Learning Built for Boys
Central to full engagement by boys in the classroom is the teacher’s ability to create a learning environment that is both structured and flexible, demanding and supportive, serious and fun. These elements, while they may seem contradictory, are complementary and essential to making boys feel safe, respected, and supported in the classroom. Boys, especially those who have come from co-ed learning environments, can be reluctant learners. A boy-specific approach makes all the difference in motivating boys to engage and take appropriate learning risks. The key is understanding that boys have distinct learning preferences that can be built into the learning design. Learning built for boys includes the following criteria into its design, knowing that only with trust, partnership, and full-engagement do boys learn well.
The overall approach and environment must be active and engaging.
An active, hands-on environment with visuals, tactile manipulatives, and intrigue keeps boys interested and focused. Boys benefit from visuals, storyboards, and graphic organizers. Supporting their learning with these aids prepares them to better organize their thoughts and learn to discriminate information for its saliency. Boys need movement. Building movement into the learning design keeps boys stimulated and engaged. When movement is limited, boys get bored and find often unruly ways to move and interest themselves. Building in movement provides flexibility within a well-defined structure.
Boys prefer learning that has relevance.
Boys are pragmatic. They want to learn about things that interest them. They need to know what they are learning is useful and that the effort learning it takes is worth it. Connections to real life issues, situations, and problems satisfy a boy’s pragmatic concern of why do I need to know this. With the hook of relevance, boys will explore more deeply the fundamentals behind an issue. Designing in authentic need-to-know tensions drives boys to learn new information and principles for immediate application. Boys engaged intently in learning that has these “just-in-time learning” elements. Additionally, having a lesson with an end-product allows boys to understand the process of learning and how things work and fit together. The specificity of the end-product keeps boys focused and on track.
Boys need direct instruction and feedback to develop internalization and automaticity.
Teachers can impact the trajectory of boys’ engagement and endurance through direct instruction of skills and learning strategies, and by coaching boys while they are developing their skills. Explicit instruction of learning strategies, procedures, and skills gives boys confidence to engage in learning and working toward high levels of mastery. One or two specific suggestions related to each boy’s stage in the learning process gives him the proper entry point and practice strategy for his learning efforts. This direct instruction also communicates expectations clearly and establishes the teacher as an authority, resource, and trusted guide on the learner’s side, not an oppositional relationship.
Choice is an expression of trust and respect.
Allowing choice gives boys a sense of influence and input in their learning which invites more partnership and engagement. Choice can also foster deeper curiosity and depth of inquiry around a topic or subject of interest. These conditions have a motivating effect on boys to pursue high level challenges over time, working through failed attempts and struggles during the learning process. Allowing choice expresses the teacher’s trust in a boy’s making good decisions and respecting his knowing where he needs to invest his efforts.
Boys enjoy learning that includes both competition and collaboration.
Using competition hooks boys into engaging in the learning process because it makes the work exciting, stimulating, and fun. Competition is most healthy when it is team competition because this invites boys to elicit high-level performance and best effort from one another. Working in teams makes learning social and enjoyable, allowing boys to learn more about their own strength, weakness, and interests as well as those of their teammates. Engaging in teamwork adds a whole other layer of skills development like communication, listening, delegating, and contributing on time.
Partnership is fundamental to a boy-specific learning environment.
Boys work hard for those they respect and those who respect them. This reciprocal and meaningful relationship is the essential success factor for learning built for boys. Creating positive conditions for learning, having flexibility around learning styles and pathways, and prompting as needed creates emotional security and partnership between boys and their teachers. In addition, breaking the overall learning objective into steps and tasks allows boys to self-motivate and self-pace their learning in a flexible yet disciplined atmosphere. Assessments that include input from the student reinforce student engagement and leadership in their own learning as well as partnership and collaboration with the teacher. Assessments must provide clear praise and directive feedback as well as an opportunity for boys to scrutinize their own efforts, too.
The structured learning of the classroom as well as interactions on the field, in the dorm, and everywhere in between at McCallie are built for boys. Our teachers, coaches, and dorm parents are all exceptional mentors and role models who believe in holding high expectations for each boy while providing the guidance, support, and partnership that he needs to learn, grow, and develop into a well-adjusted, confident, and secure man ready for a life of learning and leading. At McCallie, everything we do is built with boys’ full engagement and success in mind. The difference an all-boys environment makes, without a doubt, is that boys can learn deeply who they are, what they value, and what they need to be their best selves. Learning built for boys is learning that prepares them for a lifetime.