As the mom of a boy and a teacher, I live in absolute fear that my son will fall into the trap of thinking that “school isn’t cool” or that it’s not cool to be good in school. Every day I watch the freshmen boys try to out-do each other in their slackerdom to try and impress their friends with how little they can do and how “bad ass” they are for not caring about school. It’s sad and disheartening. That isn’t to say that all boys are like this. I have a handful of boys who are phenomenal. They read, they participate, they take notes, and they are genuinely curious about learning. I want my boy to be like them.
At school, one of my colleagues started a professional development book club. As part of this club, we have each read our own education-related book and report back (teacher book reports!). For the most recent meeting, I read the book Why Boys Fail and my mind was blown. This book is a must read for any parent or educator of boys. The premise of the book is that there is a gender achievement gap in schools that is so dramatic that it outweighs any racial or economic variable. The nerdy researcher in me wanted to see all of the data and wanted to know what type of models they used to get the results, but I digress. Beyond the fact that the gender gap exists, it exists outside of the United States. Researchers in the UK and Australia have similar findings. Unfortunately, no one has looked into this research question and no one has a good understanding as to why this occurs. There are several good points that need to be further studied.
One of the takeaways from the book is that literacy is key, especially for boys. Naturally, boys don’t have the verbal capacity as girls. However, if you handle boys properly, they will catch up to girls by somewhere in late elementary school. It’s a matter of getting to that point. The author gave a number of anecdotally effective tools for helping boys develop literacy skills and a love for school. Here are some that I plan to use with Ben:
- Encourage Husband to read and read around Ben. The rationale behind this is that boys see that it’s cool to read for pleasure. Reading doesn’t have to be a chore. It should be something that you enjoy. This should not be hard in our home. Husband and I both like to read.
- Make letters out of Play-Doh instead of repetitive letter tracing. Boys are wiggly creatures. They like to DO and MAKE (in capital letters). By making the letters out of clay, the boys are able to DO something while learning their letters. **Note** I am not crafty, but I will be crafty with clay.
- Find/write books that Ben would enjoy. As I mentioned in a previous post about finding books for boys, it is a very daunting task. The author of Why Boys Fail points out that finding literature for boys is difficult and that teachers don’t often like to teach the books that boys find interesting. I admit it. I don’t want to read Captain Underpants. I think it’s drivel. However, I have to remember that kids like gross things like cotton candy ice cream. They’ll develop a more mature food palate as they age, so they need to just try reading, regardless of the flavor, in order to get to Dostoevsky.
- Use phonics for teaching reading. Throughout the book, Whitmire (the author) discussed the importance of teaching boys the “code” of reading. Unlike girls, boys struggle with sight words and the “whole language learning” that became popular in the 1990s. Boys’ brains are not structured to learn language holistically. That’s not how they’re built. However, they can apply rules to come out with an answer.
- Encourage an intrinsic love for learning. This is my own teacher desire. There are so many times when my students become disgruntled because I don’t collect an assignment and meant it just as a way for them to learn how to take notes. If there is no incentive, they will not do work. Yes, it makes sense to a certain extent, but I want Ben to be able to want to find out more information. I want him to find a passion and follow it. I want him to be inquisitive and want to know why. Granted, in a couple of years when he asks “why” about everything, I might retroactively bite my tongue. I want my boy to think that it is a privilege to go to school and not some horrible obligation. I KNOW that is wishful thinking, but I want him to get some sort of pleasure out of learning.
It’s a tall order and some lofty goals, but we’ve got to start somewhere! If anyone has other suggestions and ideas that have worked for them, I’d love to hear them!