“Less-is-more” is not commonly considered a winning strategy in education. However, at a recent lecture hosted by The Fessenden School, child development expert Dr. Anthony Rao asserted that there are some areas in which schools should strive for exactly that, particularly if they want to help boys succeed in the classroom.
Dr. Rao explained that school has become a stressor for students (and their parents) instead of a place that excites, challenges, and inspires them. He noted that the problem is even more acute for boys and has resulted in many of them falling behind, failing to reach their potential, and being wrongly diagnosed with learning differences and mental health issues. He cited four areas where adopting a less-is-more strategy would help turn around these alarming national trends about the academic performance of boys.
1. Reduce Class Size: Dr. Rao admited that a lot of educators in public schools are reluctant to talk about class size. “Class size is not determined, I’m sorry to say, by the developmental needs of a child,” he explained. “It’s based on economics. Even one or two more students in a class can tip the scale, and teachers’ attention spans get smaller.” He went on to say that boys are the first to feel the impact, and that when boys are stressed, they tend to act up and get aggressive.
2. Less Passive Learning: Rao encouraged parents to ask themselves what their sons’ classrooms looks like, and if there are there opportunities for hands-on learning? “We know that boys want to be able to use their hands, they want to be able to explore and move around; they want to be able to do real things in three dimensions. They cannot learn effectively from lectures and language-based learning alone.”
3. Reduce the Busy Work: The biggest complaint Dr. Rao hears is that “it’s just a lot of busywork.” He often sees that many lessons are staged. “Go off script,” he said during the lecture, citing the advice he provides to teachers. He showed an example of Fessenden’s own Science Bob going off script when he combined a number of ingredients to make a fireball. “Blow something up; it works every time,” Rao joked. He added, “In reality, your kids probably won’t see something like this until they’re freshmen or sophomores in high school. Think of all those years when things weren’t being done to excite your son, to excite his senses, to show him all of the benefits of going off script like that.”
4. Less Standardized Testing: “Finally,” Rao noted, “the nation is waking up and saying ‘enough.’ And large groups of people are starting to push back on the Common Core.” He went on to say that boys do not benefit from constantly be assessed, or spending valuable class time preparing for a test. In areas where there is a higher push for standardized tests, Rao shared, there are higher rates of diagnosed learning differences.
To learn more about what works for boys in the classroom and at home, please visit Dr. Rao’s site or plan to attend one of his upcoming speaking events.
About Dr. Anthony Rao
Dr. Anthony Rao is a nationally-known expert in child psychology, appearing regularly on TV news programs and in magazines. He founded a pediatric psychology practice in Massachusetts and is the author of The Way of Boys: Promoting the Social and Emotional Development of Young Boys. He’s currently at work on his next book and shared some highlights from his current project at the November event. For more information about Dr. Rao, please visit: http://www.anthonyrao.com/
About the Book
Dr. Rao’s book, The Way of Boys: Promoting the Social and Emotional Development of Young Boys, is about the crisis in American boyhood. In this practical and accessible guide to the distinct challenges of raising young boys into happy and healthy young men, Dr. Rao urges parents, educators, pediatricians, psychologists, and other developmental experts to reevaluate and radically alter how we deal with our youngest boys.