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Historical thinking and the “boy friendly” curriculum

Michael Johnston and Mark Sheehan

This article reports on an exploratory study of over 2,500 secondary school history students in New Zealand who demonstrated gender differences in respect to critical thinking within a disciplinary framework. Initial findings suggest that while boys are not achieving as well as girls in national assessments in history, they (on average) thought more critically about the past. These findings contribute to debates over the disparity between boys’ and girls’ academic achievement. In particular this study challenges essentialist assumptions that underpin how boys learn that have seen the promotion of so-called “boy friendly” pedagogic models. Such models typically prioritise structured approaches to learning and physical activities rather than developing an understanding of disciplinary knowledge. It also raises questions over the validity of current assessment models that either do not prioritise critical thinking or are based on invalid (explicit or implicit) performance criteria that may disadvantage boys relative to girls.

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