Parent participation in sharing REALpictureBOOKS can contribute to enjoying and learning English if attitudes are positive.


Differences in learning skills in a co-ed classroom exist between boys and girls. Where teachers are aware of these and manage to provide a balanced programme of activities for boys as well as girls, both should progress at their own speed developing self-esteem and enthusiasm for learning English.


Further Reading

Making gender work  Judith Baxter Reading and Language Information Centre The University of Reading UK

*The men they will become - the nature and nurture of male character Eli H Newberger M.D Bloomsbury 99

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