Developing Deep Understanding and Literacy while Addressing a Gender-Based Literacy Gap


  • Yanqing Sun Albany Institute for Research in Education
  • Jianwei Zhang State University of New York at Albany
  • Marlene Scardamalia



Online discourse from a class of 22 students (11 boys and 11 girls) was analysed to assess advances in conceptual understanding and literacy. The students worked over a two-year period (Grades 3-4), during which they contributed notes to an online Knowledge Building environment—Knowledge Forum®. Contributions revealed that both boys and girls produced a substantial amount of text and graphics, and that their written texts incorporated an increasing proportion of less-frequent, advanced words, including academic vocabulary and domain-specific words from grade levels higher than their own. Brief accounts of classroom discourse indicate how deep understanding and vocabulary growth mutually support each other in online and offline exchanges. The gender differences that were observed show boys doing slightly better than girls, suggesting that Knowledge Building has the potential to help boys overcome weaknesses in literacy.

Author Biographies

Yanqing Sun, Albany Institute for Research in Education

Visiting assistant professor at the Albany Institute for Research in Education.

Jianwei Zhang, State University of New York at Albany

Assistant professor in the School of Education

Marlene Scardamalia

Presidents' Chair of Education and Knowledge Technologies and Director of the Institute for Knowledge Innovation and Technology (IKIT), OISE.