I have heard Michael Thompson speak two times. The first time was a several years ago at a teacher’s conference in Caracas, Venezuela. His presentation had a real impression on me then, so I had big expectations from him this time around. I attended his presentation on the Top Twelve Suggestions for Teaching Boys. Since that first time I attended a Dr. Thompson presentation things have changed for me; I am now the father of two small boys. So I was particularly keen to hear what he had to say.
He gave some pretty eye opening stats about how boys are doing. Things like sixty percent of college degrees and fifty-six percent of graduate degrees go to young women, in almost all schools girls are dominating the top quarter of a graduating class and boys being in the majority in the bottom quarter. Colleges are struggling to maintain a 60/40 female to male ratio. Educators have finally acknowledged the growing gap between girl academic achievement and boy academic achievement at all levels.
As the title of the workshops suggests, Dr. Thompson gave 12 suggestions to help. The ones that resonated with me are:
Give homework that has immediate feedback: When I look back at my own school experience, I used to hate school. The above list contains some of the things that turned me off school. I used to hate when teachers gave back work weeks or even months later. I make a big effect to give back work as fast as possible. So seeing Dr. Thompson had this on his list really confirmed what I am already doing.
Let them move in the classroom as much a can be tolerated: I need to keep this in mind in my classroom. I often get caught up in a lecture and can get carried away on the topic not being mindful of my audience’s ability to stay on task for too long. Breaking up my class into chunks and letting students move about in the flow of the class with certainly pay off.
Authenticity: Boys often consider school irrelevant to the lives they are going to lead. This was my and my classmate’s biggest complaint as students. We were in rural Canada. School was so boring and had nothing to do with what most of us aspired to. No wonder there were 16 boys in grade 8 and only 5 made it to graduate. They dropped like flies from grades 9-11. I need to try to connect assignments to the real world and to their aspirations or risk losing them like my school experience did with my boy classmates.
What are the stakes?: Boys love competition. I can’t forget this when I am planning my lessons. I need to incorporate my activities that involve risk, public performance or competition. I can do this. I have things like jeopardy type review games and other activities that accommodate the spirit of completion or place the students in a position of risk. This can be done in the laboratory, by having bonuses for getting within a certain percent error of some unknown value or turning the objective of the lab into a competition.
Boys love technology: He says we should not condemn their love of technology and video games without understanding why they love it and what it does for them. This is a hard one for me because personally, I find gaming to be a waste of time. And from talking with my students, it seems for most of them it is negatively affecting their performance at school. It might give them a sense of control as Dr. Thompson suggests, but from my experience the negatives outweigh the benefits. In the future, I will have to make a concerted effort to understand where the boys are coming from.