Issue 5: Creating “boy-friendly” classrooms

Issue 5: Creating “boy-friendly” classrooms
Boys are on average behind girls in reading, writing, and school grades. Boys are less likely to do their homework or say they enjoy school. Boys’ dropout rates are higher and they are more likely to be suspended or expelled. Many researchers and educators locate major sources of boys’ underachievement in classroom practices that do not take into account 1) biological differences between boys and girls, such as gender differences in the maturation of particular areas of the brain, 2) differences in boys’ interests, such as preferences for more action-oriented and less relationship-oriented reading materials, 3) differences in boys’ learning styles, such as preferences for competitive as opposed to cooperative classroom practices, greater need for real-world applications of academic content, and higher performance under stress, and 4) the greater importance to boys of physical activity inside and outside the classroom.
Some argue that schools are “feminizing” boys by not allowing activities which boys enjoy, such as rough and tumble play at recess, and by rewarding behavior that comes more easily to girls, such as turning in neat homework. Boys have come to believe that “school is for girls,” and that teachers do not like or respect them as much as girls. Others point out that changes in schools, such as bullying programs, school harassment programs, and the testing mandated by the No Child Left Behind Act, have had especially negative effects on boys.
Research and Policy Questions
These explanations make sense to many parents and educators but their effectiveness has not been tested by impartial research. Which of the recommended changes in classroom practice to make school more boy-friendly actually make a difference to boys’ success? How do such changes affect girls? Do boys actually believe that “school is for girls”? Such research needs to go beyond quantitative measures, such as test scores, and include qualitative research, such as focus groups and classroom observation of how boys (and girls) respond to different instructional practices.
Another needed area of research centers on teacher preparation. To what extent are university teacher training programs and school inservice programs including education in the distinctive problems and educational needs of boys as well as girls? Do teachers make use of this knowledge in the classroom? Do teachers appreciate the energy and creativity characteristic of boys or do they see such qualities as creating discipline problems?
How can parents and educators concerned with boys exert influence on schools to make classrooms more boy-friendly and prevent the excesses of bullying and sexual harassment programs?
Key Sources:
1. Gurian, M. & Stevens, K. (2005). The minds of boys: Saving our sons from falling behind in school and life. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
This book identifies strategies to make educational environments, from preschool through high school, more boy-friendly. Early learning environments for boys, for example, should encourage physical movement and bright lighting. Elementary and high schools should provide reading materials that boys enjoy, those that emphasize excitement, mystery and showdowns between good and evil. Boys benefit from multimedia techniques, spatial and graphic ways of teaching, teams and competition, play and humor, music, and experiential learning, particularly outdoors.
2. Sax, L. (2005). Why gender matters: What parents and teachers need to know about the emerging science of sex differences. New York: Doubleday.


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