Boys and Literacy: Complexity and Multiplicity

Document Type

Contribution to Books

Publication Date



In this chapter we provide reviews both of research that documents the fact that boys underperform girls on measures of reading and writing and of critiques of that research that question its significance. We go on to consider two fundamentally different explanations for the difference in boys' and girls' test scores, one rooted in biology and the other in social constructivism. We also examine two kinds of responses to the disparity: those that focus on individual interest and those that focus on situational interest. We provide evidence that boys have a wide range of diverse interests and consequently argue that attempts to reform curricula rooted in providing texts that boys like may miss the mark by assuming that educators can know in advance what books will attract male students. Consequently, we contend that approaches focusing on developing instructional contexts that are characterized by ample instruction, appropriate challenges, clear goals, and feedback, demonstrated utility in the here and now, and social connections are more promising. We conclude with a consideration of research on how young men read and talk about texts and argue that stereotyped views of masculinity are problematic in thinking about curriculum or classroom interactions.