I went to an evening course led by Warwick Pudney (relationship therapist and social ecologist who has spent the last 25 years working with men, couples and families in New Zealand), who based on his many years of experience has concerns over our education systems not being geared up to suit boys. He (very respectfully!) talked about the fact that education in the early years and into primary school is female dominated and therefore, are we building systems that favour education of girls over boys.
He also suggested that the fact alone that boys’ achievement is statistically different to girls, makes it worth looking at, on top of the fact that boys’ schools do better for boys and girls’ schools do better for girls.
We spent the first part of the evening identifying our thoughts around differences between boys and girls:
Boys are more (generalising):
- Black and white
- Hands on
- Don’t hold grudges
- Risk takers
Generalising again – Men tend to like logical thinking, step by step, with a defined ending, hence enjoying sports games with a defined ending win/lose situation. Women tend to like soap operas that centre of ever evolving social situations and dilemmas, with no true, defined ending.
Therefore, in education, we concluded that boys like to finish things, so if told to come away from something they had not yet finished to their satisfaction (if engaged in it), could cause issues. Boys therefore need some sense of completion.
Boys need a real purpose to give them drive for the activity – therefore find a boys’ reason for reading and writing. Boys will benefit from having males role model reading and writing, so bring fathers in to read stories to the class, have a fathers’ lunch.
Boys benefit from security and order (i.e. rules for stability). Boys need to know:
- Who is the boss?
- What are the rules?
- What are the consequences?
- These all need to be black and white, grey areas = you can’t be trusted.
Boys also enjoy the ritual of a transition, e.g. boy to man rite of passage rituals in many cultures. The thinking behind this is that the ritual creates a jolt from one to another, helping to adjust mindset.
Now, a lot of this is obviously generalising, but it helped me make a shift in my thinking towards how I support my New Entrant boys in their transition to school. This are the key areas I reflected on and actively instilled in my class:
Security and order
I immediately used the 3 things boys need to know ‘Who’s the boss, What are the rules and What are the consequences?’ This had a big impact straight away, as I’ve been exploring a play-based programme with more student agency and free choice. This worked well in some parts, but left times of transition in the day as potential arguments. But, by laying these 3 things down firmly, I straight away gained more respect as their teacher and less arguments when they were asked to come for reading, etc.
Warwick also spoke of one thing that can hold even the most hyper boy’s attention more than most things – computer games, as they tick all the boxes for what boys like – action, rewards, defined tasks with beginning and end, competitive, etc. So, I decided to ‘gamify’ my reading programme. I built a chart on the wall with the reading levels, matched with ‘bosses’ to defeat, ‘power ups’ to use and clear instructions on how to defeat each boss. Worked a treat. (Next step is how to manage their competitiveness in order to avoid putting each other down if they see someone isn’t moving up the chart as fast – probably talk about the need to be competitive with themselves, not each other).
Get used to them!
Boys are noisy, messy, rough and competitive. If I am to truly create an environment that empathises and embraces what boys are, I need to be ok with these things! I’m pretty tom-boyish myself, but even me, at times, found the rough play, noise and mess too much! So, whenever I feel it’s too much, before I ask them to stop, I pause and ask myself ‘why?’ If the answer is only to suit my own needs, I aim to join in and facilitate or ‘referee’ the play, using it as an opportunity for social learning instead. Or I just let it continue! Only if the answer is that it is affecting the respect of or well being of other students do I actually ask them to stop.
Give them real, authentic purpose to their writing. We write captions for photos I’ve taken of them at play, so they have lots of oral language available and they can record what they’ve been doing. We wrote captions for their family trees. This was not something they saw as ‘writing’, but a necessary part of completing their poster.
Next steps – see how this structure and programme works for New Entrant girls – will they cope better with freedom of choice? Will they negotiate more with language?