Monday, June 28, 2010

Excerpt: Boy Culture, An Encyclopedia

Teaching Boys
In North American culture, many boys perceive success in school as something to be avoided. As a result, some boys may attempt to disguise their intelligence because it can expose them to ridicule from their peers. This may take the form of boys refusing to do homework or putting only minimal effort into assignments. It has been argued that a refusal to put effort into schoolwork prevents boys from being ridiculed for being intelligent. In the event that they fail, their lack of success can be brushed off as unimportant. Boys are often criticized by their peers for participating in behaviors that are seen as being inappropriate. Specifically, intelligence and success in a school setting is seen by boys as feminine and is, therefore, something to resist.

Despite this reluctance to excel in school, boys continue to perform extremely well in math, science, and hands-on activities (e.g., building). Boys seem to be less restricted in performing tasks that require them to build, construct, design, be hands-on, be physically active, calculate, and be competitive. Competition has the advantage of motivating boys to complete tasks but can have the adverse effect of making the learning process self-centered, which can encourage negative behavior (e.g., aggressiveness). One strategy to effectively use competition is to have boys compete in groups. They can be assigned work that relies on communication, understanding, and teambuilding skills while having them compete collaboratively with other groups. That way, the learning activities encourage boys to excel while not making the exercise a negative experience.

It has been argued that boys under-perform in school settings because they lack positive male role models. However, recent research has not been able to find reliable evidence to support that theory. Boys taught by female instructors perform as well, if not better, compared to those taught by males. What seems to be more important than the sex of the teacher is the relationship that the teacher creates with the boys. This is especially true since boys are much more likely than girls to challenge authority and the figures representing authority. Therefore, it is important for teachers to implement effective strategies to ensure that their authority is respected while being careful not to appear oppressive (that would only further boys’ desire to resist authority). Specifically, it has been shown that boys react more positively to teachers that encourage a student-centered approach to learning.

Boys become excited when participating in decision-making processes; boys generally don’t like being told what to do. Offering a limited number of choices of activities is one effective way of encouraging them to actively participate in learning activities. It is also very important that they see a reason for the activities they are participating in. Tasks that are meaningful for boys are most effective as they are motivated to complete tasks that seem immediately valuable to them. Boys are particularly motivated to excel in school when their personal interests are incorporated into the educational exercises. For instance, if a particular boy is interested in football, an essay or project on the subject will be particularly motivating for that student. When boys are allowed to explore and incorporate their excitement for a particular topic in the educational setting, they will put substantially more effort into the task at hand. Therefore, they can be encouraged to enjoy learning and to see the immediate value inherent in the activities they are engaged in.

Boys’ interests vary widely but there are some commonly held interests: sports, television shows, movies, and video games. Interests will vary with each individual boy; it is important to purposefully appeal to the needs of each individual student. Furthermore, it is important to not reinforce stereotypes by assuming that boys will be interested in the same activities. Instead, boys should be encouraged to explore avenues of interest to them. They will be more comfortable (and less likely to be ridiculed) with subjects that they are already excited about. Student-centered assignments can encourage all boys, no matter their interests, to complete the tasks at hand.

Excerpt from Boy Culture: An Encyclopedia (Greenwood, 6/2010)
[Vol. 2, Section 12: Boys and School] 
By: Shirley R. Steinberg, Michael Kehler, and Lindsay Cornish, Editors

For more information on this title or to order the book, visit the book's website.

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