Girls R Great & Boys R Bad: What R We Gonna Do? #CCK11 #ELTchat #edchat #ukedchat #edreform #education #elearning #lrnchat # esl #efl #ell #esol #TEFL #TESOL #IATEFL #elt #Teacher #edtech #technology #reading

Children reading (Credit: Google images)

Reading is an important skill that girls are great at. A decade of PISA statistics tell the whole world this story. The untold story, however, is that boys are not good readers. Again, the PISA test results of the past ten years fully support this statement: girls are great and boys are bad – readers.

As a reading teacher, you need to know this. This knowledge will lead you to approach your reading classes in an informed manner. Consequently, the interventions you plan will address this phenomenon adequately.

One of the most fundamental things any teacher of reading needs to know is the “Matthew Effect”. The Matthew Effect, can generally be said like this: “the rich get richer and the poor get poorer”.

In reading it plays out in much the same way. Take me, for example, as a case study. As an infant, almost from birth onwards, my mother read stories to me. My brother also read stories to me. So did my sisters. Story books and picture books were in every room of our house. By the age of four (4), I could read.

When I say read, I mean read for meaning. I’m not talking about sounding out words. I’m talking about read a book and tell you, in my own words, what the book was about.

Reading was enjoyable and fun for me. So, I read more books. The more books I read, the more vocabulary and grammar I learned. The more vocabulary and grammar I learned, the easier it became for me to read. The easier reading was for me, the more I read. The more I read, etc. etc. etc.

A mother encourages her sons to read (Credit: Google images)

This was a wonderful world. A perfect, virtuous cycle, a positive feedback loop. You could say I was, metaphorically speaking, “rich”. The more I engaged in the activity that made me “rich” (reading), the “richer” I became. Ladies and gentlemen, this is the “Matthew Effect” at its best. There is another side.

What happens when you don’t read very much, for whatever reason?

You don’t read much, so reading requires more effort. It’s hard work. So, you read less often. When you do read, it’s difficult, since you don’t get much practice. You have not had many opportunities to meet new words, phrases, and grammatical structures.

Reading is hard work. It’s not fun. So you read less. The less you read, the harder it gets.

A perfect storm… A negative feedback loop. A vicious cycle has developed. Metaphorically speaking, this reader is “poor”. Not reading much, this poor reader gets poorer, and poorer, and poorer and…

The Matthew Effect (Credit: Google images)

This is the Matthew Effect, in all its destructive power. Its simplicity makes it all the more maddening, because it has a destructive effect on the educational achievement of our students, over the course of their entire adult lives…

Now, let’s do something here. Where do you find the girls? The Matthew Effect is working for them. Think about it. When was the last time you saw a girl with a book, reading? Not too long ago. That was Matthew. The virtuous Matthew I mean.

The virtuous Matthew is the one who makes girls great readers.

Now, same question, when was the last time you saw a boy, with a book, reading?

Or maybe that was the wrong question.

Have you ever seen a boy, with a book, reading, outside of a classroom? I will be perfectly honest with you. No.

No, I haven’t. I’m 49 years old, and I’m telling you, I have never, in my entire life, seen a boy with a book, reading, outside of a classroom. And that’s Matthew. The vicious Matthew.

The vicious Matthew is the one who makes boys bad readers.

What’s that? You don’t trust me? Can I name my source, anyone who can support my claims above?

Certainly, and actually, I’m glad you asked.

“Matthew Effect”

In education the term “Matthew effect” has been adopted by Keith Stanovich, a psychologist who has done extensive research on reading and language disabilities.

Stanovich used the term to describe a phenomenon that has been observed in research on how new readers acquire the skills to read: Early success in acquiring reading skills usually leads to later successes in reading as the learner grows, while failing to learn to read before the third or fourth year of schooling may be indicative of life-long problems in learning new skills. (Summary from Wikipedia)

Boys reading(Credit: Google images)

Now, what are we gonna do? If you teach reading, and really, honestly, don’t we all teach reading? I mean, is it possible to teach history, biology, science, or even Maths, if someone can’t read?

I mean, try doing this Maths problem if you are not a good reader:

“Two planes are traveling from New York to London. One plane is traveling at 500 miles per hour and the other is traveling three times as fast per hour. London is 5585 kilometers from New York. Convert the kilometers to miles and figure out how long each plane will take to arrive in London.”

Would anyone like to try that problem, as a poor reader? Not me. If I were a poor reader, I’d spend so much time on the words that I might not ever get to doing the calculations.

The ability to read, and understand what you read, is crucial in every single classroom that a student enters, regardless of subject. We are all teachers of reading.

The statistics show that boys have been short-changed.

Boys reading (Credit: Google images)

What do you do when you discover you have received insufficient change in a monetary transaction? You go back and demand that the problem be addressed. You want what is rightfully yours, to be restored to you.

Well, our students, can’t go back and recover their losses.

What can be done, however, is to vigorously, rigorously, and courageously, go forward.

Welcome your reading students, all of them, boys and girls, girls and boys, and help them to find the kind of pleasure and joy in reading that will make them lifelong readers.

In my mind, that’s all you gotta do. But especially, with the boys. That’s a challenge that we have not met adequately, within the teaching profession, as a whole. We are all guilty of short-changing the boys.

By the way, teacher, when was the last time you read a book?

When was the last time you wrote a book, a story, a poem, for someone else, your students maybe, to enjoy reading?

When was the last time you talked about a book you are reading, for fun, with your students?

Here’s my final question for you, my colleagues, all of us reading teachers:

What are we gonna do?

Download this free, FREE, no cost, no charge, no money = FREE, Free Power Point to help you understand how to hep all your students become life-long readers for pleasure, lifelong readers for enjoyment. Just click on the link below:

Best regards,

About profesorbaker

Thomas Baker is the Past-President of TESOL Chile (2010-2011). He enjoys writing about a wide variety of topics. The source and inspiration for his writing comes from his family.
This entry was posted in Connectivism, Education, EFL and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Girls R Great & Boys R Bad: What R We Gonna Do? #CCK11 #ELTchat #edchat #ukedchat #edreform #education #elearning #lrnchat # esl #efl #ell #esol #TEFL #TESOL #IATEFL #elt #Teacher #edtech #technology #reading

  1. As a teacher of deaf adolescents, your words resonate strongly. In this sense the deaf pupils are the “boys” – reading is difficult, their vocab annd grammar structure is weak so they don’t want to read. Perhaps only4 or 5 of my 70 pupils read for pleasure, all of which are girls.
    As a mother of two boys I will tell you than they can be found at any given moment of the day reading a book and read a lot. so do their father and their uncles and their grandfather!

    Great post, thanks!


    • Hi Naomi,

      Thank you for your wonderful and inspiring comments for all of us. Your story of your sons’ reading success is heart-warming, and equally touching is the story of your deaf students. Not being able to hear words presents an especially difficult obstacle, because phonological awareness is a core element in becoming a reader. Had I been unable to hear the words as they were read to me by my mother, brother, and sisters, my story would most likely have been dramatically different than the one i shared above.

      Naomi, I wish you all the best in your struggles to help your students become great readers. It’s not easy, but with perseverance and courage, to defy the odds, to not accept the apparent destiny that your students face, you will achieve the unthinkable: thanks to your efforts, they will read. Keep the faith my friend.

      Best regards,


  2. Thank you so much for your support!
    That is what is so wonderful about your blog (I’m a subscriber) and some others I follow. It takes interaction and ideas from all directions to keep me full steam ahead after 25 years!
    B.T.W – I teach them English as a FOREIGN language!


  3. Brenda Lara says:

    I think one of the hardest things to do is to read, but not only reading. I mean reading and understanding what you read. This article shows and resonates strongly with “what does reading mean?” What we Gonna Do? As teachers, we have to motivate students all the time, but what about the family?

    I mean its role, because most students don’t have support. So, their reading is very weak. That’s why they don’t want to read because they don’t see anybody reading at home.

    As a mother of one boy, who is 9 years old, I try to buy him interesting books, with colorfull images, fun topics. As a result, he reads outside clasroom. For example, now he is reading “La Lanza Rota”. This is the best way I have found.

    Anyway, I ask him about the book all the time, and he explains in his own words and I love listening to him.

    By the way, I’m aware that I have to motivate and direct him.
    On the other hand, what happens with the rest of the students that don’t have this support????


    • Hi Brenda,

      Thanks for your comments. I’m happy to see you read this post, and then shared your experience with me.

      You are right when you ask about the influence of the family. If there is support for reading, at home, a child will read.

      Your example you give of buying books for your son, encouraging him to read, asking him about his book, is excellent. It shows him that you value reading, and your support helps him to find pleasure and enjoyment in reading, and reading well. He does this because he knows you will want to talk to him about his book.

      It is a wonderful example for everyone to follow, Brenda. You have my admiration for your efforts. Have a great week!

      Best regards,


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