Can Technology Engage and Improve Boys Literacy?

How many times do you hear stories about boys falling behind girls in their literacy scores?  In the last 2 years the Foundation Stage Profile Results ( assessment at the end of the child’s first year in school) show that girls are outperforming boys and that Communication, Language and Literacy has the widest gap.

My opinion  is that to a large degree it is down to the fact that boys are not motivated by literacy, because it is not taught in a way that is relevant or interesting to them.  It is important that this is addressed at an early age, rather than once they have already lost interest and are failing.

Children are growing up in an increasingly technological world.  Think back to how much has changed in the last 10 years and we can not possibly imagine what life will be like for our youngest children by the time they leave school.  There is no doubt that children’s experience of literacy in the future will be very different to the pen, paper and print concepts they learn about today.  

 Children’s experiences with technology in the home are generally incompatible with  what they see at pre-school or nursery.  In my experience, having visited many nurseries, technology is generally used in a piecemeal way.  If  I compare this to my children’s  experiences at home it is vastly different.  At home my children play on games consoles, operate the television by remote control, talk to family via video chat, watch cartoons on the laptop or mobile phone, take photos and videos using a mobile phone, record their voices onto a laptop or mp3 player, draw pictures on a drawing tablet, play games on a mobile phone, search the internet for information and much more. The richness of their home experiences are not reflected in their learning at pre-school.

Often this is based on fear, an uncertainty about introducing children to technology (especially screen based) because it will lead children to become lazy and replace more healthy, active or outdoor pursuits.  I recognise those fears; none of us want our children to grow up as screen junkies or for technology to replace important things like reading to your child.  However, I would argue that as technology is evolving, it is becoming more accessible to pre-school children and the opportunity to use it in innovative ways in a play based setting presents itself.  Technology is an ever growing part of their lives and it is important that it is utilised as a natural part of children’s play in pre-school settings.

Boys generally love anything technological and lack interest in reading and writing – this is a generalisation but on the whole it is the case.  I hear people ask all the time ‘ how can I get my son off the computer?’  So maybe instead of trying to ban the things they are interested in we should be using it to our advantage.  I was told a story just a few days ago about how a boy aged 11 who could never understand how anyone could choose reading or writing as a pastime and had joined a computer club at school.  The teachers had shown them how to create animations and story boards.  Following this he has gone away and invented characters, writing comic books and animated stories with such enthusiasm that he couldn’t get to the club quickly enough. 

If we can encourage this enthusiasm at pre-school, maybe we could avoid many of the negative feelings that boys have around literacy and inspire them to be literate in a different way.

This premise forms the basis of my proposal for Phd research ( subject to finding the necessary funding). The hypothesis is that if boys were given opportunities to learn the foundations of literacy through technology, then they would be motivated to learn and this would in turn improve their literacy outcomes.  I would  create a play based environment whereby children could explore the underpinning skills of literacy, through the medium of technology.  This would occur alongside more traditional activities to see whether the technological experiences were more engaging. Technology would be integrated into ongoing practices of teaching and learning.  Each classroom would be designed around the needs and interests of the children. Technology would be freely available and would be used both indoors and outdoors.  I would hope that it would also inform those who create technology, software and applications highlighting possible future developments.  To work together to provide suitable experiences for our youngest children that would reframe  long held notions of literacy.

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5 Responses to Can Technology Engage and Improve Boys Literacy?

  1. Boys will get interested in literature if they think it will help them meet girls.

    Dr. B, author, “The Mandoln Case”

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  2. Louise says:

    As a preschool practitioner, I regularly observe that boys and girls have very different learning styles and agree it is incumbent on us to find creative ways to engage boys in literacy. However it is idealistic to assume that early years settings will be well-stocked with technological equipment. Granted, some of the larger nursery chains may have these at their disposal but us struggling preschools and playgroups are grateful if we have a laptop or digital camera. Coupled with that, many parents and indeed practitioners see interaction with technology particularly computers as a solitary experience. They would rather their child benefit from the the social aspect of preschool.

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    • Thanks for your comments

      I agree wholeheartedly. I understand the limitations on pre-schools and have made no assumptions that equipment will be available. I am hoping, ,for the purpose of the study to loan equipment alongside using more sustainable things such as video cameras, web cams, microiphones, digital cameras and low cost animation programmes. I would not envisage any of the pursuits to be solitary, rather to show how technology can be successfully integrated into a free choice play based classroom. The activities would be carefully designed alongside the practitioners in order to achieve this. The types of activities I am thinking of are things like recording children’s story telling, creating animations, mark making using large touch screens, using photography and video to tell stories, communicating with other children through video messaging etc. I absolutly understand the barriers that pre-schools face in terms of training and finance and would hope that this would be highlighted in the study. If we are to broaden children’s horizons and lead them into the next generation there will need to be a commitment to funding a new way of thinking. I hope to show at least that this would be worthwhile.

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  3. Katy Abigail Barrett says:

    This is a great question. I have a 3 year old son who loves literacy. He’s been interested in books and stories since infancy and learned his letters and sounds by 2.5, both from listening to books that I read, and watching youtube phonics videos. He’s beginning to read sight words now, at 3.5. However, he has little interest in writing or coloring. I’ll offer different mediums (pencils, crayons, markers), but with little luck. He recently started asking me if he could write (type) text messages on my cell phone. I found out that he can spell his name, his sister’s name, and a handful of other words. He LOVES “writing” using the QWERTY keypad on my cell phone, even while he shows little interest in using more traditional tools. I’ll be interested in hearing the results of your study if you get the funding–good luck!

    I blog about his learning, as well as my daughter’s, and the 2 boys I babysit @http://nonstopneuralconversations.wordpress.com/. I haven’t used much technology (other than watching the occasional youtube nursery rhyme video) with any of them except my son. I’ll have to think about how the other kids might use technology to enhance their learning. Interesting idea for early education.

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