I've started many a presentation with my favorite little story about when my son, Nick, came home from school - kindergarten - and we asked him how did it go. His response, without hesitation was, "IT'S SOOOO BORING". Oh, boy! Those four words said it all. I saw 18 years of my life spent attempting to smooth over his experience in school which I knew only would get worse.
Then a year later, I started running a Tiger Den in Cub Scouts and learned first hand the difficulties of managing 10 boys for 90 minutes: a total nightmare. How did teachers do it! My respect for teachers went way up that year. Since then I and my fellow Akelas (parent teachers) have learned how to put some fun into our Scouting lessons: hands-on, well, actually, "bodies-on" full throttle activity learning - preferably in 20 minute intervals - even at 4th grade.
You can imagine how pleased I was to read that I'm not the only one trying to figure out how to engage boys in learning...Peggy Walsh- Sarnecki, in her article, "Boys Can Make the Grade, If They're Not Bored" writes that Salem High School is encouraging more competition in the classroom and finding ways to make lessons more hands-on, all rooted in studies that suggest physiological differences in the brains of boys and girls are the main reason an acheivement gap between genders exists in some subjects.
"This isn't about boys versus girls. It's about identifying who the students are and identifying their strengths and potential," said Richard Weinfeld, an educational consultant and the author of "Helping Boys Succeed in School." "As we're able to do more brain research, we see more differences between male and female brains."
Brain-based research is confirming that boys tend to be right-brain dominant, meaning they are better able to deal with spatial thinking and are more mechanically inclined. Testosterone tends to make them more aggressive and competitive - wow, imagine that!
Not only that, Walsh-Sarnecki reports, "In girls, the left brain, which deals with verbal skills, tends to be dominant. Physiological differences, research shows, also make girls' brains more inclined to regulate anger and aggression and more involved with emotion and memory."
A 2006 Vanderbilt University study found girls had an advantage over boys when tests and tasks were timed, something that's common in classrooms. The study showed boys fared better when studying interesting or challenging material in smaller chunks, and without hard and fast time limits.
What I find interesting is that if we take this whole gender difference argument to its ultimate conclusion, we need to look at the influence of teacher gender on learning. The Michigan Education Assocition reports that female teachers outnumber male teachers about 3 to 1; a ratio roughly the same in Plymouth Canton's secondary schools. And as Strean suggests, "women, with the best of intentions, teach classes in ways that are compatible with their learning styles."
The result asks Walsh- Sarnecki? "School might not be as friendly a place for boys," Strean said.
I can relate to that, my son just today started his day with a phrase I've now heard 180 x 5 years: "I'M BORED WITH SCHOOL".
The solution, Strean argues is to engage boys' learning styles - consider more physical activity tied to lessons and less reliance on the lecture-recite mode.
Try a Grammer Bowl competition. Once grammar became a competition, male student attitudes and their learning curves shot way up.
"It kind of turned into a sport when we did our first competition," Frankie said. "Now every time someone says, 'You're doing good,' I'm like, 'No, you're doing well.' It annoys me now."
Try using science fiction in literature class. The teacher who does finds his course is always full. "When you assign something you can read, and you do it in the traditional style, the kids kind of fight it. It comes as a task," Blakeslee said. "Basically I open it up to any way they want." Walsh-Sarnecki reports that instead of writing papers, Blakeslee's students are more likely to be making movies, writing stories or playing trivia games about the books they read. The projects are not only creative, they're often more extensive than book reports.
Lest we fall into typical stereotypes, we must always remember the girls - and the exceptions...yet, these ideas are worth considering I think when it comes to engaging our boys.
And as Cheryl Somers, assistant professor of educational psychology at Wayne State University, argues in Walsh-Sarnecki's article, all kids could benefit from adding a little more movement in classrooms. Somers also is quick to point out that there are no differences in intelligence between boys and girls. While research shows some differences between male and female brains, research also shows that boys and girls are treated differently, from infancy on. Boys are bounced, girls are coddled. Boys fall down, girls are more protected, Somers said. "Kids come to school with these differences," Somers said. "No matter whether their parents are creating it or their biology is creating it, they come to school like this. So let's figure it out."