33 SES 06 B, Gender Identity, Boys and Education
Boys’ underachievement in reading, compared to girls, is of concern in Europe (European Commission, 2010; Organisation for Development and Cooperation (OECD), 2016). The Boys’ Reading Commission, undertaken by the National Literacy Trust in the United Kingdom, highlights how negative attitudes towards reading associated with masculinity contribute to this underachievement in reading (Clark, 2012). On a broader scale the consistent gender gap in reading outcomes is recognized by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (2016) in over 72 countries and economies. Socioeconomic status and relative disadvantage are factors that help to explain this underachievement for some boys (European Commission, 2010; OECD, 2016).
While socioeconomic background influences boys’ experiences and shapes perspectives towards reading at school (Scholes, 2018) the complexity of this influence and the interconnected contextual nature of disadvantage is not always fully understood. There is a need to identify which boys are at risk of failure in reading and the contextual influences that contribute to differences between boys’ experiences at school (Connell, 2015; Haywood & Mac an Ghaill, 2013; Lingard, Martino & Mills, 2009; Morris, 2012). Governments have responded to boys’ perceived under-achievement in reading often presenting boys as one undifferentiated group simply on the basis of being a boy (Watson, 2011). Simplistic presentation positions ‘all boys’ as one homogenous group, perpetuating essentialist assumptions about the educational needs of boys (Davies & Saltmarsh, 2007: Lingard et al., 2009; Scholes, 2017, 2018). Furthermore, discourses focused on ‘failing boys’ only serve to perpetuate a binary in terms of ‘successful girls’, and render invisible the risks of underachievement due to the influences of class, race, ethnicity, religion, sexual identity and location (Lingard et al., 2009; Martino & Kehler, 2007).
Objectives: The objective of the study is to respond to international moral panic about the underachievement of ‘boys’ that presents simplistic binary representation of boys’ and girls’ achievement in reading. Motivated to make visible differences amongst groups of boys, the objective of this study is to provide new understandings about literacy in situ, how it is acquired, and mediated, within particular social and cultural school contexts (Barton & Hamilton, 2012; Gee, 2015; Street, 1995). Specifically, the study investigates how discourses of masculinity constructed at school may be inter-related with socioeconomic background to influence attitudes towards reading that enable and constrain reading experiences, and subsequently reading outcomes for boys.
Research questions: The study investigates the following research questions.
1. Are there differences in boys’ attitudes towards reading, on the one hand, and i) reading frequency; ii) reading outcomes; iii) and socioeconomic background, on the other hand?
2. How are markers of disadvantage (socioeconomic background, ethnicity and geographical location) related to boys’ reading outcomes?
Reading is a social practice that is acquired within particular social and cultural contexts such as schools (Barton & Hamilton, 1998; Gee, 2015; Street, 1995). Notions of masculinity that position reading as feminine and ‘uncool’ (Clark, 2012) can perpetuate a reluctance to read that impacts on engagement, practice and the cumulative influence that exposure to print has on reading outcomes (McKenna et al., 2012; Schiefele et al., 2012). In this study an ecological approach (Bronfenbrenner, 1979) is implemented to understand how reading is influenced by broader contextual influences and beliefs about being male (Barton, 2007). The ecological framework provided a lens for developing adumbrated understandings about the multiplicity and textured nature of boys’ experiences while contributing to findings about differences amongst boys. In this way the study examines boys’ i) attitudes towards reading at school (microsystem); ii) parental beliefs about reading (mesosystem); iii) masculinities within diverse socioeconomic communities (exosystem), and; iv) reading as socially valued knowledge (macrosystem).
I developed and validated a 21 item survey that was facilitated with a cohort (n=622) of Year 3, 4 and Year 5 (8 years to 11 year olds) elementary school students in 17 schools in Queensland, Australia. Cluster analysis of the survey data identified groups of students’ who presented in a similar manner. Follow up interviews with students from each cluster confirmed the cluster solution and provided more in-depth understandings from an ecological perspective. The survey The Likert scale survey was designed to develop a broad overview of boys’ and girls’ i) enjoyment of a range of activities including reading – enjoyment; ii) attitude towards reading – attitude; and iii) self-reported reading frequency – frequency. Additionally the survey collected data about each student’s reading level from their classroom teacher. Schools were selected to represent a range of diverse communities from disadvantaged, regional communities through to affluent, urban communities. The Lead Investigator and a Senior Research Assistant facilitated the instrument completion with students who were withdrawn from their classroom in groups of two or three to complete the survey that took approximately 10 to 15 minutes. Follow up interviews Following cluster analysis of the survey data qualitative methodology was selected to add rigor to the findings (Ivankova, Creswell & Sticks, 2006). Semi-structured individual interviews were conducted with ten percent of students to conceptually and explicitly explore links to the cluster solution, concurrently as a confirmatory process, and to develop more textured understandings (Miles, Huberman & Saldana, 2013). The interview schedule included general questions to provide greater understanding and clarify survey responses providing a means of confirming or challenging survey data. Interviews that took approximately 20 minutes were again conducted by the Lead Investigator and a Senior Research Assistant. Students were shown the survey questionnaire they had previously completed and asked about their responses. The key questions used for factor analysis and subsequently cluster analysis were reiterated to participants and they were asked if their response was still the same and if so why they had responded in that manner. To develop understandings that parallel Bronfenbrenner’s (1979) frame interviews then explored students’ understandings of their i) experiences as readers at school; ii) interpretations of their parents’ values about reading; iii) their peer group cultures at schools, and; iv) perceptions of the societal value of reading in terms of job trajectories including their workplace aspirations.
K-means clustering (Field, 2009) determined groups of participants who presented similar profiles based on their survey responses and nuances associated with reading scores and socio-economic background. Differences amongst boys indicated complexity in the diverse range of attitudes, beliefs and levels of enjoyment for reading. For example, findings indicated that, for some groups of boys, underperformance in reading was interrelated with significantly negative attitudes towards other school-related endeavors such as using technology, the social aspects of reading, along with the (lower) socioeconomic location of their school. For other boys, positive attitudes towards reading and other school-related activities (such as competition sports) were indicated with higher reading frequency, higher reading outcomes and mixed socioeconomic background. Findings illustrated that when experiences within the microsystem (reading at school), mesosytem (parental beliefs about reading), exosystem (masculinities within diverse socioeconomic communities) and macrosystem (reading as socially valued knowledge) were described as positive, boys had a tendency to indicate higher frequencies of reading and higher reading outcomes. Conversely, when these experiences were described in negative terms, boys tended to be less avid readers and attain lower levels of reading achievement. Details of the cluster analysis and characteristics of each diverse group are presented. Examples of how interview data was embedded within an ecological framework is also discussed. Findings support the notion that students’ experiences are nuanced and complicated, as some boys from low socioeconomic communities may conceal their enjoyment for reading due to narrow boundaries about what is means to be a boy at school and within what they perceive to be unsupportive contextual environments (home, school, socioeconomic community) constraining their reading attitudes, reading frequency, and subsequently, reading outcomes. The study validated the survey instrument, and the rigour of the mixed methods, suggesting findings are transferable and the design useful for research in diverse educational contexts.
Barton, D. (2007). Literacy: An Introduction to the Ecology of Written Language (2nd ed.). Blackwell: Oxford University Press. Barton, D., & Hamilton, M. (2012). Local Literacies: Reading and Writing in One Community. Abington: Routledge. Bronfenbrenner, U. (1979). The Ecology of Human Development. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Clarke, C. (2012). Boys' Reading Commission. A review of existing research conducted to underpin the commission. London: National Literacy Trust. Connell, R. (2015). Meeting at the edge of fear: Theory on a world scale. Feminist Theory, 16(1), 49-66. Davies, B., & Saltmarsh, S. (2007). Gender economies: Literacy and the gendered production of neoliberal subjectivities. Gender and Education, 19(1), 1–20. European Commission (2010). Gender differences in educational outcomes: Study on the measures take and the current situation in Europe. Brussels: Education, Audiovisual and Culture Executive Agency. Field, A. (2009). Discovering Statistics Using SPSS (3rd ed.). London: Sage Publications. Gee, J. (2015). Social linguistics and literacies: Ideology in discourses. New York: Routledge. Haywood, C. & Mac & Ghaill, M. (2012) Education and masculinities: Social, cultural and global transformations. New York: Routledge. Ivankova, N., Creswell, J. & Stick, S., (2006). Using mixed-methods sequential explanatory design: From theory to practice. Field Methods, 18(1), 3-20. Lingard, B., Martino, W., & Mills, M. (2009). Boys and Schooling: Beyond Structural Reform. New York: Palgrave McMillan. McKenna, M. C., Conradi, K., Lawrence, C., Jang, B. G., & Meyer, J. P. (2012). Reading attitudes of middle school students: Results of a U.S. survey. Reading Research Quarterly, 47 (3), 283–306. doi:10.1002/rrq.021 Martino, W., & Kehler, M. (2007). Gender-based literacy reform. Canadian Journal of Education/Revue, 406-431. Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. (OECD). (2016). PISA 2015 results, Paris, OECD Publishing. Schiefele, U., Schaffner, E., Möller, J. & Wigfield, J. (2012). Dimensions of reading motivation and their relation to reading behavior and competence. Reading Research Quarterly, 47(4), 427–463. Scholes, L. (2017). Books are boring! Books are fun! Boys’ polarized perspectives on reading. Boyhood Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal. Boyhood Studies 10(2 2), 77-98. doi: 10.3167/bhs.2017.100205. Scholes, L. (2018). Boys, masculinities and reading: Gender identity and literacy as social practice. Critical studies in gender and sexuality in education series. New York, NY: Routledge. Street, B. (1995). Social Literacies: Critical Approaches to Literacy in Development. London: Longman. Watson, A. (2011). Not just a ‘boy problem. Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, 32(5), 779-795.
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