The problem of boys in education is not a new one. I printed pages of studies for my sons’ preschool and kindergarten teachers, begging them not to compare my boys’ abilities to sit criss-cross-apple-sauce or write the alphabet as prettily and patiently as their female counterparts.
A recent study from researchers at the University of Georgia, which followed 10,000 students as they moved from kindergarten to eighth grade, indicates that though boys scored well on tests, indicating mastery of material, girls got better grades. Researchers account for higher scores in girls because they comported themselves better than boys while in the classroom.
“Boys and girls have fundamentally different learning needs; girls are better at sitting still and listening, whereas boys learn better via kinesthetic learning, which involves more physical activity,” says Edmond J. Dixon, Ph.D., who has more than three decades experience as a teacher and is a parent of boys, and is the author of “Helping Boys Learn: Six Secrets for Your Son’s Success in School,” (HelpingBoysLearn.com). He also has a teacher’s edition titled “Helping Boys Learn: Six Secrets for Teaching Boys in the Classroom.”
“There are many other studies, however, showing boys underperforming in school; now, it’s a matter of what we’re going to do about it.”
Dixon, a cognitive-kinesthetics specialist, discusses why his first three “secrets” are so important in helping boys with active minds and bodies.
• Movement matters: The student most likely to disrupts the class because they cannot sit still is a boy. Research reveals that young boys’ brains develop a tremendous amount of neural wiring to facilitate movement and sensitivity for how things “fit” together.
When a boy is a toddler, we would never think that a sedentary child is a good indicator of health, so what makes us think that he should change while in grade school?
TIP: Allow a boy to use his “movement wiring” by allowing him to use his body as he learns to represent the topic.
• Games work: Testosterone makes males naturally competitive. If you want them to become suddenly engaged in something, make a game out of the lesson—it’s just like flipping a switch on. Just look at sports talk shows with analysis such as “Pardon the Interruption;” each expert has a clock clicking down to make his point. Little gaming tricks like this works on the male brain.
TIP: Create clear rules to help boys understand victory, and add legitimacy to the lesson. Games also serve as an excellent method for male bonding, too.
• Make them laugh: Observe a group of males; whether young or old, they bust each other’s chops. Not only is it okay, they enjoy it! Everyone has a positive chemical reaction with laughter; boys, however, often use humor as a form of communication, an asset with which most girls do not have a problem. Research has demonstrated that boys’ emotions are processed initially in the more primitive parts of the brain and come more indirectly to the speech centers. That’s why making a crude joke is easier for males to communicate sensitive feelings.
TIP: Before starting homework or an assignment, ask a boy to consider what might be funny, weird or strange about it; his mind will be more focused on the topic afterwards.
About the author: A pioneer in the field of cognitive-kinesthetics for learning, Edmond J. Dixon, Ph.D., is the founder of the KEEN Differentiated Learning Group, an organization dedicated to helping struggling learners, and the creator of KEEN 5X, a series of strategies for classroom engagement and learning that have been used with more than 50,000 students and teachers. His previous books, “KEEN For Learning” and “Literacy Through Drama,” have been used by educators to improve classroom learning.
Dr. Edmond J. Dixon’s book Helping Boys Learn: 6 Secrets for Your Son’s Success in School
This easy-to-read book gives parents what they need to help their songs become successful learners at home, in school, and beyond. Discover how to use these six secrets to help boys:
• Sit still and stay focused
• Avoid distractions and stay on task
• Complete homework without nagging
• Put forth their best effort in schoolwork
• Become passionate, successful learners in school
I’ve had too many encounters with teachers which have ended in heartache for all parties. Most boys want to do well in school, and that means they want to move. When the teacher expects a class to sit still, and perform as well as the top (female) performer, everyone, the teacher included, is left frustrated, and disappointed. What experiences have you had in your son’s classroom?