A Northwestern team has found that boys and girls (ages 9 to 15) respond to language tasks differently. Whereas girls abstract language information in a similar fashion whether they listen or read words, the accuracy of boys' responses depended more on the patterns of activation of their auditory (listening to words) or visual (reading words) cortices.
Excerpt from Science Daily:
"One possibility is that boys have some kind of bottleneck in their sensory processes that can hold up visual or auditory information and keep it from being fed into the language areas of the brain," Burman said. This could result simply from girls developing faster than boys, in which case the differences between the sexes might disappear by adulthood.
Or, an alternative explanation is that boys create visual and auditory associations such that meanings associated with a word are brought to mind simply from seeing or hearing the word."
The second possibility is an interesting one - suggesting that boys (in general, as a group) may file language information more with direct sensory associations (similar pictures, similar words), rather than in more specific word definitions. If this is so, it may account for why girls tend to be quicker at word retrieval than boys (if linguistic information is filed semantically, it would be more easily retrieved with specific language cues).
This gender difference might also explain why certain students have richer associations (vivid experiences,imagery) and when listening or reading stories, while others have more abstract (and perhaps more distanced, at least not directly sensory) perceptions. A number of implications come to mind - could this be why girls prefer personal fiction and boys are more commonly associated with the adventure genre? Could this imply that boys may be more cinematic in their processing style, and could this be why there are more male cinematographers and poets?
The implications for teaching may also be significant - girls may be ready for more abstraction and comparative analysis in reading and language tasks at earlier grades, whereas boys may thrive with more vivid sensory and associational approaches to reading and writing.
Unfortunately this paper is not online yet. We would like to look at the pictures. Hemispheric differences and individual differences would also be interesting to examine.
Boys' And Girls' Brains Are Different: Gender Differences In Language Appear Biological
Eide Neurolearning Blog: Searching for the right word in the right brain
Eide Neurolearning Blog: What Reading Really Does for the Brain
Eide Neurolearning Blog: Gifted Dyslexic Storytellers