Chapter 7: Gender Differences in Reading and Writing

There are various developments of interest within this seventh chapter of Bel Canto. Anne Patchett again does not disappoint in her thematic progression throughout her novel. I, personally, am fascinated by the relationship between Gen and Carmen. During this chapter, romantic physical boundaries are crossed; yet, it seems that Carmen may not be driven by passion for Gen so much as for what he knows and can do. This is perhaps echoed in the Roxanne Coss’s comment after Fyodorov expresses his love for her that being loved for who we are is better than being loved for what we can do.

Whichever of these kinds of love is revealed to be mostly influencing Carmen’s motivations, I love that this is firstly a literacy story interlaced with a romance. However, there are two people in the novel concerned with learning language. It caught my attention when Gen compared Mr. Hosokawa’s proficiency in learning language to Carmen’s. Carmen is generally more passionate and seemingly interested in what Gen is teaching, so that could be influencing her rapid mastery of linguistic skills in comparison to Mr. Hosokawa. However, this is not what one would expect. Generally, it would be assumed that the intelligent, older successful businessman would excel at any kind of learning before a young girl from the jungle.

This and earlier feedback from my peers inspired me to expand my research from last week to include gender gaps within the humanities. I chose to focus on writing and, by extension, reading. My general questions were whether these gaps exist and why.

According to the 2011 Nation’s Report Card, which outlines the National Assessment of Educational Progress’s results for that year at fourth and eighth grade, female students scored an average of seven points higher than boys on the reading comprehension assessment (“The Nation’s…”, p. 16). Though average scores have increased for both genders between 1992 and 2011, the gender gap has changed very little, especially between 2009 and 2011 (“The Nation’s…”, p. 16). This shows that there is an apparent gender gap in reading comprehension.

In one study conducted by Stephanie Al Otaiba and her colleagues, gender variations between second and third graders in measurements of writing skills and cognitive and language predictors were researched. Various theories about the female-favored gender gap in writing had been discussed previous to this study. For example, one possible explanation is that reading is so intertwined with writing that girls, who tend to demonstrate greater reading proficiency and are less likely to be diagnosed with a reading deficiency, have some advantages over boys (Al Otaiba et al., p. 4). This theory is at least partly supported by the National Center for Education Statistics. Another possible contributing factor is that boys tend to have lower perception of writing’s usefulness and express less satisfaction in completion of writing activities, though there have been mixed results in analyses of attitude toward writing affecting proficiency (Al Otaiba et al., p. 4).

In this particular study, the researchers found that on average boy’s, once age was accounted for, writing quality scored 0.39 standard deviations less than girls. Similarly, for writing productivity boys scored 0.46 standard deviations lower, and for curriculum-based measurement writing boys score 0.37 standard deviations less than girls (Al Otaiba et al., p. 12). This effectively demonstrates that this gender gap exists at multiple levels of writing skill proficiency. In addition to these facets of writing skills, the researchers accounted for various language and cognitive predictors including oral skills, reading, spelling, letter writing automaticity, story copying, random automatized naming, and attention (Al Otaiba et al., p. 11). Letter writing automaticity is concerned with how accurately “children access, retrieve, and write letters automatically,” and random automatized naming deals with how quickly and accurately children are able to name letters Al Otaiba et al., p. 6). When these predictors were taken into consideration, the differences between genders were reduced by a quarter to a third (Al Otaiba et al., p. 12). This shows that the gender gap was explained partly by differences in these predictors, but that they are not the extent of causation (Al Otaiba et al., p. 12).

Generally speaking, it seems that female students demonstrate a greater degree of the included predictors, which accounted for some of the variation between male and female students. It is worth noting that “once childen’s gender was accounted for, attentiveness was not related to writing quality” (Al Otaiba et al., p. 12). This suggests that boys are generally less attentive, which accounts for some of the gender difference in at least one aspect of writing skills. This seems curious to me. Why does a shorter attention span for boys affect writing, while this doesn’t seem to be an issue in STEM learning? Perhaps it is an issue that is just so significantly outweighed by other factors favoring boys over girls in STEM learning that it isn’t recognized. Are actions that demonstrate increased attention on the part of teachers toward boys in STEM subjects actually attempts at engaging unfocused students that are more often boys than girls? Would this mean that unconscious bias does not contribute to this particular aspect of classroom environments, but still devalue girls’ abilities? I definitely want to understand more of why these gender gaps orient themselves how they do, and whether it is because of sociopsychological aspects of bias or actual differences in the ways each gender thinks and processes information.

Al Otaiba, Stephanie, Brandy Gatlin, Young-Suk Kim, and Jeanne Wanzek. “Toward an Understanding of Dimensions, Predictors, and the Gender Gap.” Journal of Educational Psychology. 107.1 (2015): 79 – 95. PsycARTICLES. Web. 12 Oct. 2015.

“The Nation’s Report Card: Reading 2011.” National Center for Education Statistics. (2011): 1 – 102. Web. 12 Oct. 2015. <;.


One thought on “Chapter 7: Gender Differences in Reading and Writing

  1. slaudeman says:


    It looks to me like you have a great start here, and have started to frame a question. It seems that you have answered one of the original questions you posed – whether or not there is a gender gap in reading. I also think that it is interesting that you directed this question to the humanities specifically. You mention that boys seem to be predisposed to STEM learning abilities over girls, so another question you might ask would be if the two fields balance each other out? Is the gender gap in STEM comparable to the gender gap in the humanities, albeit in the reserve direction? I think that you have posed a very intriguing issue, and raised a number of questions about the research you have done. Perhaps a constructive next step could be to create a comparative analysis of the gender gaps in different subjects, both within the humanities and the STEM fields of study, in order to compare the data and extrapolate a new or refined set of research questions. The idea of gender inequality is an issue that needs to be addressed more in modern America. I think that the topic of unintended bias has a lot of information to yield, and in many ways, has the potential to create a new conversation about this issue. I really like that you pulled this topic out of the novel from the comparison between Carmen and Mr. Hosokawa. I think that their dynamic, as seen through Gen, could become very important in the future chapters.

    –Sara Laudeman


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