We’ve written about ways to inspire girls to pursue STEM in and out of the classroom. But what about boys? As authors Thomas DiPrete and Claudia Buchmann argue in The Rise of Women: The Growing Gender Gap in Education and What it Means for American Schools, boys are now lagging behind girls in several academic areas. In fact, males are less likely to graduate from high school, enter college, and finish college than are females. Researchers trace the roots of this lag back to the early development and different characteristics of boys and girls.
Research shows that girls tend to have higher levels of persistence, self-control, and intrinsic gratification—or the ability to find satisfaction from doing a good job without external motivators—than do boys. By contrast, boys tend to be more physical, have less self-control, and be more energetic, all of which lead to problems in the classroom. This doesn’t just affect male students who are identified as “at-risk,” either: These differences affect every boy in every state in the country.
As researcher Edmond Dixon notes, boys simply learn differently. So, to encourage the academic and social success of male students, educators need to leverage boys’ skills and inherent characteristics when planning and implementing instruction. Here are some tips for doing so.
One of the best ways to engage male students is to let them get out some energy and move around. You can do this by incorporating hands-on or kinesthetic activities. To add movement to your classroom, encourage younger students to take part in activities that include total physical response (TPR). Originally developed for students who were acquiring English as a second language, TPR is a natural way to encourage young boys to engage in what they are learning. Students in older grade levels may also benefit from pre-designed movement, such as small group work in which members rotate jobs and tasks at designated times.
Let boys choose what they want to read
Compared to girls, boys are more likely to fare worse in English Language Arts (ELA) classrooms and assessments and to report that they don’t like reading. One easy way you can help overcome both of these issues is by letting boys choose their own reading materials. When boys are given opportunities to pick their own materials, such as horror or adventure stories, magazines, or comic books, their interest in reading increases. If your male students don’t know where to start, check out Read Kiddo Read, a website that author James Patterson created when he faced problems getting his own son to read.Common Sense Media also has some book lists that have been reviewed by kids!
Make connections to other males
Studies have shown that having a highly educated male presence in a boy’s life can make a difference in his level of academic achievement. In the United States, about a third of boys grow up in a family without a father, which can lead to a lack of male mentorship and male role models. One way to support boys with few or no strong male figures in their lives is by engaging male mentors. Perhaps there is a male educator or leader at your school that the boys admire. If not, you and your colleagues can create a peer-mentor program with older male students. There are also many organizations that can help, including national organizations such as Big Brothers/Big Sisters, YMCA, and Boys to Men.
Make it a game
Sometimes you have that one student who lives and breathes video games. He’s hard to reach because no matter what you say, it can’t compete with Minecraft or whatever the hot game of the moment is. Instead of trying to compete with technology, embrace it. In fact, some research suggests that games like Minecraft are actually good for kids. Younger kids, for instance, could benefit from Starfall, a game that helps teach phonics. Or for geography, try Seterra, an interactive map game for a wide range of ages. Some teachers even use games as a reward. When a student finishes an in-class activity, he/she has the option of playing a pre-screened game of their choice.
Change won’t happen overnight, and it won’t be easy. But by implementing new practices in the classroom, we can help boys reach their potential. These changes won’t be at the expense of girls. Instead, they are for the betterment of all students in the classroom!