Top 12 Suggestions for Teaching Boys

Michael Thompson, psychologist, consultant and author of the book Raising Cain expressed there is a concerning downward trend with boys not performing as well as girls in most of first world nations. Boys are underachieving in the classroom. He stated teachers need to seriously rethink our approach to teaching boys, otherwise we might lose them. Here are the Top 12 Suggestions for Teaching Boys:

1. Rethink homework: Don’t send any homework to boys in grades K-3. Moms and their boys fight about homework all the time. Boys ages 7-8 hate school because of homework because it deprives them of their free time.

2.  Make Homework Authentic: Homework has low educational value. If you do assign homework, make it a quality activity. Put homework online to increase value. If boys cannot get feedback they won’t like doing it. Differentiate homework—less is more for boys. Have boys dictating stories orally, get them enthusiastic about expressing themselves. Boys like it when the stakes are meaningful (ex. camp, fire, knives), so make the work meaningful. This is why camps are so successful for boys.

3. Competition: Use incentives to motivate. Ask: “What are you willing to work for?” Make the stakes meaningful—don’t threaten: “You are going to be a failure.” If you constantly threaten it will become a war to win over the teacher. Boys are wired for dominance behavior. They are competitive and often silently lead with some form of competitive spirit.

4. Use Pre-assessment: Extremely important. Use vocabulary pre-tests so you will know what you don’t know. Use the knowledge of what boys don’t know and make it competitive to try to learn more about it and place them into teams.

5. Boys get organized later in life: It will eventually happen. Boys don’t usually get organized in primary or secondary school, sometimes not even until college.

6. Movement: Get them up and moving. Let them wriggle around and interface with others. Use a yoga ball and bongo board. Use anything that involves movement to let boys focus on the required task.

7. Minimize words and maximize non-verbal queues: Boys respond to non-verbal queues more often. Use proximity to get them to focus. Use a touch on the shoulder and look into their face. Alpha boys like hierarchy.

8. Do not compare boys unfavorably to girls: If you do, boys will resist you.

9. Use humor surprise and irony: Use the first 5 minutes to catch their attention. Boys are shame sensitive. When they feel it too much they will resist the person.

10. Do not set them up for failure: Never use: “You are wasting our time!”

11. Let them use technology: They like to produce a product. Let them use their hands often: knot tying, carving, building, tinkering, etc.

12. Let them read and write what they want: Boys like to write violent stories and talk about poo poo.

To better engage our boys and girls, think about the ideas in this video by Gever Tulley: 5 Dangerous Things You Should Let Your Kids Do:

Watch this TedTalksvideo by Ali Carr-Chellman: Gaming to Re-engage Boys in Learning:

Being a father to a boy and girl, I feel blessed with a million dollar combination. Both my wife and I love them the same, feed them the same yet they are just so different. As a teacher I see the differences in ways boys approach reading and writing. They like to to read and write but not in the same ways or content as the girls. I used to resist allowing boys to write about violent topics, but know I think I will relax on that and let them write more freely.

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About Brent Fullerton

An international educator who strives to enhance learning.
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3 Responses to Top 12 Suggestions for Teaching Boys

  1. Kim Cofino says:

    Have you tried any of these strategies in class? Can you think of any students in your classes that would really benefit? Or any ways that Thompson’s “don’ts” have impacted learning in your classroom?

    Personally, I really struggle with the violence thing. I need to hear it over and over again that it’s ok for boys to write or create violent works. Usually that’s one of my only rules – no violence in creative works. Listening to Thompson, I probably need to relax on that too.

  2. Amwiser says:

    It is normal for boys to want to draw violence because they see themselves as needing to protect from monsters and they think of ways to do it. They see themselves as being in control of the monster when they can draw pictures having what they can use to keep the monsters at bay. Most younger boys are not allowed to touch big knives or guns etc so it makes them feel better to be able to visualize that they can control what happens if /when a monster comes around or out from under the bed

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