“Unfortunately, girls’ academic achievement often masks the fact that girls do well in reading and writing classrooms at the cost of silencing their own voices,” says Gina DeBlase, assistant professor and program coordinator of English education at Wayne State University, Detroit, Michigan, and chair of NCTE’s Women in Literacy and Life Assembly (WILLA).
DeBlase notes that American culture doesn’t allow girls many positive outlets to talk about their experiences. The situation is not helped when English language arts classrooms foreground literature about men and boys, rather than about women and girls, as they too often do, she says.
“Reader-response approaches help students to find out how the literature they read relates to them, and this is of benefit to girls, but the literature curriculum needs to better represent the experiences of girls and women.”
She believes that, as with boys, much can be learned from looking at the ways girls use literacies outside of class. DeBlase, who has published articles on gender in Urban Education and the Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, has found that girls struggle to reconcile the many and competing voices they encounter in the texts they read both in and out of school.
“While girls in my research often sought out stories with self-determined female characters (for example, Harriet Tubman or women who persevered and survived the Holocaust), they also eagerly read romance novels and teen magazines.”
DeBlase says girls struggle to understand how fiction and nonfiction accounts of strong women relate to their own lives, and when they’re asked to talk about their out-of-school literacies, they often “make connections among the gendered discourses of love, romance, and pregnancy.”
“Clearly, girls need assistance in negotiating and working through the multiple and competing social and cultural voices represented in texts and in the world. Teachers have a critical role to play in scaffolding and mentoring this meaning-making process.”
Visit WILLA’s Web site at http://www.luc.edu/orgs/willa/willahome.html for information about gender and the teaching of English language arts.