How Boys Learn

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I enjoy working with boys in my classroom and have always had an interest in how they engage in learning and how their performance can be maximised. There is a lot of research about the differences between the learning of boys and girls and the gap between boys achievement in exams is well publicised. 

My interest in this area was triggered by the fact that my specialism within D&T is textiles which is often perceived as a subject for girls. This developed in me a real passion for combating stereotyped option choices as well as a desire to identify what engaged boys in learning. This interest has grown over the years and I now have a strong interest in the learning of boys in any subject area. 

Many of the training workshops I run related to teaching and learning (both D&T and non D&T courses) feature some of the strategies I have developed that are successful with boys.  

How boys learn

My classroom experience working with boys agrees with the vast amount of research that says that boys do learn differently to girls (although I am always wary of just jumping to this conclusion and it is important to keep an open mind at all times). In my teaching I have developed a range of strategies that work well with boys across all areas of D&T and some of these are highlighted in a presentation I did for the D&T Assciation. Click on the link below for more details. 

Boys will be boys presentation

As well as developing gender specific strategies I have also become a strong advocate of, where possible, creating a learning environment that works for both genders. I strive to create an accessible classroom for all where individuals can choose the right path for them no matter what their gender. This is based on my experiences where strategies I developed for boys also worked well for certain types of girls and vice versa. This resulted in a shift in how I thought about the learning of both boys and girls with me focusing on the different ways learning can take place rather than just on gender differences.  

Whilst I do still have a 'toolkit' of gender specific strategies my aim is not to think in a gender specific way as much as possible. This has meant a shift in my thinking and in my actions in a classroom. When planning and delivering lessons I try to use focus areas that will appeal to both genders but in different ways. I also monitor my use of language to ensure I avoid gender specific examples or at least give examples of both. In addition I monitor my interactions with boys and girls particularly in relation to behaviour management. 

An example of a strategy I have developed that focuses on maximising the learning of both genders is Speed Designing. This is a strategy that develops independence, ownership and pace of work allowing individuals to discover the learning style that works for them. Although, as the name suggests, this was originally a strategy developed for designing, it is one that can be used in other areas of learning as well. 

More information on Speed Designing can be found as part of a presentation produced for the D&T Association. Click on the link below for more details. 

Speed Designing (see beginning of presentation)

Here are my top 10 tips on working with boys:

Here are my top 10 tips on working with boys:

  1. Give learning a purpose by showing them the big picture 
  2. Relate boys learning to their experiences & choose resources with this in mind 
  3. Make learning active by allowing boys the opportunity to explore ideas through problem solving & an iterative approach (& teach theory through practical as much as possible)
  4. Use a variety of learning styles & multi sensory approaches as well as building in competition and humour
  5. Provide boys with choice and ask them what would support their learning
  6. Give opportunities for talking, particularly based around the things boys are weak at, as this helps them practise these skills 
  7. Develop boys skills by explicitly developing key skills and teaching strategies in areas where boys are perceived as being weaker e.g. memory skills, thinking skills, planning and organising, evaluation
  8. Break down learning into clear steps to encourage boys to experience success and to them giving up quickly
  9. Give instant feedback and spontaneous specific praise and as this builds on small successes and develops self esteem 
  10. Teach as if you have boys even if you don’t as this helps you embed boy friendly habits. When planning projects choose ones that will suit boys as they generally appeal to girls (but this is rarely the case the other way round)

The courses I run on how boys learn provide support on how to actively achieve these points in the classroom in an engaging way. Click here to see courses that are available or email to request a date to be added to the course calendar. 

Click here to see the work I have done in textiles challenging gender stereotypes

Recommended Reading

The following are resources I have read over the years that have influenced my thinking on the learning of boys:

NEALLE, L., 2002. Bringing out the best in boys. Stroud: Hawthorn Press.

This book was a particularly big inspiration in my work & is if you only read one book on boys this should be it

Ed. BLEACH, K., 2000. Raising achievement in schools. Stoke on Trent: Trentham Books 

HARTLEY-BREWER, E., 2001. Ebury Press

BIDDULPH, S., Raising boys 1998. London: Thorsons

KINDLON, D., & THOMPSON, M., Raising Cain, 1999. London: Penguin

Recommended Links

Raising Boys’ Achievement Project 2000-2004 

Gender & Education DFE document                                     

Raising boys’ achievement in D&T 

David Spendlove article on D&T 

Video – The Trouble With Boys 

TES article on gender stereotyping 

TES article on gender in primates 

Click here to see courses linked to the learning of boys or email to request a date to be added to the course calendar. 

Return to the main Let’s Learn page to see all resources for teachers & students

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