(Don’t) Fall into the Gap

Sr. St. John Delany discusses her research on literacy and the gender gap—how boys and girls differ in the way they focus, process, and memorize information.

“Over a period of a year, three mothers came to me—they didn’t know each other and came from different parts of Westchester—and each one said to me ‘my son can’t get past the first sentence when he’s asked to write,’” says Sr. St. John Delany, PhD, associate professor at the School of Education. “It was uncanny.”

Delany, in addition to teaching at the School of Education, is also the Director of Pace’s Center for Literacy Enrichment, which will be celebrating its 40th anniversary this spring. For Delany, the trend in boys having difficulty in reading and writing caused her to start thinking about the differences between boys and girls.

She asked herself why boys are the way they are, if they really were different from girls. “Girls try to please you,” she notes. “They try to maintain an interest in whatever it is, try to achieve whatever it is—boys are much more off-handed.”

She set to the task of investigating the brain and how it functions, reading article after article, until she had the opportunity to do a full-fledged research project with undergraduate student Andrew Newmark, who is currently blogging about their work.

Together, Delany and Newmark are monitoring the progress of young readers using a specially developed computer program that uses activities to strengthen students’ ability to focus, process, and memorize information. The group, made up of 10 elementary school students, uses the software five days a week and will work for a minimum of 13 weeks. Delany expects the program will wrap before this coming April.

“We are looking at the differences in the way boys and girls process information and what is the defining cause that might make this [gender gap] occur. But we don’t know just yet. We might find out there is no difference in the way they process information,” says Delany, remaining optimistic about discovering new information before the end of the research project.

The neighboring town of New Rochelle has implemented a similar program for middle and high school aged students, and since then students’ test scores have improved dramatically. Although high scores are important to Delany, she says her main goal in life is to make people better readers.

“I want to know: where is the deficit? Where are these children in the continuum of cognitive development?” she says. “I want to know what we can learn to understand these children better and apply the strategies each one needs.”

For more information about the research being conducted by Sr. St. John Delany and student Andrew Newmark, follow Andrew’s blog on Literacy and the Gender Gap.