How Some Schools Work Against Boys’ Natural Learning Styles

It’s common knowledge that many girls mature faster than boys, particularly with regard to social and physical maturation. When it comes to education, however, the immaturity of boys often expresses itself in them being less verbal and more active. These differences result in many boys — even those with a strong desire to learn — not performing as well as the girls in their classes.

Need proof? Boys often underperform girls in statewide tests across the nation, receive far more Ds and Fs and far fewer As on report cards, and are more likely to drop out of high school. The upshot is that this can leave boys feeling inadequate, demotivated, or just plain “dumb.” They can experience a sense of failure and frustration that they may never fully overcome.

The problem, of course, is not with boys at all. It is with the “one approach is good for all” education curriculum that drives many schools. Elementary education is more than 75% language-based and often focused on teachers standing at the front of the room talking at their students. This places most boys at a significant disadvantage. Nothing is harder for some young boys to do than sit still and listen to spoken lessons, but that is what they are forced to do in most – but not all schools.

In recent years, some schools have designed innovative teaching processes to specifically address the way many boys learn. These processes include strategies like:

  • More project-based education. Many boys learn best via hands-on experiences. Standing up, moving around, touching, and exploring with their eyes and ears create a more engaged student who will better understand and retain the lesson. The physical interplay makes the knowledge gained more real and meaningful.
  • Competitive activities. Some boys are most engaged when competing and many times flourish when presented with goal-oriented tasks, mock debates, puzzles, and games focusing on content and achievement. In addition to being more engaging, these kinds of activities foster creative thinking rather than rote memorization of facts and figures.
  • More choice in reading. Language skills are where many boys tend to struggle in elementary school. Traditional reading assignments can often fall flat to a young boy’s mindset and can serve as the starting point for a lifelong dislike of reading. The good news is that there’s an alternative. Instead of relying solely on “classics,” some progressive schools are allowing students to read graphic novels, comics, and magazine articles. Boys can increase their reading skills just as much from a sci-fi graphic novel as a nineteenth-century period piece. More importantly, they will likely view reading as a pleasure rather than a necessary evil.
  • More choice in writing. Writing assignments tend to be in the form of traditional book reports or essays related to textbook topics. Many boys’ natural creativity and curiosity about the world make more “outside the box” writing topics a better choice. In-class writing exercises along the lines of “Five reasons dogs are better/worse pets than cats” or “Why I’d rather be Superman than Spiderman” will often help boys pour their hearts and creative energies into the task.
  • Single-gender learning groups. Boys and girls are different in several well-documented ways. One is not better than the other, but they are decidedly unique. In the early years, the superior verbal skills of most girls can be disheartening to many boys. In later years, the hormonal changes of pre-adolescence can cause social anxiety and prove distracting to both sexes. Many dual-gender schools are incorporating single-gender group exercises and discussion groups that allow boys to grow intellectually and emotionally.

Boys will indeed be boys. They should not be punished or made to feel inferior for acting like themselves, whatever form or shape that may take in their lives. In general, girls have experienced a huge uptick in educational achievement over the last few decades and now represent a majority of college students. Many boys have fallen behind, and schools need to focus more on providing their male students with the kind of instruction and educational experiences that will lead to a life of personal and professional fulfillment.

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