Considerable research exists about individual differences in children's preferred learning styles and about boys in education in particular. Disengagement of boys can begin from the earliest years in primary school and becomes very obvious from Grade Three onwards. Some schools are now turning around this tide of disengagement through practical changes to curriculum delivery, changes to the physical environment of the classrooms and changes to the social culture of the school.
Many primary schools provide strong, positive male role models through involvement of fathers, grandfathers and male community members. Involvement can take the form of special days and events such as Grandfathers' Days, and having Dads in to help children in classrooms - a role once believed to be the sole domain of Mums.
Gender specific lessons are provided in many coeducational primary schools. In my school we currently offer gender specific classes in Technology, Mathematics Problem Solving, Library, aspects of the Integrated Curriculum (Social Studies), Physical Education and our Social Skills program.
A group of Year Three students with whom I work were asked about the lighting in the classroom. The majority of the children, especially the boys, told us that they preferred soft, natural lighting rather than artificial, bright lighting. This led us to open curtains and minimize the use of artificial light.
We know that boys love computers and so we have placed our Information and Communication Technology within the learning areas, rather than having it isolated in computer laboratories. In our school this means that children have everyday, ready access to a range of the latest Information and Communication Technologies right there in their classroom. This suits all the children and boys in particular.
Boys generally are competitive, so quizzes and other competitions have become a powerful learning tool in our classrooms. This learning style also suits girls, but a quiz can absolutely engage boys and fire them up to learn.
There is a need to explicitly teach team skills, strategies for cooperation, sharing and being friendly. Our school developed a clear set of values that are explicitly taught and that form the basis of welfare discussions with the children experiencing social and learning difficulties.
Leadership is highly valued within my current school community. As well as having school captains and vice captains that run our house system and sporting events, we also have a high profile student council. This group works closely with a teacher to organise special days, fund raising and to provide a voice for all the students. At each School Council meeting, a representative of our Student Council is present to give a report. This and many other forms of leadership teach the children that they can make a difference and that through working together everyone can become empowered.
Our teachers have developed units of work at each level that are based on Inquiry Learning. Students undertake self assessments, have a say in the questions or areas they want to learn about and have a range of learning styles from which they can choose. Some of these units take the form of a learning matrix that combines levels of thinking with multiple intelligences. This encourages boys in particular to try different styles of learning and it is one way we ensure that all students are catered for.
Within classrooms there are many quite simple changes that can make a difference for many children, especially boys.
Many boys will write really well if given a template as they often seem to be intimidated by a very open ended writing task.
Boys generally prefer to move around while girls don't feel as constrained by sitting for longer periods. Boys also like to fiddle so have a feely ball for them.
Throwing a ball is a way to physically focus on learning. If a child wants to answer a question, the ball is thrown to them.
Oral reporting gives boys a chance to feel good about themselves and to do a great job. Not everything needs to be written!
Time and timing is important. We encourage our teachers to talk to a class for a maximum of ten minutes before there is a change such as group work, brain gym, balance or movement activities.
Boys tend to prefer to build something or talk rather than always have to write. In each of the literacy block sessions our teachers have one learning centre that has a science or activity-based mathematics focus. This particularly engages the boys.
Independent Learning Improvement Plans for the children in the school mean that the teacher, parents and child can work together to set learning goals and then monitor how those goals are being met. These plans will often suggest ways in which significant males can be involved in a child's learning.
The introduction of dance and choir for boys as well as girls, lunch time clubs, and inviting fathers to come to the school to share breakfast with their prep-aged child, are all structured opportunities for adult males to participate in school life. These and many other quite simple things can make the difference between a boy finding school life fun, engaging and worthwhile rather than alienating.
It is important to remember that every child has the right to a fun, fulfilling and successful school day...every day... and that to achieve this it is the adult in the relationship that needs to provide learning opportunities to suit a particular child rather than a program into which all children must fit.
Whatever you might like to try in your school or class it is probably the relationship that the teacher builds with a child that will be the determining factor in the success or otherwise of school for a particular child. The first step is always the hardest so take a close look at a child in your class that might not be going home tomorrow feeling successful at school and take the time to think about what you might do to change that for them. After all, if you don't who will?
Article by Michael Hennessy, Assistant Principal of Kingston Heath Primary School, Victoria.