There are many barriers to learning for young lads. I have been digging a little deeper only to satisfy my own curiosity and remind myself that a classroom teacher has often got the odds stacked against them if they want achievement for all. Gary Wilson is a heavily-cited educationalist, known for his work on boys achievement. He reckons there are at least 30 different barriers to success for boys. These include early experiences, role models (or lack of strong male role models), poor emotional intelligence, reading without talking first, choice of teacher language and the way teachers interact with boys as opposed to girls. There is no quick fix. Boy-girl seating plans are a short term remedy often inappropriately deployed with little explanation. Single gender work has limited impact mainly because it is not sustainable. Gary Wilson talks about improving chances and preparedness for boys at the earliest opportunity. The work must begin in primary schools and a cross-phase approach is essential.
This sentiment was echoed when I spoke with a Primary Headteacher recently. He suggested something which he described as a little controversial. Put the best teachers with the most difficult boys. Outstanding teachers will ensure the gender gap does not widen. Once they reach secondary school, any gap can’t be closed. The damage has already been done. He then suggested greater sustainable links between primary and secondary schools. Not just taster days or special events but something that is regular, significant and appropriate.
“Boys need challenge; they need structure. They like to solve problems and need tasks to be active and engaging. Create opportunities to talk before writing, create time for reflection and make the work relevant.” – Gary Wilson – Oxford University Press – Project X
In my classroom, I have been using IntoScience (www.intoscience.com). I have noticed increased motivation and engagement from the boys in my Year 8 group (a tough boy-dominated group). This is not just the ‘lads’ but the quieter boys who respond well to working in pairs on some of the challenges and activities. Each task is clearly defined. There are ‘inquiry points’ on offer at each stage and plenty of challenge. They are also keen to follow up at home. The girls love it too!
My work with Primary schools has also meant I have been able to see Empiribox (www.empiribox.org) in action. This is great for boys achievement. Hands-on practical science with plenty of pops, whizzes, bubbles and smells. They get to use scientific language, ask questions and investigate their own ideas. It’s the perfect mix of purpose, autonomy, and mastery.
Useful starting point with some good ideas. Happy to hear more!