Are the pace and focus of our classrooms a bad fit for boys?

In explaining the disconnect between boys and school, educator Troy Kemp said, “Classrooms are like quiet back roads with a posted speed of 35 mph. But boys are wired to drive the autobahn.”

An associate headmaster at the private all-boy McCallie School in Chattanooga, Kemp made his remarks at a recent Sunday forum at Georgia Tech on understanding boys. The premise of the forum — boys are often adrift, disengaged, and under-performing — resonated with an audience of parents.

The question the forum examined: Is there something wrong with boys or with schools?

Dozens of mothers and fathers nodded in agreement when Kemp said boys often devote more effort to honing their athletic skills than their academic skills. “When I ask boys why they put in that extra time on the field but not in the classroom, they say, ‘If I do one more pass, I am going to be great. If I do one more homework problem, I am going to be tired.’ ”

Emerging brain research confirms what teachers and parents have long observed. Girls have stronger listening skills, discernment and self-regulation. Their brains are better wired for multitasking, transitioning between activities and grasping detail. Boys have higher spatial-mechanical functioning and a greater drive to move. In general terms of learning styles, more words play to the strength of girls; more actions to those of boys.

Do schools need to rethink their approach to boys? (AJC File)

Do schools need to rethink their approach to boys? (AJC File)

Parents laughed when Kemp flashed side-by-side drawings of “My Family” by two elementary school students. The young female artist utilized all 24 crayon colors and included the family dog, a bee on a flower, a butterfly, a bird and a cloud. “The only thing missing is that rainbow,” said Kemp. The boy opted for one color, black, and drew an entire family of stick figures yelling “Help!”

Girls have been recording steady gains in academic performance over the past 30 years. A 2015 comparative study by the international Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found six out of 10 students falling below baseline standards in math, reading and science were boys.

The study looked at the performance of 15-year-old students on the Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA. While boys still score slightly higher in math, girls display a significant edge in how well and how much they read. Only 25 percent of boys reported reading as one of their favorite hobbies, compared with 45 percent of the girls. But most troubling was the sharp decline in male scores; between 2000 and 2006, the reading performance of boys decreased by 10 points.

The U.S. data on boys and school confirms the disparity. While the percentage of recent female high school graduates enrolling in college is increasing, it’s stalled for males. Boys make up two-thirds of the students in special education and are five times more likely to be classified as hyperactive. Federal data show boys account for 67 percent of in-school suspensions and 74 percent of expulsions. Across all grade levels, 61 percent of students held back are boys.

Boys have not fared well in test-focused classrooms that emphasize sitting still and completing worksheets. Neither have some girls. That’s why there’s a push on for increased recess for younger children and more hands-on learning for all kids. There’s a growing awareness that it helps boys to teach parabolic equations by making potato guns or vocabulary by classroom scavenger hunts.

At the forum, McCallie assistant headmaster Kenny Sholl recalled when he picked up a fallen stick en route to a math class he taught and students asked him about it. Inspiration struck and he announced it was the “Sword of Geometry” that they could wield when they excelled. “It is still hanging on my wall,” he said, “to remind me it doesn’t take much.”

Reader Comments 0

16 comments
Indy457
Indy457

Children used to walk to school.  They often walked home for lunch, walked back to  school for afternoon class, and then walked home after school.  That was when there were neighborhood schools.  Now, kids sit on the bus, sit in the gym or cafeteria waiting for classes to start, sit in class, sit in the media center, sit in music, sit in art, sit for lunch, sit to wait on the bus to go home, sit on the bus, and on, and on, and on.  No exercise, but plenty of Ritalin.

WhiteRabbit
WhiteRabbit

Oh, it can be done.  Kids of all stripes can be taught as a group.  Imagining that's not possible or practical is part of the problem.  It's mostly a matter of talking with kids and helping them see themselves developing.  Adults and politicians are the problem.

MajorDowning
MajorDowning

I submit to you Ron Clark Academy vs any public or private school for that matter. Clark engages his students on all levels. Standard education practices should be banned. I witnessed video of a RCA classroom in action and a public school classroom. In the RCA classroom the students were engaged in "play as they learned".  While the public students were tucked behind their desks eyes glazed over.

gapeach101
gapeach101

@MajorDowning  From the AJC in 2010,

"But some say RCA's thrill-seeking approach is not very practical. RCA, funded by training seminar sales, corporate donors like Delta and Coca-Cola and gifts from philanthropists, spends $18,000 per student. The per-student average in Georgia is $8,900."  


Carlos_Castillo
Carlos_Castillo

K-12 school as it is now could only have come out of Schools of "Education."


I'd also be curious to know the degree to which risk-adverse liabililty defense lawyers have advocated for less recess and sports.  (Fewer lawsuits arise from collapsing desks than playgrounds.)


Rather than exercised, boys are tossed into special ed classes or chemically castrated with drugs to control the ADHD that most of them don't have.

CSpinks
CSpinks

@Carlos_Castillo Eric Holder was correct: "We are a nation of cowards." And, in our nation of cowards, school board attorneys occupy the highest echelon reserved for "The Most Cowardly."

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

I have wrestled with this very question. Back when I taught kindergarten,there was no sitting at tables writing in journals.  When I look at what my now-kindergarten-aged grandsons are doing, it is developmentally inappropriate for most boys AND girls.


I think movement is important for most boys AND girls--learning by doing and NOT by just talking about it.  I think what goes on in and outside of many classrooms is tough for both genders, but boys seem to manifest their suffering the most.


I long for the days when we could actually teach the children in front of us, instead of some mythical super class.  That means doing things that fit with the ages, experiences, and learning styles of the children.  It means going outside for recess, EVEN WHEN IT IS BELOW 50 DEGREES.  (Thankfully, the principal under whom I worked the longest was from South Dakota.  He insisted we go out every day, even if only 5 minutes, unless it was raining really hard!  We put on coats and went out!  Now children are too "fragile."  But they have muscular, well-developed thumbs!)

Cere
Cere

@Wascatlady My mother-in-law taught second grade for over 30 years in public school in Ohio.  Every classroom had a door to the outside. When she felt the kids were getting restless, she would just open the door and let them go out and run around... (there were room parents who monitored the playgrounds, etc).  She always said she couldn't teach them much of anything if they were too restless.  These little mini-breaks made all the difference - for them and for her. When I was growing up, I attended Catholic school and we had many breaks every day - some in the gym - some on the playground - and daily jump rope on the asphalt parking lot. In fact, several younger nuns would actually play physical games with us in the gym as well as learning games in our classrooms. Contrary to popular belief, they were fun nuns!


Anecdotal I know, but school environments today are very different. I can't imagine living with the stress and pressure that young children have today to learn from books and then take endless tests.

RexHavoc
RexHavoc

Completely agree (dear lord, I agreed with the AJC).  Boys learn differently than girls.  We are so far beyond time to address these two appropriately.  I guess we have been too concerned with them being able to pray at football games that we forgot why they are actually at school to begin with.

Ralph-43
Ralph-43

This has appeared obvious to many.  It is unclear why the recess times have been reduced because both teachers and students are complaining.  Also, the increased diagnosis of Attention Deficit, particularly for young boys, can lead to a lifelong dependence on amphetamines and self-doubt, when, in fact, the boy (and now man) was a perfectly normal male.  It is clear, that more male in-put is needed in designing elementary education.

Outspoken Mom
Outspoken Mom

@CSpinks @Ralph-45 

The big problem is we cannot get enough parents involved.  I do not know why they choose to keep their heads in the sand when there is an obvious issue.  My husband's argument used to be "We got a great public school education" and he has called me a "conspiracy theorist".  Thank God he has seen the light and knows there are bigger issues and change is necessary.

Lee_CPA2
Lee_CPA2

Common sense stuff - which is why public schools have been moving in the opposite direction for the past forty years.  I would also submit that if you get the kids moving, you will greatly reduce the ADD/ADHD issues.

bu22
bu22

@Lee_CPA2 ADD/ADHD symptoms-not issues.  The problem is still there, just mitigated by getting them moving.

CSpinks
CSpinks

Children are not sedentary by nature. Rather, they are playful beings. Why should we be surprised when they learn poorly when required to sit in classrooms all day long? More outdoor recesses, anyone?


Oops, I forgot. The school board attorneys remind us that children can get hurt while playing outside. And we all know what injuries mean, don't we?

Cere
Cere

Spot on. Schools are not conducive to learning for boys in general. Oddly, this keeps getting worse and worse as the school days grow longer, school years grow longer, recesses and physical time grows shorter and testing becomes excruciating torture.