Relate to boys’ interests; Respect boys’ interests; Connect the learning; Get active; Short term goals and rewards; Reflective learning; Build self-esteem; Engage boys in fiction; Talk, talk, talk; Parent power.
The notion of connecting the learning is important from the beginning. Boys need to see where they are going with their learning and to see the point of each part along the journey. It is a bit like travelling on a car journey and having someone asking if we are there yet. That is disruptive.
Consider the notion of whole-part-whole. When applied to learning football, the equivalent would be give them a ball and allow a warm up kick-around, stop them and demonstrate a specific skill, then return to the game where the skill can be developed. Each bit fits into the whole, with encouragement and praise helping to build the self esteem. “Yes you can, have a go”, is much more powerful than “you can’t”.
Knowing the route and the stages along the route can enable a child to look out for the signposts and therefore have an insight into their own learning. Once on-board, they can begin to take charge and begin to determine their own progress. Achievement that brings rewards move towards the intrinsic reward that builds self-esteem further. Boys are innately competitive too, so having staging posts can encourage competition, which itself has to be managed, but can provide an additional stimulus.
Getting active implies the need for kinaesthetic approaches. I’d broaden this to using concrete apparatus, allowing manipulation to underpin the visualisation processes, in order to understand the underlying concepts before moving to abstract symbols. Firming up thinking, reflection is a powerful tool, supporting the quest for the “light bulb” moment, when a learner can see the point within the learning.
There are implications for classroom organisation and layout, resourcing, time available as well as the needs of the other learners in the class. Some teachers at this point will be saying that it is too disruptive working like that. The other side is to have bored and disaffected children, boys, causing disruption to the learning of others. Is it better to engage them constructively or to deal with the consequences of poor behaviour? Would the teacher rather discuss learning progress or problems with a parent?
The organisational difficulties can be overcome by seeing the classroom as a learning workshop, appropriately resourced and organised to support independent learning opportunities. Get them to see some point in the learning, not just because it is needed for a job or an exam.
There is a significant link between poor literacy and antisocial behaviour; Every Child a Chance Trust 2009- The Long Term Cost of Literacy Difficulties
Today, I was part of an in-service day organised by a local university, with a focus on Literacy. One of the workshops was on boy’s reading, while another was a group of Masters’ students feeding back on their researches. Inevitably the sessions drew together a number of strands and raised a number of very significant questions. There has for a long time been a gap between the attainment of girls and boys in reading at the age of 11, but evidence was presented that showed a greater gap over the recent ten years. While the evidence is there, the questions are many.
- Have boys changed their learning behaviour in that time?
- What are their distractions and interests?
- Is current reading material of interest to them?
- Have teachers changed their T&L behaviour over ten years?
- Do children have books and reading modelled effectively?
- Is reading aloud causing anxiety for readers, especially less able and boys in particular?
- Is it not macho to read?
- Do teachers know their children, their interests and the book material available within their schools?
- How skilled are teachers at diagnosing the reading needs of pupils?
- Is technology used to support reading?
One young, recent graduate gave a very coherent account of some intervention that he undertook with a disengaged reader. The significant factor in the child making progress was a teacher interested in the child as an individual, with reading tailored to his interests. His self–esteem had been low. Raising that had give confidence to have a go and take responsibility for learning. This teacher tackled the so-called Matthew Effect, which is described in the words of Keith Stanovich (Adams, 1990, pp. 59–60):
Slow reading acquisition has cognitive, behavioral, and motivational consequences that slow the development of other cognitive skills and inhibit performance on many academic tasks. In short, as reading develops, other cognitive processes linked to it track the level of reading skill. Knowledge bases that are in reciprocal relationships with reading are also inhibited from further development. The longer this developmental sequence is allowed to continue, the more generalized the deficits will become, seeping into more and more areas of cognition and behavior. Or to put it more simply – and sadly – in the words of a tearful nine-year-old, already falling frustratingly behind his peers in reading progress, “Reading affects everything you do”
Adams, Marilyn J. (1990). Beginning to Read: Thinking and Learning about Print. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press
The teacher role cannot be exaggerated. The teacher is the organiser of all that occurs in their classroom. While they do work to the dictates of the school, society and Government, they are still responsible for the very basic needs of children, as described in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (1943 paper A Theory of Human Motivation). Self-esteem is the precursor of self-actualisation. If we want independent children and learners, we have to ensure that their self-image is strong.