Can Boys Be Boys in School?

My Friday morning started with a visit from some parents before I had even finished morning announcements.  What they had to say surprised my somewhat, and certainly caused me to have something to reflect and consider over the weekend besides report card preparation.  They came to discuss the fact that their son felt like we were favoring the girls over the boys at our school and according to this set of parents, their son was not the only boy who felt this way.  Now, it may be easy to dismiss such an accusation, because we all know students perceptions are different from adults.  It may also be easy to think that our boys do not see the whole picture, and so that is why they might feel this way and don’t we all know that girls may behave generally better than boys in the school setting.

I have to wonder though, if they have this perception, could it be true to some level?

Even though I am pretty sure we are not the only school with the perceived “reputation” for being “sexist”, I could not let the accusation pass without some action on my part.  Are we meeting the needs of the boys in our school?  Are we giving them a fair shake when it comes to learning and interactions with staff?  Are we allowing boys to be boys when it comes to our attitudes toward the uniqueness that boys bring to the classroom? Much research has come to light lately about gender differences and the uniqueness of both boys and girls in the school setting.

When looking at my data of discipline as far as formal office visits and follow-ups,  it was easy to see that I was disciplining boys far more than girls.  My classroom interactions reflected the same in most cases.

Now, it might be easy to dismiss this data because we all know that boys are far more likely to interrupt learning during class than girls are.  I have to wonder though if we are doing enough to meet the needs of our boys and if we were, would the boys be happier, would the discipline incident data involving boys be less and would the boys be achieving at a higher level?

According to an article about boys being penalized in school, written by Jessica Lahey, “Teachers and school administrators lament that boys are to fidgety, too hyperactive, too disruptive, derailing the educational process for everyone while sabotaging their own intellectual development.” While this may seem to be true in some cases , is it fair to blame the boys or should we be making a better effort to meet their needs? Erika Christakas, an early childhood educator at the Yale Child Study Center discusses a new study that  seems to show  boys are being judged both harshly and leniently in school.  If teachers expect boys to behave worse than girls, because on average they do  so, they may miss girls’ behavior problems entirely or treat well-behaving boys  as anomalous, which as the study showed can distort expectations and support for  all children.

So what do we know about the ways boys learn?

  • Boys are more energized and motivated by movement
  • Boys strive on competition
  • Boys are hardwired to be single-task focused
  • Boys tend to “zone-out” and need more breaks during learning
  • Boys do their best work when the teacher has established an authentic purpose for doing it
  • Boys respond to feeling like they are respected and appreciated for who they are

I think teachers in general are doing a better job of accepting and differentiating to meet the needs of our students.  In considering the learning needs of the boys in our school, I do think we have room for improvement.  If we are thinking our boys are not engaged in the learning in the classroom than it is time for us to do something about it,  rather than penalizing them for not fitting into a mold we know is not working for many of them.