Boys and learning – 6 strategies for the classroom

I work in a boy’s school so educating boys is something I have been passionate about for many years. Many of those in education are concerned about the lack of engagement that boys have in their education.

When I first started teaching I worked in a girl’s school and followed up with a co-educational school in the country. Here we had concerns about girl’s education. Many girls left school without finishing year 12 and less went into further education. We were especially concerned with the way girls dropped out of maths and science in years 9-10. We had several programs running to try to change some of these trends. Boys did better in education until the 1980’s when thing began to change and the statistical data showed the turn around. Since the end of the 1980’s boys have been out-performed in the K-12 classroom by girls. The data shows that boys still score a little higher in science and maths, whilst girls do better in language and humanities areas but overall boys are being outstripped by girls.

This is the case in Australia and the following infographic about educating boys (based on US data) was interesting in that there were some marked similarities.

The infographic started out with population data – visual representations of birth rates and kindergarten enrollment. The first interesting thing was that data showed that almost twice as many male students as female students repeat kindergarten, and approaching triple the number of male students diagnosed with a learning disability compared to female students.

The number of girls graduating from secondary school seems to correlate with Australian statistics.

The proportion of male and female students remained fairly constant throughout primary and in the initial years of secondary schooling, with the number of male students exceeding female students by about two percentage points, up until Year 11. In Year 11 there were slightly more females than males, and in Year 12 females exceeded males by 3.2 percentage points.  (Australian Bureau of Statistics 2012)

More women than men also participate in higher education in the US which is also the case in Australia.

The other part of the infographic I particularly liked was at the end, with the advice about what schools can do to educate boys.

The 6 strategies for engaging boys in the classroom that are recommended are not ground-breaking and I have certainly seen them used in school. The library staff have also worked with teachers in the classroom to use the strategies. No doubt many could add to the strategies with example of their own but they are worth reiterating:

  • Design lessons that end in the creation of a product.  I would add make it authentic and shared with more than the student and the teacher. One simple example: In the library we love to run the book trailers that our students create for their English teachers about the books they have been reading. It works to publicize the books in the library and the boys like seeing their work on our big screen.
  • Structure lessons as competitive games. 
  • Require motor activity. (We have all seen the research that talks about the physicality of boys so we need to find ways to harness this and use it in learning situations. It does not have to be a major exertion but just some movement.) One example I have been impressed with at our school: One of the maths teachers regularly starts her year 7 lessons with a small foam ball that the boys throw to each other. As the boy catches the ball she asks a question that he has to answer. She uses it as a way to revise work from the previous lesson as well as reinforce some of the maths rules. They have a chance to answer a question as it goes around the classroom for 10 minutes.
  • Allow boys to address unsolved problems and use opened questions.  especially problems that have a real-life application or that they have some affinity with.
  • Combine team work and competition. Some simple examples: The literature circles in year 7 have given us some opportunity to try this out. This year we offered a pizza lunch for the class that read the the most books in the Premiers’ Reading Challenge. The boys encouraged the less-able readers and congratulated them as they finished a book. They also offered suggestions about what others might like to read. The Book Spine Poetry competition in book week also worked as groups of year 7’s  combined to create poems.
  • Focus on self-direction and  independent discovery. Assist boys to become more self-reliant and questioning. We have a year 8 science project (WASP) that most of the boys love. The library staff get involved in the research component at the beginning of the project.
    This program was designed to allow the student the freedom to investigate a scientific topic of their choice. Students had the option of conducting a scientific investigation on a topic of their own choosing or build a working model of an invention. The aim of WASP is to stimulate ongoing interest and participation in science. The program encourages independent enquiry-based project work as well as giving students the opportunity to present their achieve-ments to a panel of judges from the Science faculty.

No Boy Left Behind
Source: TopMastersInEducation.com

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