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Peer group pressure and loss of interest widen word gap for boys

Olivia Jenkins, August 3, 2022 6:30PM Kids News

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Girls use a wider vocabulary and are better spellers than boys across all year levels, according to a study that analysed 150,000 writing samples. Pictured from left are Port Melbourne Primary School students Jun Chea, 9, Quincie Cracknell, 8, Jacob Savva, 9, and Ruby Miller, 9. Picture: Jake Nowakowski media_cameraGirls use a wider vocabulary and are better spellers than boys across all year levels, according to a study that analysed 150,000 writing samples. Pictured from left are Port Melbourne Primary School students Jun Chea, 9, Quincie Cracknell, 8, Jacob Savva, 9, and Ruby Miller, 9. Picture: Jake Nowakowski

spelling bee

Reading level: green

Students’ spelling and writing skills follow gender* stereotypes* to the letter, research shows.

Analysis of more than 150,000 writing samples from boys and girls in Years 3 to 7 has revealed that boys are more likely to write about “action-based” topics such as sports, violence and video games.

Meanwhile, writing about relationships was more common among female students.

Girls remain more proficient* spellers than boys at all year levels, despite the number of spelling mistakes falling over time, but the gap widens even further at Year 7 – when girls continue to improve, while boys show a spike in errors compared to previous years.

The most recent Language Gap report found boys’ interest in writing dropped off over time – limiting their vocabularies* and spelling proficiency.

Girls' Vocab and Spelling media_cameraThe study found that writing about relationships was more common among female students. Pictured is Port Melbourne Primary School student Ruby Miller, 9. Picture: Jake Nowakowski

Flinders University education lecturer and study author Anne Bayetto said gendered interests and skills were evident across all year levels.

“Girls tended to write vocab that was more domestically oriented*, and talked more about passive* pastimes in relation to home, family and friends, whereas boys tend to write more about active sport and leisure, competitions about fighting and technology,” she said.

“Boys were more keenly writing about competitive activities, resolving matters with violence, as opposed to using conversation and resolutions to come to an agreed stance.”

Cairns West state school students Sham Baharm 11, Steven Farmer 11 and Miraje Tipan 11 with  Lecturer, School of Education Flinders University Anne Bayetto, and  Yarrabah principal Simon Cotton media_cameraFlinders University education lecturer and study author Anne Bayetto, pictured centre, said that boys experienced social pressures to disregard learning, which had flow-on effects in their academic performance. Picture: file image

Ms Bayetto said boys experienced social pressures to disregard* learning, which had flow-on effects in their academic performance.

“Boys often feel social pressure from their peer group not to publicly display their knowledge,” she said.

“This causes many boys to avoid engaging in class discussion, which is a critical time for learners to use their vocabularies.

“By not engaging as frequently in class, boys are not getting this practise at using new words, which limits the size of their vocabularies.”

The words “killing” and “death” were featured more often in boys’ writing than in girls’ writing.

Boys were also much more likely to use the words “hit” and “punch” in their writing.

PM's Spelling Bee: Pre-Launch NAPLAN Story media_cameraThe research suggests that the proficiency gap in spelling widens between boys and girls once they reach Year 7, when girls continue to improve while boys show in spike in errors compared to previous years. Pictured in Sydney are Year 6 students Rocky Tobin and Maeve Sullivan, both 11. Picture: Sam Ruttyn

University of Canberra spelling expert Dr Tessa Daffern said spelling was a crucial building block in a child’s education, particularly when it came to learning to read and write.

“Students who are good at spelling tend to use a wider range of words in their writing and they don’t pause as often to think about the spelling of words while they are writing,” Dr Daffern said.

“As a result they can focus their attention on other very important aspects of writing.”

New dinkus for digital - rgb media_cameraRegistrations for the 2022 Prime Minister’s Spelling Bee are open until 19 August – for more information and to enter, head to kidsnews.com.au

The principal of Port Melbourne Primary School, Rohan Cooper, said students at the school consistently practised spelling because the skill translated into their reading and writing.

“It is such a foundational* skill. It links so much to literacy learning across the board, whether it’s reading or writing or creating stories. Being a strong speller can unlock so much potential to create stories,” he said.

Administered by Kids News, the free, online Prime Minister’s Spelling Bee is a great way for students in Years 3-8 to grow their vocabularies and hone their spelling skills.

Registrations are open until August 19 right HERE at Kids News.

GLOSSARY

  • gender: commonly used to refer to the male or female sex
  • stereotypes: often unfair, untrue beliefs about people or things with a certain characteristic
  • proficient: skilled, knowledgeable, able, well advanced or capable
  • vocabulary: total words known by a person or all words in a particular language or subject
  • oriented: directed toward, concerned with or interested in something
  • passive: doing things that are not active, like watching, looking or listening
  • disregard: pay no attention to, ignore, treat as unworthy of care or notice
  • foundational: forming the base from which everything else develops, groundwork, basics

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QUICK QUIZ

  1. How many writing samples were analysed in the study?
  2. The proficiency gap between boys’ and girls’ spelling widens in what school year?
  3. What did study author Ms Bayetto find were girls’ preferred topics?
  4. What did Ms Bayetto discover boys preferred to write about instead?
  5. What four words were boys much more likely to use in their writing than girls?

LISTEN TO THIS STORY

CLASSROOM ACTIVITIES
1. Teacher tips
Write a list of ideas that could help your teachers encourage boys to stay interested in writing and girls to write more action-based stories.

Time: allow 45 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English

2. Extension
Why do you think there are such big differences in what boys and girls write about? Write a paragraph explaining your answer.

Time: allow 15 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English; Civics and Citizenship

VCOP ACTIVITY
Read with Kung Fu punctuation
Pair up with the article between you and stand up to make it easy to demonstrate your Kung Fu punctuation.

Practise reading one sentence at a time. Now read it again, while acting out the punctuation as you read.

Read and act three sentences before swapping with your partner.

Take two turns each.

Now ask your partner to read a sentence out loud while you try and act out the punctuation. Can you keep up? Swap over?

Try acting out two sentences – are you laughing yet?

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