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Gender, Language and Literacy Learning in the Primary School

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    Talk is considered a key component in a child’s learning development (Hodson, 2006.) In the primary school, there is a lot of talk in the playground and during social activities but should we be hearing more talk in the classroom? Curriculum for Excellence (Scottish Executive, 2004) explains that talking and listening are main areas within its literacy experiences and outcomes and, in particular, encourages children to talk together to develop understanding and increase learning of literacy.

    Scottish Pedagogical Research into Group work (SPRinG) (2007) highlighted that group work is a useful tool to aid learning. Organising children into small groups may be a challenge for a teacher due to some children’s limited communication and listening skills. Bennet, (1995) indicates that the ideal size for group work should consist of four people. Pairs are too small for generating many ideas, three tends to form a pair and exclude one child’s contribution and groups larger than four may prevent the shy, quieter children from contributing to the group discussion. Ideally, the groups should consist of mixed ability pupils and each group member could be given a role to play within the group. Key roles within the group could be the reader (the child that reads a text for the group to highlight key information); the writer (the child who notes down the key information) and the presenter (who vocally shares their groups ideas with their peers.) This process could be useful in novel studies when children work co-operatively and provide individual ideas that will allow them to examine their own views and those of other’s within the group.

    Process talk is an important co-operative learning strategy as it enables children to work in groups to share and consolidate their own knowledge, offering respect and empathy to all other group members input. (Cordon, 2000) This idea relates to Piaget’s theory on Social Constructivism (Piaget (1954), as cited by Lightfoot, Cole & Cole 2009)-where children work together to scaffold each other’s understanding and educational development. Group work settings are an effective tool in aiding a child’s level of organisaton and communication- skills that permeate throughout their lives. Children have the opportunity to work in various group arrangements- pair, small group, and whole class discussion. (Howe, 1997) Children are encouraged to take part in-group talk activities as this enables them to generate and introduce new ideas in discussion and can provide a major boost to their self-esteem as they feel that their opinions are considered important. (Smith, 2012) Robin Anderson developed an idea known as Dialogic Teaching.

    This idea allows time for children and teachers to tackle group activities together by talking, listening, and exchanging ideas to encourage coherent thinking. This activity can improve children’s oral and social communication skills. (Alexander, 2006) From past observations, I noticed that when children worked in pairs to complete short tasks, they often swapped written work for their partner to read. They offered constructive criticism to each other (i.e. ‘that’s a good story!’), but did not highlight grammatical errors as a teacher may have done. This method of paired group work appeared to make the children perform better as there was no formal teacher marking and assessing their written work. Paired group children may also be encouraged to engage in presentations to their peers. This can strengthen their talk and communication skills and equip them to face presenting challenges in the future and generally improve their feelings of self-worth.

    Organising children into groups will become a feature in my teaching career and there are facts that I must be aware of to ensure that group work will be a success. Children who work with their closest friends in class may be easily distracted and disruptive and will, therefore, not reach their full potential. Mixed-ability groups are more inclusive, focused, and may generate a broader range of ideas. For group talk situations to be successful, all participants must be actively encouraged to engage in discussion and be accountable for their own learning. This could enable the children to empathise with each other’s thoughts and opinions. Children must be equipped with the skills required to talk to and listen to each other in a positive manner. I would ensure that every child had the opportunity to speak and develop coping strategies to discuss differing opinions. (Smith, 2012) For example, when discussing a particular character from a story, a child should be encouraged to explain to the group why they have particular feelings (either positive of negative) towards this character and the other group members should be encouraged to listen and consider these, sometimes, opposing views. Engaging in small group talk may be extended to purposeful full class discussion, in which there are opportunities for further learning through talk. (Howe, 1997) On placement, my class participated in a group debate of the differences between the Harry Potter novels and films. Some felt that viewing the films had diminished the mystery and intrigue developed in their own imaginations. The children were fully engaged in this activity and displayed effective debating skills.

    When positive talking and listening skills are displayed, this can reflect upon the children’s learning and, in turn, develop their skills. (Howe, 1997) When children engage in collaborative group work, the teacher should assess whether all members of the group take part in the activity. I am aware that some children may take over and others may not feel confident enough to contribute to the task. I would be required to draw on the strengths of each individual child when creating groups as some children may excel in particular areas more than others. As teachers, we must communicate positively with children to boost their self-esteem. Active listening and discussion are skills that some adults have not mastered and I must ensure that my talking and listening skills are improved upon and reflected in my practice to enhance the children’s talking and listening skills.


    Alexander, R. (2006) Towards Dialogic Teaching. Rethinking Classroom Talk. Dialogos UK, Ltd.

    Bennet, N. (1995). ‘Managing learning through group work’, in C. Desforges (ed.) An Introduction to Teaching: Psychological Perspectives. Oxford: Blackwell

    Blatchford, P. & Baines, E. (2007) Improving collaborative group work. Retrieved on 11th January 2013 from

    Cordon, R. (2000). Literacy and learning through talk. Buckingham: Open University Press

    Hodson, P. (2006). Listening to children’s voices: unlocking speaking and listening in the primary classroom. In Jones, D. & Hodson, P. (2006) Unlocking Speaking and Listening. London: David Fulton Publishers

    Howe, A. (1997). Making Talk Work. Sheffield: NATE

    Piaget, J. (1954). The construction of reality in the child. New York: Basic Books. In Lightfoot, C., Cole, M., Cole, S.R. (2009) The Development of Children (6th ed.). Worth Publishers

    Scottish Executive (2004). Curriculum for Excellence. Edinburgh: Scottish Government

    Scottish Executive (2004). Curriculum for Excellence: Literacy: Experiences and Outcomes. Edinburgh: Scottish Government Retrieved on 10th January 2013 from

    Smith, V. (2012). Learning to talk at home and at school. (Lecture Slides). University of Strathclyde. Retrieved on 10th January 2013 from

    Smith, V. (2012) Talking in groups (Lecture Slides). University of Strathclyde. Retrieved on 13th January 2013 from

    Smith, V. (2012). Teacher talk (Lecture Slides). University of Strathclyde. Retrieved on 13th January 2013 from

    Gender Issues: Boys as underachievers in Reading

    Reading skills must be tackled, as literacy is an on-going skill required for daily living. Reading does not only apply to books but is relevant in today’s society, for example, reading labels, posters, and instructions. It could be argued that boys underachieve and literacy levels among them is significantly lower that that of girls. (Sainsbury and Schagen, 2004) It is vital that teachers offer support and encouragement and explore reasons why boys do not fully engage in and enjoy reading.

    Boys may hold a negative attitude towards literacy development because the curriculum content may accommodate girls over boys. (Moss, 2007) The Department for Children, Schools, and Families (2009) disagree, saying that the curriculum is focused on all genders to reach their full potential in literacy development. Personal experience has shown me that in the past; the primary school environment was predominantly female orientated, as most teaching staff were women. This has now changed as more men are entering the profession and may have a positive effect on the boys in their classes reading development.

    An alternative view that may explain the lack of reading achievement among boys could be explained by a shift of gender roles in today’s society. Girls today partake in stereotypical male activities such as running and playing football. Girls also tend to read for pleasure and purchase celebrity/pop magazines to read about their idols, but boys are possibly more inclined to partake in computer-orientated games and active sport activities rather than buy magazines or books to read. Another aspect of underachievement could be that some boys may feel embarrassed to admit that they enjoy reading books; fearing negative backlash from their peers. (Millard, 2007 as cited in Arthur & Cremin, 2010) As girls tend to read for pleasure, they are continuously developing their reading and literacy skills. Alternatively, boys who do not enjoy or engage in reading may continue to hold negative opinions, which will have an adverse effect on their reading skill development. This may result in boys falling behind in their reading and literacy achievement- a process known as the Matthew effect. (Stanovich, 1986)

    As educators, it is imperative that we meet the challenge by introducing and directing appropriate strategies to encourage literacy understanding and promote self-motivation and interest among boys. As an avid reader, I would like to share my enthusiasm for reading with all class members but, particularly, the boys. Teachers should plan lessons that feature a range of activities that give children ownership of what they are learning. Conducting open discussion regarding book choices (i.e. fiction, non-fiction books, and comics) may empower boys to speak up and share their ideas of books that stimulate their interest and would have a positive influence in future literacy lessons. To ensure a cross-curricular link my lessons must be organised and balanced with a range of creative, active, and academic involvement for the children to participate in. To stimulate understanding of texts, the introduction of role-play activities can compliment written text and increase boys understanding and appreciation of the stories they are reading.

    It is important that teachers communicate with the children and highlight how seriously they value their input- particularly boys- and offer constructive feedback to consolidate this. Jackson (2003) states that boys perform well when high expectations are made of them. Socio-economic circumstances of boys may influence their literacy attainment. (Entwisle, Alexander & Olsen, 2007) Children coming from less well off families may not have access to books and reading materials. This could result in diminished reading and literacy skills. Through personal experience, I noted that it was helpful to create an area of the library dedicated to books that appealed to boy readers. This initiative exposed the boys to a rich diet of different well-crafted texts that enabled them to build preferences and develop enthusiasm for reading. (Millard, 2007 as cited in Arthur & Cremin 2010)

    Another strategy that can stimulate the progression of boy’s literacy learning is the initiative to invite guest readers into the class to read perhaps their own writing or those of others to the class. The boys could be asked to make suggestions (these readers could be male or female) as to who they feel they would like to visit the school in the role of a guest reader and the teacher should explore and discuss these suggestions. Some boys may not have a positive male role model in their lives. Inviting fathers and other male family members to come to the class and read stories to the children could provide a role model for some boys and may even shift the negative opinion that reading is not an activity that boys engage in. (Moss, 2007) Teachers could also use gender role models to encourage boys to engage in reading. The National Literacy Trust (2008) are involved in a scheme that involves sports legends talking about books they enjoyed as children. The Trust provide posters of these idols justifying the choices of reading materials they opted for in their school days. Exposed to this celebrity culture, boys will learn that reading is an acceptable thing to do if their idols are doing it and may result in an increase of boys who read for pleasure.

    Reading should be encouraged as a social activity. If boys are able to see that their friends are reading in class, they will understand that it is socially acceptable to do and may continue the habit out with school. A possible solution to increase boy’s enthusiasm is to set up ‘networks of readers’ where boys have the opportunity to share their opinions on materials they have recently read. As the boys grow in confidence, these networks could be widened to include all class members. This may have a positive effect in narrowing the gap between boys and girls reading attainment.


    Clark, C & Burke, D. (2012). National Literacy Trust. Boys Reading Commission. Retrieved on 11th January 2012 from…/Boys_Commission_Report.pdf

    Department for children, schools, and families. (2009). Gender and Education – Mythbuster. Addressing Gender and Achievement: Myths and realities. Retrieved on 11th January 2013 from…/00599-2009BKT-EN.pdf

    Entwisle, D.R., Alexander, K.L. & Olsen, L.S. (2007). Early schooling: The handicap of being poor and male. Sociology of Education, 80, 114-113

    Jackson, C., (2003). Motives for ‘Laddishness’ at school: Fear of failure and fear of the feminine. British Educational Research Journal, 29:4, 585-590

    Millard, E. (2007). Responding to gender differences. In Arthur, J & Cremin, T., (2010). Learning to teach in the primary school. (2nd ed.). Routledge

    Moss, G. (2007). Literacy and gender. Researching texts, contexts and readers. London: Routledge Ltd.

    Sainsbury, M. & Schagen, I. (2004). Attitudes to reading at ages nine and eleven. Journal of Research in Reading, 27(4): 373-86

    Stanovich, K.E., (1986). Matthew effects in reading: Some consequences of individual differences in the acquisition of literacy. Reading Research Quarterly, 22, 360-407 Retrieved on 11th January 2013 from

    Explain how your understanding of these two aspects guides:

    1. Your analysis of, and prioritization of, the literacy needs of your placement school and pupils. Think about what matters about the subject? What matters for your class? What are the ways you want their attitudes, beliefs, knowledge, and working practices to change? (ROUGHLY 300 WORDS)

    1. How you intend to approach these aspects in teaching your class on placement so that you will make a different to pupils. Think about: how you might need to adapt or contextualise the resources you have been told to use to make them fit with your own convictions about what is important and what is important for the class (ROUGHLY 450 WORDS)

    Group Work

    Literacy must be at the forefront of all learning as children must be able to read and write in order to achieve success in life. Learning and utilising these skills together can be fun and informative and may feel less oppressive for the children.

    If particular children are struggling to cope with group literacy issues, I have a duty of care to prioritise their needs and offer extra support to ensure that they become confident group members, able to voice their opinions and contribute to set tasks. I believe that all children must learn to collaborate on specific projects relating to the importance of literacy (i.e. book discussion). To reinforce group discussion, I would suggest that the children jot down any questions or ideas they have regarding the text they are reading. These notes can be useful in group discussions as many unanswered questions may be addressed. (Calkins, 2001) This can give the children a sense of personal satisfaction when successful outcomes have been met. As the teacher, I believe I have a responsibility to continually encourage the children and instil in them the belief that they are competent, open-minded learners whose opinions are valued. Group work can expand individual children’s knowledge and can give me a starting point to assess children who may require extra support and others who may be required to adapt and learn to work collaboratively without dominance. Implementing clear rules within the group and delegating specific roles for specific children will address the problem and ensure that all group members play an equal part in set tasks. Organised group work settings that adhere to the rules set down and agreed by the children can have a beneficial effect on individual children’s successful learning outcomes.

    On placement, I intend to continue to promote group work when preparing lessons and activities. My class intend to study a novel as part of language work, utilising groups of mixed ability to enable varying opinions to be shared on the stories events and characters studied. There may be opportunities for me to adapt resources to ensure that all children work together. To ensure success in group tasks, I must be aware of how and where to source particular resources required, for example, extra copies of books being studied. I must also encourage the children to share resources in a responsible manner, respecting the resources used. I aim to observe and evaluate the success of my input into the continued group work practices in the class with the teacher’s approval and encourage group work to be extended to other areas of the curriculum, for example, collaborative work in art and design projects. In my evaluation of group work implementation, it will be important for me to recognise any significant positive or negative influences my teaching methods and contributions may have on the children’s learning.

    Boys Reading Engagement

    It may be argued that some boys are falling behind in reading skills because it is wrongly thought that reading is a girls past time. (Clark, 2012) If this is the case, steps must be taken to prioritise the needs of boys to enhance and improve their reading abilities. Reading is a required skill to progress in life. Introducing suitable reading materials directed towards boys may be a way of expanding their interest and motivate them into exploring further reading materials.

    For a teacher to achieve a successful career, it in imperative that all children, boys and girls, in their care become confident, capable readers. To stimulate boy’s interest in reading, I plan to conduct a discussion asking for input from the boys as to what they would like to read in class. If their suggestions are suitable, I will try to source the materials they have requested and conduct boy only reading networks to allow them to share their opinions on the texts they are exploring. (Calkins, 2001) If this method is successful in instilling confidence in their ability, I would like to include the boys in mixed group reading discussions using various texts to further develop their reading and communicative skills.

    As a male teacher, it may be possible for me to come up with some valid suggestions of texts I enjoyed when I was younger. I could also talk about well-known sport and celebrity personalities who have endorsed reading as a pass time and encourage the boys to visit the library (school or public) to try to source some of their idols books. It is also important to reiterate that reading can be extended to suitable online internet resources that can aid them in their school studies.

    To increase the numbers of boys who enjoy reading it is vital that their attitudes and beliefs are changed to acknowledge that reading is for everyone and a valuable tool for them to gain knowledge for their futures.

    1. The extent to which your teaching will expand, challenge or fit the CfE curriculum and philosophy. (ROUGHLY 150 WORDS – A BULLETED LIST?)

    Curriculum for Excellence (2004) principles promote (with regard to group work and reading engagement):

    1. Challenge, Enjoyment & Breadth– Children enjoy working in peer groups which enables them to share and construct understanding of activities and enjoy the exploration of new reading materials (i.e. novels, non-fiction texts, online resources)

    2. Progression – Children continuously develop their collaborative work skills and reading skills through practice.

    3. Depth – Children work to reach their full potential in terms of collaborative working practices and reading development. This process is ongoing throughout their school careers.

    4. Personal Choice – Children are split into mixed ability groups and are trusted to co-operate with their peers. Their opinions are sought on the choice of reading texts to be explored that will appeal to their interests and imaginations. The reading materials must be deemed suitable and appropriate for their learning needs by the teacher.

    5. Coherence/Relevance – Children understand the purpose that working in groups, sharing ideas can benefit their understanding of activities, and continuous practice at reading will enhance their reading ability skills.

    Curriculum for Excellence (2004) principles aim to assist teachers and schools in their practice as a basis for continuing review, evaluation, and improvement.


    Calkins, L.M (2001). The Art of Teaching Reading. Portsmouth, NH: Longman/Pearson Education

    Clark, C & Burke, D. (2012). National Literacy Trust. Boys Reading Commission. Retrieved on 11th January 2012 from…/Boys_Commission_Report.pdf

    Scottish Executive (2004). Curriculum for Excellence. Edinburgh: Scottish Government

    Scottish Executive (2004). Curriculum for Excellence: Principles. Edinburgh: Scottish Government. Retrieved on 11th January 2013 from

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    Gender, Language and Literacy Learning in the Primary School. (2017, Dec 24). Retrieved from

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