Trends in learning: boys vs girls


Course content is also often geared toward girls, Maxfield said. In language arts, reading choices are often more appealing to girls than boys.

Women’s progress in recent decades of higher education starts at a young age, according to a recent study.

More females than males in higher education is becoming more common, according to a recent opinion piece in the New York Times called “The Boys at the Back” by Christina Hoff Sommers. She argues that school is geared more toward girls than boys, starting in kindergarten.

Sommers cited a study in the Journal of Human Resources that gathered data from more than 5,800 elementary school students. The study found that boys received lower grades than girls because in elementary school, behavior is factored into grades.

“The scholars attributed this ‘misalignment’ to differences in ‘noncognitive skills’: attentiveness, persistence, eagerness to learn, the ability to sit still and work independently,” Sommers wrote.

Since the 1970s, women in the United States have been encouraged to pursue higher education as much as men. In 1985, girls and boys took about the same amount of Advanced Placement exams. In the 1990s, girls started taking more. Today, women hold about 60 percent of associates, bachelor’s and master’s degrees and are starting to get more doctorate degrees than men, Sommers said.

“I think there’s some truth to it,” said Robert Maxfield, interim dean of the school of education and human services at Oakland. “I think girls are often better at school.”

Maxfield said girls can sit still and listen better than boys, and are therefore called on and helped more often.

He also pointed out a lack of male role models. Many elementary school teachers are female, and boys without father figures might only have the idea of a “perpetual teenager” or “jokester” image of an adult male that TV and movies often show.

Course content is also often geared toward girls, Maxfield said. In language arts, reading choices are often more appealing to girls than boys.

Maxfield and Sommers said the problem is worse with minorities – males who belong to a minority are even less likely to do well in school than their female counterparts.

Teachers can work to improve boys’ academic performance. Maxfield said some teachers call on students whether or not they raise their hand, so all students learn the material. More recess for students can help them get their energy out as well as help boys focus in the classroom, Sommers said.

Branden Bilicki, a senior in elementary education, said some teachers increase enthusiasm to learn by giving their students choices. In one of his field placements, a teacher let her students choose what they read.

Bilicki said students’ success is based more on how the teacher teaches.

“There’s no blanket answer,” he said. “It all depends on how the educator works with the student. Any work to help boys needs to happen at an early age,” Maxfield said.

Kimberly Pate-Jones graduated from OU with an elementary education degree on May 2. She said she saw large differences between how girls and boys learned in her field assignments and previous work as a tutor and preschool teacher.

“Boys do learn differently,” Pate-Jones said. “Their brains are wired differently.”

If she allowed the boys to move around or take breaks, they learned better.

“Their comprehension was better, they retained more information,” she said.

When she tried the same hands-on activities with the girls, they found it distracting, she said.

According to Oakland President George Hynd, of the 1,700 undergraduate students that graduated on Saturday, 64 percent were female. However, other schools in Michigan don’t follow the trend. In the winter semester of 2015, about 48 percent of those enrolled in the University of Michigan were female and 52 percent were male. Similar enrollment numbers were seen at Michigan State University ­— about 51.6 percent of the students were female, and 48.4 percent were male.

However, Maxfield said he thinks this trend exists and is worth discussing.

“Should we be worried that talented young men are being left out somewhere?” he said. “I think it’s a conversation we ought to have.”