Prime ministers’ spelling bee: gender roles evident in spelling and writing

Research shows that students’ spelling and writing skills literally follow gender stereotypes.

An analysis of over 150,000 writing samples from boys and girls aged 3 to 7 found that boys were more likely to write about action-based topics such as sports, violence and video games.

Meanwhile, writing about relationships was more common among female students.

Girls remain more proficient at spelling than boys at all levels of learning despite spelling errors decreasing over time, but the gap widens further in 7th grade when girls continue to improve their skills and boys show a spike in errors compared to previous years.

The latest report on the language gap showed that boys’ interest in writing declined over time, resulting in a limitation in their vocabulary and spelling skills.

Report author and teacher of education at Flinders University Ann Baietto said gender interests and skills were evident at all levels of education.

“Girls tended to write more home-oriented vocabulary and talked more about passive past tenses in relation to home, family and friends, while boys tended to write more about active sports and recreation, fighting competitions and technology,” she said.

“The boys wrote more poignantly about the competition, solving issues with violence, rather than using conversations and decisions to come to an agreed position.

She said boys experience social pressure to ignore school, which has an impact on their academic performance.

International studies have also shown that girls acquire language skills faster than boys.

“Boys often feel social pressure from their peers not to demonstrate their knowledge in public. This results in many boys avoiding class discussions, which is a critical time for students to use their vocabulary.

“By not doing as much in class, boys don’t get the kind of practice in using new words that limits the size of their vocabulary.”

The words “murder” and “death” appeared exponentially more often in the letters of boys than girls.

They are also much more likely to use the words “hit” and “hit” in their writing.

University of Canberra spelling expert Dr Tessa Duffern said spelling is an important building block in a child’s education, especially when it comes to learning to read and write.

“Students who are good at spelling tend to use a wider range of words in their writing, and they don’t stop as often to think about spelling words while writing,” she said.

“As a result, they can focus their attention on other very important aspects of writing.”

Port Melbourne Primary School Principal Rohan Cooper said students at the school were constantly practicing spelling because the skill had translated into their reading and writing.

“It’s such a fundamental skill. It has so much to do with teaching literacy across the board, be it reading, writing, or storytelling. The ability to write well can unlock great potential for storytelling,” he said.

Originally published as How boys and girls promote gender stereotypes in spelling and writing