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Teaching boys

The gender gap between boys and girls is much talked about, with girls generally outperforming boys at every stage in formal education.

Here are some thoughts and reflections;

I am blessed with three wonderful boys, who are now men aged 27, 25, and 22! All survived their time at school and did pretty well!! They all have very different personalities and each of them had a very different approach to school, exams, and revision. One thing they all had in common was an absolute belief in fairness and a respect for teachers who offered high challenge but high support, Mr. Crook springs to mind! They were also lucky to be surrounded by ‘great grafters’ and learners in the form of their close family; their dad, my mum, and my Dad (who has just completed a French degree aged 76!) and a great group of friends.

So, what are the distinct challenges for boys and how can we try and address them?

Boys face some real-life challenges. They are more natural risk-takers and are three times more likely to die before the age of 21 than girls and are much more likely to have problems at school. At the age of six, coinciding with the start of formal education boys’ brains are six-twelve months less developed than girls, particularly their fine motor skills. It’s no wonder that they are so reluctant to write! So as early as their Foundation Stage schooling boys start to ‘fall behind’ girls. My own belief is that boys aren’t falling behind, but that our education system forces them to write, etc. Before they are developmentally ready. In many countries, formal education doesn’t start until children are 7 years old in the U.K. That’s when we first formally test them.

Boys tend to want to be more physically active than girls. I am more guilty than most at being driven mad by pen ‘fiddlers’ in my classroom! I also recall quite vividly memories of ‘play dates’ with friends who had girls, their daughters sat conscientiously colouring in or drawing as my three boys tore around like a mini wrecking crew – I still find myself apologising for broken ornaments and random teeth marks to this day! But for many boys the development of fine motor skills comes much later than it does for girls, holding a pen can be a challenge in itself and we have to build a ‘writing stamina’. There are of course exceptions to the rule, but boys tend to be more reluctant writers, they particularly hate writing that has no purpose i.e. copying out or from the board. So consider how you can build ‘writing stamina’, chunking writing up, making use of graphic organisers and mind maps when writing isn’t essential, using index cards and post it’s to support note-taking and revision. Think about how you can get boys active in class, statements sorts, writing on tables/windows, carousel activities, etc., Help them find the right pen!

Keep your instructions simple! Several studies have identified that boys have slower auditory processing speeds – I know what some of you are now thinking! But there is clear evidence that simple language and short sentences work more effectively with boys, backed up by a visual prompt. Talk louder and clearer! Maybe I needed a ‘Clean your bedroom’ visual prompt…-

Year 9 boys! It’s not them, it’s the Testosterone. The surge of testosterone that hits boys between the ages of about 13/14 has a lot to answer for! They grow physically, becoming gangly and clumsy, and also become more forgetful. They also develop a heightened sense of hierarchy and their social standing becomes of more significance. It is at this stage that boys must have clearly defined boundaries – they need to know who is the boss in the classroom and will respect consistency and fairness.

It is often said that boys respond to competition, some do but some don’t. Only the winners of competitions tend to like competitions so use them with care. But boys, like, girls like to be liked. They can be wounded deeply by careless comments, banter can be a great way in with boys but needs to be used with care. We need to know our boys, what do they like? What are their hobbies and interests? What makes them tick? Above all, we need to be positive role models.

There is no golden bullet and I believe great teaching works for all.

You will tend to see and hear boys more in most schools, they offer at times a challenge, but boy do they have a lot to give!

Kate Davies