Independent: Pre-school gender gap exposed

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Independent: Pre-school gender gap exposed

Post by Susan Godsland » Thu Jul 30, 2009 8:55 am

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/educa ... 64693.html
Girls are racing ahead of boys in a whole range of skills, from reading and writing to showing the ability to concentrate before they even start their first day of school. An analysis of the basic assessments carried out on every four-year-old before they start compulsory schooling shows a 20 percentage point gap already emerging in writing ability, with 74 per cent of girls able to use writing for a variety of purposes, compared with just 54 per cent of boys.
Linking sound and letters

Reciting nursery rhymes, naming and seeing letters of the alphabet, reading simple words. Girls triumphed in all of nine points on the scale.

Reading

Recognising 10 familiar words and simple sentences plus understanding stories. Girls were ahead at seven points on the scale.

Writing

Writing their own name and other words from memory and constructing simple sentences. Girls won 8-0. The biggest gap of all was in this category, with 74 per cent of girls writing for a variety of purposes compared with 54 per cent of boys.

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Post by DE Philpot » Fri Jul 31, 2009 7:51 am

This type of research is interesting because it could positively inform educational practice if properly applied. The clear finding, that has been common knowledge for quite a while now, is that in the areas being measured little girls develop quicker than little boys - but in most areas the boys do eventually catch up and sometimes surpass the girls. This supports the notion that formal education shouldn't begin as early as four years old unless we want to disadvantage some boys by making them fail before they are developmentally ready to tackle the tasks being presented to them - as I keep remarking, on the whole planet only the UK and some of its ex-colonies put children into school at four. In Hungary, for example, who have a research-based approach to education, all children are offered a three year early years curriculum to prepare them for schooling which doesn't begin formally for them until Y2 ( although there is massive flexibility with some developmentally precocious youngsters starting a year early and some of those developing quite slowly not starting school until a year later). One of the many areas quoted in the article was on writing, as follows
Writing
Writing their own name and other words from memory and constructing simple sentences. Girls won 8-0. The biggest gap of all was in this category, with 74 per cent of girls writing for a variety of purposes compared with 54 per cent of boys.
In Hungary, research into fine motor control development has showed that, even by age 6, 10% of pupils have not got sufficient control to properly handle a pen/cil. The earlier that writing is encouraged, the more pupils there are that end up with poor handwriting and bizarre pencil grips. In the long term this can promote damage to all the joints of the fingers, hand and wrists. Faced with this information, in Hungary they banned the use of pen/cils in their early years curriculum as well as teaching of handwriting. They do of course encourage the development of fine motor control through appropriately structured physical play activities and painting with fingers, brushes and large crayons, etc. The last time I saw any data on the subject it showed that Hungarian pupils entering Y2 and starting formal tuition had overtaken their English peers in literacy development after only two terms in school.

On another and lighter note I also clocked this finding
Physical development
Moved with confidence and showed awareness of space. Girls 8-0.
Now this is a very interesting finding. It suggests to me that many women might find learning to park a car much easier if they were taught about it in Key Stage One.

Dave P.

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Post by JAC » Fri Jul 31, 2009 8:20 am

[quote]The earlier that writing is encouraged, the more pupils there are that end up with poor handwriting and bizarre pencil grips. In the long term this can promote damage to all the joints of the fingers, hand and wrists[/quote]

I'd be interested to hear the chapter and verse of this, it being something I have never witnessed. It does remind me of Dr. Spock's assertion that laying babies on their backs would lead to flat heads.

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Post by g.carter » Fri Jul 31, 2009 8:34 am

I would agree that we start formal schooling too early.

We do have problems which somehow have to get resolved and I'm not confident that the DCSF bureaucracy would consider these and deal with them appropriately.

Pre-school teachers, nursery nurses are undertrained on the whole and also there are many in the Establishment who are wedded to a 'Whole Language' approach to learning to read. This is easier to establish if children delay formal education.

Secondly, I don't think we would put in the resources, offer rigorous training, and implement with sensitivity.

I do think that the prescriptiveness of Reception Year and the poor way many advisers have been trained (by Whole Language-leaning insiders) has led to unnecessary strain, bureaucracy, panic.

When my mother went to school in Ireland at the age of 6, parents were expected to have taught their children how to read before they entered school. I don't know how common that was in the first quarter of the last century.

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Post by Debbie Hepplewhite » Fri Jul 31, 2009 9:35 am

The earlier that writing is encouraged, the more pupils there are that end up with poor handwriting and bizarre pencil grips. In the long term this can promote damage to all the joints of the fingers, hand and wrists

I'd be interested to hear the chapter and verse of this, it being something I have never witnessed. It does remind me of Dr. Spock's assertion that laying babies on their backs would lead to flat heads.
Jac - I'm with you re this question.

I view poor handwriting and bizarre pencil grips as poor teaching.

It would be interesting to do a survey of a sample of schools to see just how many pupils nowadays hold their pencils with bizarre pencil grips. I suspect the percentage will be high.

My theory is that this is the lack of teaching rather than a consequence of early teaching.

As for damage to finger joints - what kind of damage? How very strange.

And surely there is a matter of 'degree'. How much writing are four to five year olds expected to do that would damage their finger joints?

I would like to be really provocative here and suggest that research can be all too readily skewed by the preconceptions of both researchers and teachers.

I agree with Dave when he says we must exercise caution about research and its conclusions but wonder whether he has exercised his caution regarding the Hungarian research.

I have gone into many schools and changed pupils' handwriting style dramatically and almost instantly - and substantially raised their awareness about their own pencil holds [which I speculate that teachers have generally neglected].

Now, were these pupils writing badly with bizarre pencil grips because they were in Reception classes at the age of four?

Hmm......

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Post by Debbie Hepplewhite » Fri Jul 31, 2009 9:48 am

I do have an instinct, however, that Year One would be a generally better age to start systematic synthetic phonics programmes rather than Reception for a number of reasons.

Unfortunately, for so many children, however, their pre-school teachers and parents will resort to a whole language type of teaching - or poor type of phonics teaching - or the children themselves will pick up bad reading, spelling and writing habits around the age of four to five if good phonics teaching is not provided.

We need to consider, I suggest, more modelling, more 'layering', more repetition, more revision instead of racing ahead expecting children to read and write independently.

We need to fight the corner for a basic skills slot on the timetable which is beyond the 20 minutes suggested in 'Letters and Sounds' - especially from Year One onwards. We need to fight the corner for phonics and spelling to have a guaranteed almost daily slot on the timetable throughout primary schools.

My experience is that children will reflect what children are taught. If the children are 'in a muddle' with poor reading, spelling, writing, pencil holds - in the vast majority of cases this is a reflection of weak teaching emphasis.

This is not always the fault of the teachers. We need whole school approaches and policies, time on the time-table, good teacher-training, a difference in emphasis on basic skills teaching compared to early genre writing and independent writing.

In higher order skills, teachers (because of government, advisors, initiatives and training) expect too much too soon. In lower order (but essential) skills, teachers are not trained well enough and don't allow enough time for the teaching.

It's far too easy to blame the 'age' factor.

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Post by Debbie Hepplewhite » Fri Jul 31, 2009 9:56 am

I do believe this newspaper article is extremely misleading. It gives scores of 8 - 0 which mean absolutely nothing taken out of context.

Who, reading this article, would have any true idea of what these weird numbers and scores actually mean? This is a worthless piece of reporting.

8 - 0 could mean all sorts of things. For example, it could mean that out of eight areas to 'score', the girls came 'top' in all eight. The boys, however, could have scored just below the girls.

The Foundation Stage Profiles which are the focus of this scoring have been very heavily criticised for being a flawed method of reporting on children. This was highlighted in our last RRF conference where Marj Newbury did a magnificent job of showing how ridiculous the scoring system is.

Did anyone reading the article (link above) really understand what was being measured and reported here?

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Post by DE Philpot » Fri Jul 31, 2009 11:03 am

Debbie wrote:
Jac - I'm with you re this question.

I view poor handwriting and bizarre pencil grips as poor teaching.


I see that you are employing the same argument that the DFCS and government keep falling back on for explaining the failings of the NLS.

Small children like to please their teachers and model their behaviour on them. I assume (hope, believe) that teachers don't model the various bizarre pencil grips to children that those of us who've had the privilege of seeing lots of them in assessment situations frequently encounter - and I would add usually find it impossible to rectify once the bad habits are established. (For those interested in further information on this subject I suspect most useful knowledge might be found in Occupational Therapy sources.)

The more obvious explanation is that small children are very good at seeking other alternative strategies for achieving what adults want them to do. Having found that, due to immaturity of fine motor development, they have neither the strength, nor the control, to use the standard tripod grip they try other options - and having found something that works better, even though badly, they then practice it until it becomes a habit. The bad teaching is directed centrally by those requiring teachers to try to get their pupils writing in the first place when it is age-inappropriate.

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Post by Debbie Hepplewhite » Fri Jul 31, 2009 3:58 pm

The bad teaching is directed centrally by those requiring teachers to try to get their pupils writing in the first place when it is age-inappropriate.
There may well be an element of this - but teachers themselves frequently have a range of bizarre pencil grips - and are also led (as you say, 'centrally') to think that a 'comfortable' grip is the prevailing factor leading to the notion that 'anything goes'.

What else would children do differently if left to their own devices?

It's the usual thing in teaching, isn't it - different philosophies at the heart of how we educate.

I still think this issue is beyond an 'age-appropriate' matter alone.

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Post by JIM CURRAN » Fri Jul 31, 2009 5:28 pm

This is an article that I have flagged up before, well worth a read for anyone interested in the Hungarian model of early years education.

http://members.lycos.co.uk/allThingsChi ... yyears.htm?

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Post by john walker » Fri Jul 31, 2009 6:08 pm

Thanks for that, Jim. I've just had a look at it and the approach strikes me as being very similar to the one I saw in use in Spain a few years ago. When my youngest daughter was of reception age, my wife and I put her into a Spanish speaking school in Madrid - she is bilingual in English and Spanish and this wasn't an exercise in cruelty, by the way. During that year, none of the children learned to read or to do maths. They were taught how to socialise, how to dance, paint, and swim, to listen and pay attention - in fact, just about the same things as are practised in the Hungarian system.
However, one reason I suspect Spain and other countries whose writing systems are pretty much transparent (I haven't a clue about the Hungarian writing system!) are so relaxed about teaching reading and spelling is that it's so easy to teach. Because English is so much more complex and, as a rule, so badly taught, I think some people want to start children earlier and earlier.
I'm sure that David and I would advocate starting children learning to read later (for the reasons he's given), but there's so much pressure on schools from below (parents) and from above (the demands of the curriculum).
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Post by yvonne meyer » Fri Jul 31, 2009 11:35 pm

The Illinois Loop quoting E.D. Hirsch on 'developmentally appropriate', ie, not directly & explicitly teaching children how to hold a pencil correctly and write letters correctly but allowing them to fuddle along year after year in the hope that the children will some how work it out for themselves as they age.

"Developmentally appropriate. If a teacher uses this term, he or she is suggesting that a child's innocence needs to be preserved by not exposing the student to early hard work. The child will learn when he is "ready."

This term, according to Hirsch, is "devoid of scientific meaning and lacks scientific authority," especially as millions of kids across the world have been exposed to and benefited from early hard work. Yet some teachers feel such work is "developmentally inappropriate" for our kids!

This has a particularly disastrous effect for disadvantaged children. Specifically, he says "many advantaged children receive in their homes the early practice and knowledge they need, whereas many disadvantaged children gain these preparatory learnings, if at all, only in school.

The learning processes involved in the unnatural skills of reading, writing, and arithmetic are inherently slow at first, then speed up cumulatively and exponentially. Because of the cumulative character of school learning, educationally delayed children rarely catch up.

When an elementary school declines to teach demanding knowledge and skills at an early age, the school is unwittingly withholding education differentially from different social classes." Students with poor or disadvantaged homes suffer the most, and social injustice is perpetuated."

From memory, Zig Englemann makes the point that time is the enemy of disadvantaged children, that they need more of everything and especially more time, therefore they should start earlier not later.

Also, many countries where children start formal schooling at a later age are successful because of what takes place in the classroom, ie, intensive teacher-directed instruction, not because the children are older and therefore more 'ready to learn'.

As for giving little children big crayons, I've often wondered if the genius that came up with this idea in the first place ever tried writing with something as proportionally big and heavy, say a rolling pin instead of a pencil, and asked themselves if it is really such a good idea?

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Post by JIM CURRAN » Sat Aug 01, 2009 8:31 am

Boys fall behind at GCSE even if they do well at 11
By Sarah Harris
Last updated at 12:02 AM on 01st August 2009



http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article ... SE-11.html

''The study also found that Chinese students show a higher level of progress from SATS to GCSEs than any other ethnic groups. Black Caribbean and white pupils are among those making the least progress''

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Post by DE Philpot » Sun Aug 02, 2009 11:08 am

Yvonne wrote:
The Illinois Loop quoting E.D. Hirsch on 'developmentally appropriate', ie, not directly & explicitly teaching children how to hold a pencil correctly and write letters correctly but allowing them to fuddle along year after year in the hope that the children will some how work it out for themselves as they age.
Do you think that Hirsch was recommending that pupils should start being taught to write as soon as they tumble out of the womb, or do you think that maybe he might have thought that there were some developmental issues to be resolved before that sort of teaching became appropriate?

Then Yvonne followed it up with:
"Developmentally appropriate. If a teacher uses this term, he or she is suggesting that a child's innocence needs to be preserved by not exposing the student to early hard work. The child will learn when he is "ready".
An interesting generalisation, not borne out by the many teachers I have worked with over the years who DO UNDERSTAND and can distinguish the difference between using the term developmentally appropriate accurately and not as an excuse for poor teaching (which happens all time when this distinction is not understood).
Based on Yvonne’s comments I would avoid bothering to read Hirsch’s work, except that I suspect his thinking may not be accurately represented here.

Yvonne also says:
The learning processes involved in the unnatural skills of reading, writing, and arithmetic are inherently slow at first, then speed up cumulatively and exponentially. Because of the cumulative character of school learning, educationally delayed children rarely catch up.
I suspect that Yvonne has missed the recent neurological research about babies' knowledge and understanding of basic arithmetic processes before the age of 12 months. Sad because it might have reinforced her argument about the non-existence of the concept of developmental appropriateness.

And then we get:
When an elementary school declines to teach demanding knowledge and skills at an early age, the school is unwittingly withholding education differentially from different social classes." Students with poor or disadvantaged homes suffer the most, and social injustice is perpetuated."
Fascinating, but I think I’ll dodge the social science and political questions raised here. I’m just not very aware of schools where teachers deliberately disadvantage pupils by not teaching them. The real reason for most problems in this area is the complete failure of the universities, teacher training colleges and the DCSF for not providing proper pedagogical advice and training to young teachers (or older ones for that matter).

Then Yvonne quoted S Englemann:
From memory, Zig Englemann makes the point that time is the enemy of disadvantaged children, that they need more of everything and especially more time, therefore they should start earlier not later.
Yes, Zig makes a good point, but I think he would be horrified at it’s positioning within this posting in conjunction with the author's beliefs about the non-existence of any such thing as developmental appropriateness.

And thent:
Also, many countries where children start formal schooling at a later age are successful because of what takes place in the classroom, ie, intensive teacher-directed instruction, not because the children are older and therefore more 'ready to learn'.
So, given that in these countries they could bring down the age of school entry and start their teaching when their children are younger, why don’t they? I remember a TV documentary about 10-15 years ago where a French professor of education was asked why we send children into formal schooling so young in the UK. He shook his head and replied,”I suppose the English just don’t like their children.”

Yvonne then finished her with this rather droll comment and (I think) an attempt at humour:
As for giving little children big crayons, I've often wondered if the genius that came up with this idea in the first place ever tried writing with something as proportionally big and heavy, say a rolling pin instead of a pencil, and asked themselves if it is really such a good idea?
Big crayons are for helping young children make marks on paper. When used as part of Art teaching, like big brushes, they enable children to make large and fine marks and be drawn into understanding the differences in visual effect that result from them. They also facilitate them in practising on a large scale many of the various looping-type marks that at a later stage they will be practising as fine-motor activities with pens or pencils for handwriting. I hadn’t noticed anyone on this thread actually suggesting they should be used directly to teach handwriting. France is a country where handwriting is relatively well taught and the following link shows a little video about a French primary school that is quite instructive on the subject. (I may have come across this as a result of one of Susan Godsland’s posts, and if so I would like to thank her for bringing it my attention.)

www.teachers.tv/video/24021

Dave P.

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Post by yvonne meyer » Mon Aug 03, 2009 1:26 am

Dave,

I suggest you read both Hirsch and the dominant Progressive/Whole Language ideology that is fed to and accepted by teachers in the USA, UK & Australia before you misquote me, Hirsch and the Illinois Loop as you have done in your 'straw man' rhetorical questions.

If you did so, you would realise that teachers do not deliberately refuse to educate disadvantaged children while deliberately educating advantaged children when they base their practice on the unproven Progressive/Whole Language philosophy of;

1. not teaching directly, explicitly and systematically
2. not having a 'roadmap' curriculum with specific, grade level content
2. not testing to ensure that specific, grade level content is mastered

is disadvantaging all children, but children are not disadvantaged equally. Those children whose parents can and do teach their children themselves do better than the children whose parents can't pick up the slack. Therefore, any teacher using the dominant Progressive/Whole Language methods (of which 'developmentally appropriate' or 'wait until it clicks' or 'wait and fail' is one of the main planks) is disproportionally disadvantaging the very children for whom compulsory, tax-payer funded schooling was supposed to most protect.

For example, instead of learning to write the letters of the Alphabet legibly, using pencils and paper of the appropriate size, children are encouraged to make sweeping scrawls with large crayons on sheets of butcher's paper and their 'work' is oohed and aahed over.

When parents ask why their child can't write the letters of the Alphabet legibly, they will be told that 'pushing' will harm the child, and that the child will learn when they are 'ready to learn'.

If parents keep asking difficult questions like, "my child is in Year 3 and still can't write his/her own name legibly", they will be told that their child has a 'Learning Difficulty'. Any old examples of, for example, the use of black crayons instead of red/yellow/blue will be brought forward as 'proof' that the child is also mentally/emotionally disturbed by the parent's neurotic pushiness and refusal to allow the child to 'develop naturally'.

The issue of what age children should start school is an economic one. If Dave wants to get into the economic arguments for and against State subsidised child care, there are other forums better suited than this one. The only issue that concerns me is the instruction that children receive once they start school.

Getting back to the original post about girls doing better than boys reminds me of talk I heard years ago given about this issue by a bloke (I've forgotten his name) at a girl's school here in Australia. This guy was trying to explain what was wrong with Whole Language but the teachers in the audience kept interrupting him to say that since girl's were doing better than boys, this was not a problem that related to them. Finally the poor bloke got so frustrated that he said that our education system was a pile of s**t and just because girls were on top of the pile, didn't make it less of a pile of s**t.

Rather then look at the results of testing of boys & girls who have come through an education system based on a failed philosophy, it is much more interesting to compare Year 12 exam questions from previous decades to see how much less is expected of all children these days.

We all agree that those responsible for imposing the failed Progressive/Whole Language philosophy on our education system are those responsible for teacher traing at our University Schools & Faculties of Education. However, teachers rule their individual classrooms and while both Dave and I know many teachers who reject WL and implement evidence-based instruction, these teachers are far out-numbered by the teachers who do.

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