Boys lag in self-regulating skills in early years: new study

Self-regulating behaviour is the key to successful learning in the early years of education and girls are continuing to outperform boys in this landscape according to new research from Queensland University of Technology.

Researchers looked at gender differences in academic outcomes and the relationship between these outcomes and classroom behaviours in their study “Gender differences in early literacy and mathematics achievement and self-regulatory behaviours in the first year of school”.

They found girls were “more likely than boys to stay on task, pay attention, be organised and flexible, be eager to learn and be independent in their learning behaviours, reflective of self-regulation”, according to teacher ratings.

“The gender differences prior to school competence suggest that girls are entering school better equipped for learning and with better self-regulatory behaviours than boys which enable them to take greater advantage of the school-based learning environment.”

Researchers Sue Walker and Donna Berthelsen used data from the Growing Up in Australia: the longitudinal study of Australian children study. Their research used existing longitudinal data on Australian children to extend previous research on the topic by exploring gender differences in literacy and mathematics prior to and in the early years of schooling, investigating gender differences in self-regulatory and problem behaviours, and the extent to which children’s literacy and mathematical achievement can be predicted by self-regulatory behaviours.

Speaking to Teacher Magazine, Ms Walker said the most important finding during the research was the difference between boys and girls in language and literacy which seemed to be clearly predicted by behaviour differences.

“So, better self-regulatory skills predicted stronger academic achievement in language and literacy, and the girls were doing better because they had more of these self-regulatory skills, “she said.

She said the findings presented key implications for teachers, to be aware of their potential to make a difference in young children’s learning experiences and to focus on developing children’s self-regulation skills in the classroom.

“..obviously there are individual differences in self-regulation when children come to school – not only gender differences, but there are socioeconomic differences and there are individual temperamental differences in children’s ability to regulate their behaviour.”

“But the wonderful thing about self-regulation is that it is changeable. So, teachers can make a difference in terms of helping children develop their ability to regulate their behaviour in the classroom.”