Final Paper: Gender and Reading Achievement

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When it comes to reading achievement, there have been many studies that show that girls outperform boys. While there are other academic areas (such as math and science) where there are differences between achievement in boys and girls, gender gaps are comparatively wider in reading and English (Logan and Medford, 2011, p. 86). This is true not only in the United States, but among students in other countries as shown on international and national assessments (Brozo, Sulkunen, Shiel, Garbe, Pandian, & Valtin, 2014, p.

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584). It has even been found that boys’ underperformance crosses “both cultural and language barriers” (Logan and Johnston, 2009, p. 202). This gender gap is concerning, as the main goal of teaching is to ensure that all students have an equal opportunity to succeed at reading and that teachers of literacy want their students to become successful and lifelong readers (Senn, 2002, p. 220). However, according to Retelsdorf, Schwartz, and Asbrock (2015), the gender gap continues to widen over time (p. 187).

Cognition and education certainly play a role, but many social, behavioral, and environmental factors have been found to contribute to this difference between the genders in reading achievement (Logan and Johnston, 2009, p. 200). Logan and Johnston (2009) provide a long list of these factors, but this paper is going to focus on motivation, competency beliefs, attitude towards school and reading, perceptions of reading, and frequency of reading (p. 200). First, I am going to give an overview of the differences in reading achievement that has been found between boys and girls. Then I am going to discuss specific factors that have been found to affect these differences. Then I am going to discuss how the teacher’s expectations and stereotypes play a role in this gender gap. Finally, I will tell you some strategies to increase motivation and achievement in boys and what further research needs to be done.

Differences in reading between boys and girls

BOYS AND GIRLS ARE DIFFERENT (MAKE A TOPIC SENTENCE FUTURE SANDY PLS) These areas, in no particular order, are frequency of reading, self-concept, self-efficacy, attitude towards reading, and motivation. According to Senn (2012), it has been found that boys also take longer to learn to read, give lower estimations about their reading ability, show less enthusiasm for reading, and consider themselves to be “nonreaders” (p. 212). Girls begin reading sooner than boys and have shown to have greater skill when it comes to reading (Senn, 2002, p. 214). Boys and girls also tend to have different preferences, habits, and reading interests (Logan and Johnston, 2009, p. 200).

It is important to note that throughout this paper, much of the research used has conflated gender identity and biological sex. According to McGeown, Goodwin, Henderson, and Wright (2012) assert that studies in research do not make a distinction between biological sex and gender identity, and that the two are often used interchangeably (p. 1). When referring to sex, one is referring to the biological differences between males and females, while gender refers to “the characteristics commonly associated with males and females.” McGeown et al. write that it is “possible that the sex differences found in reading are a result of differences in children’s gender identity (i.e. the extent to which they identify with masculine or feminine traits) rather than their sex. In fact, it may be that the characteristics associated with being male or female provide a better predictor of children’s reading skill or motivation to read than their sex” (p.1-2) The rest of this paper will continue to refer to sex and gender interchangeably, as that is what is done in the literature.

Motivation, Attitude, Reading Frequency, and Self-Concept

There are many factors that affect achievement, but according to Brozo et al. (2014), “engagement may be the single criterion that distinguishes nations with the highest and lowest levels of student achievement” (p. 584). Engagement refers to enjoyment of reading, time spent reading for enjoyment, and diversity of text read, and studies show girls have higher engagement in reading than boys for all three aspects (Brozo et al., 2014, p. 587). Engagement plays a large role in performance with reding, regardless of socioeconomic status (p. 588). Brozo et al. (2014) also write that engagement is so significant a factor when it comes to achievement that if boys had the same level of enjoyment with reading as girls do, the gender differences would be reduced by more than half (p. 588).

Reading requires effort, and the level to which students are engaged or motivated may impact how much effort they put into reading activities and assessments, which in turn affects their overall achievement (Logan and Medford, 2011, p.85; McGeown, Goodwin, Henderson, & Wright, 2012, p. 2). Guthrie (2015) defines motivation as interest, dedication, and confidence (p.62). Motivation can either be extrinsic or intrinsic. Extrinsic motivation refers to the external rewards that motivate one to read, while intrinsic motivation refers to reading purely out of interest and enjoyment (Guthrie, 2015, p. 62). Senn (2002) reports that between seventy and eighty percent of students who lack motivation in school are boys (p.212), and girls have been shown to have significantly higher intrinsic motivation (McGeown, Goodwin, Henderson, & Wright, 2012, p. 6). Even if girls had lower intrinsic motivation, boys’ intrinsic motivation has been found to be “more closely associated with their level of reading skills when compared to girls, and no association between ability and extrinsic motivation for either (Logan and Medford, 2011, p. 91) ALSO no sex differences found with extrinsic motivation, only intrinsic (McGeown, Goodwin, Henderson, & Wright, 2012, p. 6). Boys’ competency beliefs and intrinsic motivation were more closely associated with their level of reading skills. Boys, more so than girls, need to be successful at reading in order to be intrinsically motivated. Boys with low levels of attainment may be more likely than girls to become disengaged or demotivated as a result of their negative experiences (BOYS NEED SUCCESS) (Logan and Medford, 2011, p. 91) Part of the reason boys become unmotivated to read is because they do not see how literacy can be of value to them outside of the classroom, since reading is seen as solely assignments and assessments to complete (Senn, 2002, p. 217).

Boys feel more motivated and respond positively when teachers are aware of their interests (Guthrie, 2015, p.66). Boys have been found to be more interested in nonfiction, books with a purpose or they can learn from, humorous books, and books with characters with whom they feel they can connect. They also enjoy books that are part of a series and tend to evaluate books based on appearance (Senn, 2002, p.217). Boys may also respond to other kinds of print such as magazines, newspapers, graphic novels, books with captioned photos, or websites, which teachers do not often use in their reading instruction (Senn, 2002, p. 217-218). If boys are given opportunities to read books based on their interests or the type of text they prefer, they may become engaged with the book (Guthrie, 2015, p. 66) and work hard (Logan and Medford, 2011, p. 87).

While engagement and motivation are credited for being the number one reasons boys achieve less than girls in reading, attitude has been shown to play a significant role in reading performance. Attitude is defined by Logan and Johnston (2009) as feelings and emotions that make one more likely to approach or avoid a “reading situation” (p.199). Research has shown that reading ability and attitude towards reading are connected, and students who have higher positive attitudes toward reading tend to have higher reading achievement, since the more positive the attitude, the more likely one will participate in reading activities (Senn, 2002, p. 213; Logan and Johnston, 2009, p. 199-200). Positive attitudes toward reading have also been associated with continued reading throughout life (Logan and Johnston, 2009, p. 210). It is interesting to note that, according to Logan and Johnston (2009), attitude about reading, whether positive or negative, has been shown to correlate with reading ability for boys, but not for girls (p. 207). Just as with motivation, boys’ attitudes about reading are very closely linked to achievement in reading: if they are performing well, their attitudes, enjoyment, and interest will increase (Logan and Medford, 2011, p. 91). As their attitude increases, the more effort they will put into their assessments and reading in general (Logan and Medford, 2011, p. 87).

Another factor that heavily affects boys’ achievement is their competency beliefs, which refers to how good one believes they are at a given activity or task. Logan and Meford write that children who have negative competency beliefs when it comes to academics perform more poorly on reading tests than children with positive competency beliefs (Logan and Medford, 2011, p. 86). Boys tend to consider themselves to be “nonreaders” (Senn, 2002, p. 212), and thus might not take the time or put effort into tasks that involve reading, which negatively affects their performance (Logan and Medford, 2011, p. 92). Boys have a desire to “get it right” and that if they are not “getting it right” or if a task is difficult, they believe it is because of their ability. They will choose easier to read books that are shorter in order to avoid failing or feeling frustrated with these tasks (Senn, 2002, p. 215). If they are not accomplishing tasks and their confidence is diminishing, they also will read less frequently, causing them to spend less time developing their skills, which in turn continues to diminish their confidence in an endless cycle (Senn, 2002, p. 215).

Reading frequency not only has an effect on ability, but it has also been shown to have a strong effect on attitudes to reading. In fact, this relationship has been found to be even stronger than the link between attitude and reading ability (Logan and Johnston, 2009, p. 211). Logan and Johnston (2009) state that within their research, boys reported that they read less frequently than girls, though boys do read more newspapers and online articles (p. 209). This is also backed up by the PISA, which showed that in the five countries tested, girls were consistently more frequent readers than boys (Brozo et al., 2014, p. 587). Students who read more frequently develop better sight word recognition, vocabulary, reading comprehension, fluency, and general knowledge (Logan and Johnston, 2009, p. 210). If boys are reading less, they are getting less practice in these very important parts of reading, which frequently appear on reading assessments. They are also necessary components for improvement in reading over time.

None of the above factors exist in a vacuum, and they all have an effect on each other. Logan and Medford (2011) write that “the closer reciprocal relationship between boys’ intrinsic motivation, competency beliefs, and reading skill could indicate that boys’ intrinsic motivation and competency beliefs are more dependent on their reading success” (p. 93). ADD MORE HERE

Reading is a “girl thing”

While the above section highlights the most prominent factors that affect reading achievement, it has been found that gender stereotypes do play a role. Stereotypes are defined by Retelsdorf, Schwarts, and Asbrock (2015) as “shared beliefs about personality traits and behaviors of group members” (p. 187). It has been found that preschool-aged students have a concept of gender stereotypes, and studies of second-grade students found that about one-quarter of second-grade students perceived reading to be strictly feminine (Senn, 2002, p. 215). On top of this, children likely to adopt traditional stereotypes themselves as they age (Retelsdorf, Schwartz, and Asbrock, 2015, p. 188). At home, both boys and girls report seeing their mothers read more frequently than their fathers and that at home, reading is seen as feminine (McGeown, Goodwin, Henderson, & Wright, 2012, p. 2). Senn (2002) asserts that it is difficult to expect boys to become readers when they are not seeing adult men, such as their fathers, reading (p. 216). There also may be cultural gender roles that decide that certain behaviors are appropriate for certain genders (Retelsdorf, Schwartz, and Asbrock, 2015, p. 187).

The stereotype that reading is feminine and “for girls” does not seem to be limited to the home or family environment. According to Logan and Johnston (2009), school curriculum and instruction may be biased toward girls’ interests in reading (p.203). It is also true that in primary schools, more reading teachers are female, which makes it seem as though reading is more associated with females than males (Logan and Johnston, 2009, p. 203). Senn (2002) adds that there may be a gender filter when it comes to choosing reading and writing materials presented to students, and books and reading activities chosen tend to match more how girls think than boys (p. 216).

Teachers may also contribute to the gender gap by paying more negative attention to boys than girls. As boys typically have more trouble sitting quietly, listening carefully, and working well in a group, rules and restrictions imposed tend to favor girls over boys. This, in turn, causes girls to have a more positive attitude and boys a more negative attitude towards school (Logan and Johnston, 2009, p. 201). It also causes teachers to communicate and pay more negative attention to boys, such as admonishing their social behavior within the classroom (Retelsdorf, Schwartz, and Asbrock, 2015, p. 187). Teachers who tend to show bias and stereotypes, such as praising girls more academically, calling on girls more than boys, and reprimanding boys’ behaviors during reading more can play an important role in students’ self-concepts when it comes to their abilities. Gender stereotyping has been found to have an effect on the long-term development of self-concept with reading. (Retelsdorf, Schwartz, and Asbrock, 2015, p. 191).

Recommendations or Implications

In light of all this research explaining the reasons why boys consistently achieve less than girls when it comes to reading, there are many things teachers can do to attempt to close the gender gap. First of all, teachers can focus on improving engagement among boys in school by making literacy relevant (Guthrie, 2015, p. 66) with authentic purposes (Senn, 2002, p. 217). Teachers can create activities that are stimulating (Logan and Medford, 2011, p. 92) and can provide students with choice in the topics about which they read and write (Senn, 2002, p. 218). Brozo et al. (2014) suggest providing a variety and range of texts related to the boys’ interests, making sure to include the use of digital and other non-traditional text (p.591). Teachers should be flexible and allow opportunities for movement when appropriate, such as with flexible seating, (Senn, 2002, p. 216). To improve attitudes and competency beliefs, teachers need to make reading tasks achievement focused, allowing for feelings of success and moments of praise and encouragement (Logan and Johnston, 2009, p. 210). When it comes to gender stereotypes and moving the focus of reading as a “”female”” activity to be a more gender-inclusive one, boys need more adult male role models who read. Teachers may involve fathers in classroom activities (Brozo et al., 2014, p. 591), or invite other men such as authors or guest readers to assist in reading activities with the students (Senn, 2002, p. 216).

As times change, more needs to be looked at when it comes to biological sex and gender identity. Future research should consider the possibility that sex differences found in motivation for literacy-related activities may not necessarily be best explained by sex, but rather by deeper cognitive processes regarding the strength of adherence to specific gender identities (McGeown, Goodwin, Henderson, & Wright, 2012, p. 7)

When conducting research for the paper, it was particularly difficult to find recent research from the United States. Many articles referenced the United States, but most were from the UK. Further research and reading programs for boys should be implemented in the United States to add to the literature, as it is imperative that a solution is found to close the gender gap as much as possible. As Senn (2002) writes, literacy can not only offer boys more opportunities in life, it can give them “”positive images of who they are and whom they become”” (p. 213). As evidenced in strong research throughout this paper, girls have the attitude and motivation to find these images in reading, and it is time to give boys an equal opportunity.


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  2. Guthrie, J. (2015) Best practices for motivating students to read. In L. Gambrell & L. Morrow (Eds.), Best practices in literacy instruction (5th ed.). New York: Guilford.
  3. Logan, S., & Johnston, R. (2009). Gender differences in reading ability and attitudes: Examining where these differences lie. Journal of Research in Reading, 32(2), 199-214. Retrieved from
  4. Logan, S., & Medford, E. (2011). Gender differences in the strength of association between motivation, competency beliefs and reading skill. Educational Research, 53(1), 85-94. Retrieved from
  5. McGeown, S., Goodwin, H., Henderson, N., & Wright, P. (2012). Gender differences in reading motivation: Does sex or gender identity provide a better account? Journal of Research in Reading, 35(3), 328-336. doi:
  6. Retelsdorf, J., Schwartz, K., & Asbrock, F. (2015). “”Michael can’t read!”” teachers’ gender stereotypes and boys’ reading self-concept. Journal of Educational Psychology, 107(1), 186-194. doi:
  7. Senn, N. (2012). Effective approaches to motivate and engage reluctant boys in literacy. The Reading Teacher, 66(3), 211-220. Retrieved from″
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Final Paper: Gender and Reading Achievement. (2021, Feb 24). Retrieved from