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Boys are often viewed as less academic than girls. Is school just not for them or do they just learn differently? 

It’s a fact that there are physical and cognitive differences in the way boys and girls interact, socialise and learn. These differences have a huge impact on the educational experiences of all students in the classroom. There is also growing evidence of differences in brain development between boys and girls.

Beginning and Establishing Teachers’ Association president and deputy principal Michelle Cubis believes that while teaching boys poses a number of challenges, it also provides classroom teachers with enormous rewards.

“There are significant differences between the ways that males and females engage with teaching and learning,” Michelle says. “Boys are generally more kinesthetic learners and commit to memory through movement. Boys are also naturally inquisitive and need to know how things work.”

Beyond these differences Michelle says boys also tend to be competitive and focused on success and at times demonstrate impulsivity, which can be a positive when learning opportunities are presented in short bursts and when the boys are engaged in the learning.

There is a belief that boys behave worse than girls in the classroom, but Michelle says this is simply not true – boys just behave differently.

“Boys tend to demonstrate externalised behaviour or act out, whereas girls can be struggling but will tend to internalise,” Michelle says. “Behaviour difficulties in class are often linked to academic achievement. Some boys misbehave because they don’t understand what is required of them and don’t want to identify themselves to the teacher in front of peers for fear of humiliation.”

One way that teachers can cater to the needs of boys and offer a more kinesthetic learning environment is through the use of outdoor learning. Nature Play education and community engagement coordinator Anya Perkins says all subject areas can be taken outdoors to enhance curriculum learning.

“Boys are much more ready to take on new concepts when they are kinesthetically learning in a big-wide space, where they can move and experience their learning,” Anya says.

If teachers have an understanding of how boys learn, it means they can adapt their practice to allow boys to experience more success in the classroom.

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TIPS TO ENGAGE BOYS IN LEARNING

  • Allow boys to experience success early to build self-esteem
  • Encourage movement breaks
  • Build competition into learning activities
  • Explicitly teach them expectations and allow them time to practice these skills 
  • Find subtle ways to check for understanding so that boys don’t feel self-conscious about their academic ability but you can still identify them to provide support
  • Avoid demanding respect, but rather value boys’ strengths and build respectful, equitable relationships with them
  • Link learning activities to their interests and popular culture wherever possible

Words // Nicholas Grech

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