Phonological processing refers to an individual’s sensitivity to the sounds of a language, and the capacity to use these sounds to decode linguistic information. It is noted that phonological processing has a significant effect on mathematics achievement and mathematical fact-retrieval (see for example De Smedt, Taylor, Archibald, & Ansari, 2010). However, despite there being a large body of research on gender differences in mathematics, reading and phonological processing, there is a relative lack of studies about gender differences in the effect of phonological processing on mathematical achievements.
‘A closer look at how the involvement of phonological processing in mathematical problem-solving differs for boys and girls may clarify possible reasons for the widening gender gap in mathematics through the school years.’
There is evidence of girls being more successful in reading and phonology (see Skaalvik & Rankin, 1994; Foster & Miller, 2007), and less successful in mathematics compared to boys, at least in secondary and high school (see for example Else-Quest, Hyde, & Linn, 2010). Some researchers have suggested that the accuracy and frequency of arithmetic fact retrieval might be a source of the gender differences that emerge in mathematical performance (Royer, Tronsky, Chan, Jackson, & Marchant, 1999). It has been found that in elementary and secondary school, girls use retrieval strategies less often and less accurately during arithmetic processing, and prefer manipulative strategies (Shen, Vasilyeva, & Laski, 2016). Furthermore, as girls have advantages in language-related areas, they often try to use those skills in mathematics and represent mathematical problems in a verbal format. A closer look at how the involvement of phonological processing in mathematical problem-solving differs for boys and girls may clarify possible reasons for the widening gender gap in mathematics through the school years.
In our study (Kuzmina, Ivanova, Kaiky, 2019), newly published in the British Educational Research Journal, we examined how the effect of phonological processing on number-recognition tasks and the mathematical performance of two-digit arithmetic tasks and word-problem-solving, when controlled for reading performance, varied for boys and girls during the first year of schooling. We used a large sample (N=3,296; 49 per cent girls; mean age 7.3 years) of first-grade students recruited from several schools located in the same region of central Russia. The students were assessed twice, at the start and the end of the first grade, by the international Performance Indicators in Primary Schools (iPIPS) instrument.
Our results demonstrated that girls had a lower performance in number-recognition tasks and mathematical performance than boys both at the beginning and the end of their first year of schooling. The largest gap recorded between the genders was for number recognition. It is possible that the difference in the results for these tasks reflected advantages for boys in the retrieval of mathematical facts.
Phonological processing had a stronger effect on number recognition for girls than for boys. This result might reflect the greater involvement of phonological processing in mathematical fact-retrieval for girls. Our results also demonstrated that, when controlling for number recognition, the effect of phonological processing on mathematical performance was stronger for boys than for girls. On one hand, the greater involvement of phonological resources in this case might reflect more frequent use of retrieval strategy for mathematical problem-solving among boys. On the other hand, girls might utilise phonological resources in cases of deficits in core numerical abilities, such as number knowledge. Our results demonstrate that phonological skills should be taken into account when planning interventions to improve maths instruction and performance in schools.
This blog post is based on the article ‘The effect of phonological processing on mathematics performance in elementary school varies for boys and girls: Fixed‐effects longitudinal analysis’, by Yulia Kuzmina Alina Ivanova Diana Kaiky.
It is newly published in the British Educational Research Journal, and is free-to-view for a limited period, courtesy of the journal’s publisher, Wiley.
De Smedt, B., Taylor, J., Archibald, L., & Ansari, D. (2010). How is phonological processing related to individual differences in children’s arithmetic skills?. Developmental science, 13(3), 508–520.
Else-Quest, N. M., Hyde, J. S., & Linn, M. C. (2010). Cross-national patterns of gender differences in mathematics: a meta-analysis. Psychological bulletin, 136(1), 103–127.
Firebaugh, G., Warner, C., & Massoglia, M. (2013). Fixed effects, random effects, and hybrid models for causal analysis. In S. L. Morgan (Ed.), Handbook of causal analysis for social research (pp. 113–132). Dordrecht: Springer.
Foster, W. A., & Miller, M. (2007). Development of the literacy achievement gap: A longitudinal study of kindergarten through third grade. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 38(3), 173–181.
Royer, J. M., Tronsky, L. N., Chan, Y., Jackson, S. J., & Marchant III, H. (1999). Math-fact retrieval as the cognitive mechanism underlying gender differences in math test performance. Contemporary educational psychology, 24(3), 181–266.
Shen, C., Vasilyeva, M., & Laski, E. V. (2016). Here, but not there: Cross-national variability of gender effects in arithmetic. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 146, 50–65.
Skaalvik, E. M., & Rankin, R. J. (1994). Gender differences in mathematics and verbal achievement, self-perception and motivation. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 64(3), 419–428.