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Boys show a distinct lack of interest in reading - or at least in reading novels. Ted Wragg has suggested that boys find it hard to make a good start on reading. "From their point of view, it is a more female then male activity. Almost all infant teachers are women, and in the Leverhulme Project, we found that mothers were much more likely than fathers to read with children at home." Some of the early books they read do not engage boys, but boys do, however, like magazines and information books (about soccer, war, horror and adventure). One way of encouraging boys to read more is to offer them a greater variety of material, especially if it is suited to their interests - such as practical non-fiction, TV and film 'tie-ins' or science fantasy.





Boys tend to have a "shopfloor mentality", believing that schoolwork should be done at school and should not impinge on their own time, often completing homework grudgingly and as quickly as possible, if at all. If homework is to be set, try to make it "active" and different, rather than merely "more of the same". Consider extending the school day by providing homework clubs (either after school or at lunchtime). Boys may prefer to "work overtime" rather than taking work home.


Challenging classroom activity


Boys will respond to a challenge. Whereas girls will benefit from discussion, boys would rather "brainstorm ten reasons why". If they have a target to meet within a clearly defined deadline their pragmatic approach will "deliver the goods". They appreciate it even more if the challenge is a genuine one; that is, not a thinly veiled excuse to "find out" something to which you already know the answer. This latter approach is too "receptive" for boys. They prefer to explore and experiment.


Boys will respond to competition and being taken on visits.

Boys like role-play, practical investigations, the use of information technology and audio-visual aids.



Boys have a "hands on" approach and prefer to be involved in research and investigation, interviews, problem-solving and IT-based projects. If teachers can capitalise on these interests they will in fact be encouraging a more autonomous style of learning. Teachers need to recognise and play to boys' strengths in modelling and generating ideas, and acknowledge their weaknesses in people contexts and their reluctance to evaluate.

Recognising success


Boys' attitudes often hinge on whether they feel successful or as if they are achieving something. They do appreciate having their efforts recognised - but are sometimes embarrassed about being encouraged or praised publicly. It is not "cool" to be a "swot". However, it is OK to do well at sport, because that's "macho". Schools need to be creative in exploring other avenues where it is acceptable to succeed and be seen to succeed. This will help to build a "success culture" within the school that may prove to be transferable into a more academic framework.


Mike Brown, deputy head at Thirsk School, cites the case of a 16-year-old boy whose father is the gamekeeper on the nearby Swinton Estate. "He's 6ft 6in, lolls about the place and, in many ways, school is the wrong environment for him. But he knows everything there is to know about game-keeping. We could have given him a camera to record his daily life at the Swinton Estate and displayed the results." That, Mike Brown now realises, would have been validation of what the boy was really good at. The school now places great emphasis on presenting high-quality visual displays of the pupils' work and activities.




Involve everybody. Encourage active participation. Abandon the showing of hands and encourage more small group work. Do not ask whether it is noisier or quieter - but whether learning is taking place. Boys will appreciate a greater variety of short activities - and an element of competitiveness.




Boys are often disorganised and will arrive without their books or the proper equipment. Avoid confrontation. The prospect of a "fight" can often be more challenging and more appealing than the task in hand. Allow for these behaviour traits (and avoid unnecessary "hassle") by providing pens, pencils, rulers and so forth. Make sure that books are available by storing them on the boys' behalf. In short, do their organising for them. It may seem like conceding defeat but it enables efforts to be concentrated on the task in hand rather than being distracted into dealing with peripherals. Of course, you will also be looking for opportunities to develop organisational skills and to encourage greater independence.


Pragmatic approach


Boys need to recognise the relevance of learning. Girls may be satisfied that "learning is the acquisition of knowledge" but boys need to know "what to do with it when you've got it". In fact, they would rather become engrossed in the doing - so that the learning becomes a kind of by-product. Where a girl might read the manual, a boy will happily take something apart and tinker with it to mend it.





Boys need to be motivated. In this respect, the quality of teacher-pupil relationships is another vital ingredient of effective learning. There has been a suggestion that boys need male role models. Maybe what they really need is more active and exciting role models.


Boys (and probably girls, too) will respond to the role created for them. If you tell a boy that he is a nuisance then he will "find his identity" in that role and seek to fulfil your prophecy. On the other hand, if you can manage to separate the silly behaviour from the individual then you may be able to reinforce your expectations that X usually is intelligent and thoughtful etc. - and he will respond.



See also

Learning Styles and gender

Learning styles and gender - differences chart