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Can Teaching Boys Be a Joy?

Posted by on in What If?
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When asked how the school year is going, if a teacher responds, “I have mostly boys in this year’s class,” no further explanation is typically required. The message is clear: the teacher has more challenges than usual! But why is that? Are boys just inherently more disruptive? Harder to teach?

WIREDI asked these questions – and more – of Ruth Morhard, author of Wired to Move; Richard Hawley, author of Reaching Boys/Teaching Boys; and early childhood educator Heidi Veal in what turned out to be an insight-filled discussion for Studentcentricity. During it, I discovered, among other things, that boys learn more through their eyes, are less resilient than girls, and are more single-focused than girls -- all of which teachers need to know if they're going to help their male students succeed.

After our conversation, Ruth outlined the problem in this way:

Today, boys are falling farther and farther behind at all educational levels, from preschool to grad school. Boys also represent the majority of discipline and behavior problems. These issues are especially acute in minority communities. Among the reasons: too many of our classrooms are not designed for the ways boys learn and behave. This is especially true in early childhood, the time when children’s brains absorb the most. 

The solution, she says is

…incorporating more boy-friendly strategies in our classrooms and in our homes. Boys are physical beings. When they’re moving, they’re learning, they’re bonding, they’re exploring and using their own unique talents and abilities. Understanding and accommodating their natural tendencies is key to their success, both academically and behaviorally.  

Richard strongly believes the key lies in relationships. He wrote:

Our research confirms what certain teachers understand intuitively: that effective relationship between teacher and student is not merely a pleasing value-added to instruction when it occurs. Relationship is not decorative or an occasional artifact of the instructional practice; it is the very foundation of instruction. This finding invites an outlook re-set on the part of teachers, such that when students resist engagement, when they are inattentive, even obstructive, teachers will address the relationship prior to addressing the "problem." With boys in particular, the key factor in mastering scholastic challenges is not what kind of pedagogy or curriculum engages them, but for whom are they willing to engage and to do their best.

Heidi concurs:

Show me you care and I’ll care about what you know! This is true for any person, be it a child or an adult, but it is essential for growing and developing boys in educational settings. Think of it this way, educators must build a relationship with a boy to open their avenues for learning. On a practical level, this looks like getting on their level (literally getting down, on the floor with them), engaging them in activities that are preferred for them, and really listening and responding to their ideas, questions, and needs. Nurture a respectful relationship with a boy and he will let you mold and teach him for a lifetime!

She adds:

Boys bring a certain level of verve to any setting. Day or night, they are ready for action and movement. Boys have a natural curiosity that fuels their hunger for learning about their wonderful world. They instinctively want to experience their environments in a kinesthetic fashion and are never truly satisfied with a “because I said so” answer to their questions. In short, they are explorers and doers of the best kinds. Relentless in their search for adventure and always ready for a good ole’ ruckus.

Knowing that these are the hallmarks of healthy, growing boys why is it so many schools struggle to educate boys in a fashion that engage their full selves and optimizes their many innate talents and characteristics?

Why indeed?

[Note: This episode was sponsored by Gryphon House, publisher of Wired to Move.]

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Rae Pica has been an education consultant specializing in the development and education of the whole child, children's physical activity, and active learning since 1980. A former adjunct instructor with the University of New Hampshire, she is the author of 19 books, including the text Experiences in Movement and Music and, most recently, What If Everybody Understood Child Development?: Straight Talk About Bettering Education and Children's Lives. Rae has shared her expertise with such groups as the Sesame Street Research Department, the Head Start Bureau, Centers for Disease Control, the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, Nickelodeon's Blue's Clues, Gymboree, Nike, and state health departments throughout the country. She is a member of the executive committee of the Academy of Education Arts and Sciences and is co-founder of BAM Radio Network, where she hosts Studentcentricity, interviewing experts in education, child development, play research, the neurosciences, and more on teaching with students at the center.

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Guest Friday, 24 May 2019