This wouldn’t be an ultimate guide to how our brains learn to read without making the point that girls’ brains are different to boys’ brains and that as a result girls and boys learn differently.
Just to be clear I am a proud supporter of the ‘Let Toys Be Toys’ and ‘Let Books Be Books’ campaigns, which call on manufacturers, retailers and publishers to stop promoting toys and books as ‘for boys’ or ‘for girls’.
I agree that boys and girls should be allowed to play with whichever toys they want and read any book that grabs their attention; there’s no need to limit their imaginations or make any rules about what girls and boys should or shouldn’t do or think.
But that’s a cultural point. I don’t think it helps children if we ignore their differences, and it would be wrong to say they are the same.
Science now knows that male and female brains are physically different and are wired differently. As a result, male and female brains think and learn differently.
If we can understand the differences and learn how to help both girls and boys reach their learning potential, then that would be empowering for both genders.
Take a look at Paul Blundin’s excellent blog post Education Gender Issues: Do Boys and Girls Really Learn Differently?
Gender in education is a fascinating subject, but sadly not something I know very much about, but I hope to write more about this. For now my advice is don’t assume that your son is going to struggle with reading because he’s a boy. It’s true that boys are typically more reluctant to read than girls, but it’s not something that can’t be changed. We just need to find a way to encourage boys – and that doesn’t mean a pile of books labelled ‘for boys’!
But don’t think you don’t need to promote reading to your daughter, either; she can lose interest just as easily without the right support.
Equal opportunities are to be celebrated, but treating girls and boys the same, rather than identifying their strengths and individual ways of learning could put one gender at a disadvantage. We must be careful of stereotyping, but if we want both girls and boys to excel at reading, we need to find the most appropriate way to teach reading for each gender.
Even within their own gender groups, though, individuals will also learn differently and teachers must be able to differentiate their teaching for different learning styles.