Executive Summary of The Road Ahead


From autumn 2005 through summer 2008, one hundred and three teams, involving one

hundred and forty-five schools from English-language boards, were guided by a project

team from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) in the Boys’ Literacy

Teacher Inquiry Project. A parallel project was undertaken in French-language boards

and included forty inquiry teams.

Schools were involved in a large-scale collaborative teacher inquiry project designed to

address the gender gap in literacy achievement. Included were both elementary and

secondary schools, some of which worked with small samples of boys and some of

which worked with the entire population of boys in the school. Teachers and

administrators examined which strategies mattered most in terms of their effect on boys’

engagement with and achievement in literacy development. Of high importance was the

fact that this project was closely aligned with ongoing provincial initiatives concerned

with resource and staff development. Teacher inquiry was meant to be a key

complement to school reform and literacy-based initiatives presently underway in

schools and districts.

As part of a series of Ontario Ministry of Education initiatives to raise the achievement

of boys, schools were given funding for investigations carried out over three years. It

was to be the largest teacher inquiry project undertaken in education in Ontario. The

report contains significant findings on teaching practices that yielded promising results

for boys. It also chronicles the growth in data literacy among participating teachers and

presents evidence of greater commitment to ongoing collaboration at the conclusion of

three years.

By all accounts the Boys’ Literacy Teacher Inquiry Project has been successful.

Improvements in the level of boys’ interest, engagement, and achievement in reading,

writing, and oral language have been noted. School teams report, through their data,

increases in boys’ confidence to engage in literacy activities. Tribute is paid to the

teachers and administrators in schools and district offices who worked collaboratively to

determine what works best for the boys in their schools. We have the evidence that talk

works – before, during, and after reading and writing. When we allow boys to make

choices, their interest and enthusiasm can be kindled. One main lesson was learned: “if

boys’ interests are to be valued (and there is conclusive evidence that they should be),

we need to embrace a broader definition of “reading materials” when selecting the range

of materials used”. We cannot continue to do the same things with the same materials.

However, providing good materials is only one part of this complex puzzle. What we do

with them matters more. Teaching isn’t everything, it is the only thing.

Eight key learnings were identified in this project.

1. The power of teaching with a wide variety of materials: Obtaining and

making available and accessible a wide range of materials of interest to boys


increased their motivation and engagement. These materials were enhanced

when they were used by teachers in instruction and assessment activities.

2. The role of social interaction in boys’ learning: This project demonstrated the

value and the role of social interaction in boys’ learning. Working in social

learning contexts provides boys with the opportunity to talk about issues,

increasing interest and engagement.

3. The importance of regular and consistent provision of choice for boys: This

project demonstrated that promising results were obtained when boys’ opinions

were surveyed and their student voices considered. Boys performed well when

they had opportunities to choose their reading resources and to have a say in

how they responded to their reading and writing. Not only is this an effective

way of identifying interests, concerns, needs, and areas for improvement, it is

also an important way to actively engage students in their own learning. By

listening to student voices, teachers were better able to respect, respond to, and

make decisions about student learning.

4. The importance of student talk: Talk allows individuals to communicate,

share ideas about topics and relevant issues, and make sense of the books they

are reading. Such conversations provide a solid foundation for reading and

writing activities and help boys develop confidence and a sense of competence.

5. The value of using differentiated approaches: Differentiated approaches to

instruction and assessment recognize and respect the unique needs of boys. In

this project teachers used a variety of indicators and tools in order to collect data

to assess the knowledge, interests, attitudes, and learning styles of individual

students. A variety of instructional approaches were used to provide boys with

opportunities to develop necessary skills and to celebrate current strengths.

6. The importance of clear assessment strategies: Clear assessment strategies

helped teachers provide focused, precise instruction. Assessment that included

multiple qualitative and quantitative data sources and tracking of performance

over time provided teachers with information that enabled them to respond

effectively to the individual learning needs of students.

7. The benefits of information and communication technology: Used in

moderation, information and communication technology can be a powerful

stimulant to feedback and affirms student choices and responses. Use of this

technology was a complementary instructional strategy that motivated and

engaged students. It provided immediate feedback and respected the everyday

reality of boys who routinely use computers and engage in online activities such

as blogs, wikis, and games. New media and technology provided boys with

increased opportunities to become engaged in reading activities. Videos,

computer social networks, and computer games supported boys’ literacy

development. Specifically, blogs, wikis, smart boards, interactive video/audio

conferencing, and gaming activities stimulated and sustained interest and


8. The need to engage parents/guardians and the community as partners: It

was important to include parents in their children’s education, and the inclusion

of male role models from the community in reading was a real success.

The Road Ahead: Boys’ Literacy Teacher Inquiry Project


In addition to these key learnings, eight notable successes were identified from the final

school project reports. These successes reflected changes in the professional learning

culture of schools, the growth of teachers in meeting the needs of boys, and

improvement in boys’ achievement and attitudes.

1. Use of data to record and report boys’ literacy achievement and attitudes:

School project teams collected, analysed, and displayed data on boys’

achievement and attitudes. Progress was tracked and frequently displayed in

prominent places within classrooms. In many schools there were noticeable

gains. However, there were also schools where boys’ achievement did not

improve. The data, however, were used to inform decisions and to take action

for designing and revising instructional and assessment strategies and activities.

2. Purposeful collaboration among teachers: The project resulted in teachers

purposefully collaborating on issues related to teacher inquiry and boys’ literacy.

Purposeful collaborative time was consistently put to good use over the three

years of the project. Teachers shared ideas, best practices, and resources.

Together they developed the belief that boys could be successful readers.

3. In-depth understanding of teaching strategies: The three-year inquiry project

contributed to an in-depth understanding of teaching strategies that were focused

on the needs of individuals and groups of students, especially boys. Instruction

and assessment practices became more authentic, immediate, and refined as the

study progressed. A range of differentiated approaches were used, including

tracking individual progress, consensus marking, read aloud strategies, more talk

time, and more feedback to guide students.

4. Increased deprivatization of teaching: During this project teaching became a

more transparent activity. Instructional and assessment strategies were

examined, discussed, and shared. The increased deprivatization of teaching

included classroom visits, shared observations and note taking, and public

displays of student achievement data for continued focus on accelerating the

growth of targeted students. These types of activities occurred in many school


5. Increased involvement of others: The project generated interest among other

staff within and among schools. This extension of interest and involvement of

other staff provided a wider network and a foundation for sustaining this

initiative over time. The spillover effect also extended to students, both boys and

girls, in other grade levels, as well as leading to the increased involvement of


6. Growth of data literacy within and between schools: Without question, the

teacher inquiry projects resulted in the growth of data literacy. Learning how to

collect, analyse, and act on data became a way of functioning. The focus on

teacher inquiry became a vehicle for shared accountability.

7. Growth of collaborative assessments as regular and consistent practices:

Teachers began to assess student work together more often and regularly.

Collaborative assessments provided teachers with opportunities to share best

practices and to improve current instructional and assessment practices.

Practices among teachers became more consistent because of the collaboration.


8. Development of a more positive school climate: The project supported

teachers in planning and working together. As a result, relationships among

staff, students, and the community were strengthened and existing school

climates and professional learning communities were positively enhanced.

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