Some of us had the privilege of hearing author Ralph Fletcher speak at a recent writing conference. He advocated creating more "boy-friendly" writing environments. In general, girls tend to write for their teachers, while boys tend to write for each other. Do you agree or disagree with this statement?

I've attached one of the handouts Mr. Fletcher spoke about. The left side of the page characterizes most classrooms, while the right side characterizes a more boy-friendly environment. Mr. Fletcher advocates our moving TOWARDS the right more than we do.

What do you think? Are we biased against the way boys write and the topics they want to write about? How do you handle children writing about violent themes in your classroom? What topic parameters do you set in your classroom?

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Replies to This Discussion

I enjoyed listening to Ralph Fletcher's perspective as well. I think that we can add to or modify some of our current writing units to include the types of writing that appeal to many boys. Ralph talked about boys responding to comics, fantasy, humor and nonfiction. I was thinking about our K-2 curriculum and our Small Moments unit. I think we could easily incorporate some comic strips in this unit (As one choice). I also think we could focus on humorous personal narratives in K-6 as well. Fletcher's workshop reminded me that when I was a classroom teacher, I modeled and shared a lot of stories about how my brother tortured me as a child and about how I drove my parents crazy with my curious behavior (Like taking the whole table apart and using the record player as a clay spinning wheel). My class always responded well to these stories and I remember it sparking some decent writing.

I thought the most powerful portion of the workshop was the video Fletcher showed about the Kindergarten boy who couldn't write anymore after the class made a rule that no people or animals could die in stories. It was so heartbreaking to watch him struggle and give up when he could not come up with any ideas that didn't include someone dying. (His original story was not overly violent by any means- a man killed a horse and a unicorn killed the horse-killing man). Fletcher spoke about how many boys want to write about their imaginative characters and war-like settings and how schools do not allow them to make that choice, so boys give up and stop writing. He said boys hear the teacher say, "You can choose anything you want to write about, but know they mean you can really only write about what I tell you to." Fletcher also made a point to talk about the difference between this type of violence and gore. He named Poe as a great example stating, “Think about Poe's works and how a little gore can go a long way."
I wasn't going to reply to this, but was interested in the topic. Then today, during our choice centers, I noticed the same characteristics in their "play". It was very interesting to watch after reading the comments. It seems to explain the popularity of superhero/fantasy play with the boys even though I offer none. They can become anything in their minds with very little materials available. This does lend itself to a more active and aggressive play also.

I am so glad that you replied! In the video we saw at the presentation, they showed the boys playing on the playground and how the boys play typically differed from the girls play (Pretend sword fights, throwing sand at eachother.). Many of the boys were playing in a way that could be deemed more violent than the girls. This is what many boys think about and spend their time doing, so it is natural that their writing and drawings would manifest similar images.

If you have time one week, you should try something the teacher did in the video. She pulled one child aside at a time over a week and had them tell her a story. She wrote the story in a notebook. It would be interesting to see what the girls' stories were about and what the boys' stories were about.
The video that we saw was a clip from "Raising Cain" a PBS show ( The PBS site has a parents' guide which looks fairly detailed. I'm going to try to get the DVD from Netflix so I can see the whole thing! The video segment we saw was quite illuminating.
I especially liked the way the teacher did not edit the children at all, and left the critiquing up to the other children. She showed a lot of respect towards her students' "writing" as well as their opinions of each others' ideas.
I will try to remember this idea. At this point, I have no extra time at all, but once I assess everyone in Nov. for conferences, I will try this. It should be interesting!
I think it is interesting. I let all kids choose their topics, which is the way I believe we are all moving. I do think there was a time when students wrote based on teacher directed topics. Change is often slow. I printed it out and will definitely keep it in mind.
I have been preaching this for years. Gender bias in education truly exist.
I had tended to think of gender bias in terms of bias adversely affecting girls. I'm glad that I'm now more aware of how gender bias affects boys.
Check out this blog by the author of the Book Whisperer - She talks about boys and reading it is pretty interesting.
Just as a side note, I went to two great wksps in years past. Through these I learned that boys definitely do learn differently and have continued to blend as many physical activities into their choice and outside play, hammering nails into wood, hammering acorns apart to help the squirrels get their nuts, etc.. But I also learned that boys take reprimands differently also. It is said that a boy will listen better to constructive criticism if you talk to their ear and not give eye contact. I have tried it often and it does work!!
I will try this on my husband...Seriously, this sounds like something that is easy to implement. I'm going to try it too! I'm wondering what the rationale behind it is; is eye contact a sign of dominance?
In the dog world eye to eye contact means a challenge and you try not to let two male dogs get face to face. I guess maybe it does indicate dominance.



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