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Closing the Reading Gender Gap

by Maureen Murgo | 1 | 0 Comments

Now that the air has been taken out of football season and the conversations about deflated sports equipment have been packed away, it is fair game to recognize what is arguably one of the more admirable qualities of Colts QB Andrew Luck:  Luck loves to read.

“Quarterbacks have playbooks. Luck has lots of other books, too” states Steven Holder (2014). In his USA Today article, Holder recounts Luck’s visible excitement when sharing a book about concrete with his fellow teammates.  Concrete?  Really?  Well, after all, the Stanford grad did major in architectural design.

Yes, parading our athletes around as positive reading role models is one strategy we can employ to push reading to the forefront of coolness.  But as research indicates, we need to do more to promote reading with our boys.

The 2015 Brown Center Report (BCR) examined the gender gap in reading.  As in years past, boys continue to trail behind girls on practically every standardized reading assessment. Interestingly, this phenomenon is not limited to American soil.  Finland, the consistent crowned champion of the PISA exam, has the largest gender gap in the world.  Without its first string female players, Finland’s top worldwide ranking on the PISA would be reduced to mediocre.

So what can we do?

Smith and Wilhem (2002) suggest providing boys with text that:

  • Use a narrative approach that focuses more on plot/action than description
  • Show multiple perspectives, exploring topics from a variety of points of view
  • Contain powerful or positive ideas that have a moral, or “life-expanding” appeal
  • Present topics that are worth arguing or caring about
  • Sustain engagement, such as series books or collections that allow readers to “see what’s up” with characters they have come to care about
  • Appeal to boys’ sense of humor

Eileen Armstrong (2002) suggests developing a year-round program of fun reading activities to keep boys engaged in reading. Here are a few of her suggestions:

  • Fantasy sports league: Have boys nominate players for a fictional “dream team” by having them read about their favorite sports figures and make a case for why those athletes should be on the team
  • Book banquet: Have students create a “menu” of books for their peers
  • Cool at school: Link reading to current trends or personalities of interest to students
  • Dare to read: Have students read horror or mystery books packaged in black bags, and write reviews of the scariest reads

For more information about the reading gender gap:



Maureen Murgo

In addition to teacher training, Maureen has been a teacher and administrator for more than 20 years. Her teaching experience has focused primarily on students with reading, learning and emotional challenges.

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