Engaging Boys in Learning

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Next edition in Connect: Ten things girls need to thrive at school.

There has been a great deal of talk and research about engaging boys in learning, especially in schools.

A lot of attention has focused on the differences in the brains between boys and girls. What this research has found is that boys’ brains are wired to be more spatially focused as well as kinaesthetic, while girls’ brains are wired to be more verbal and emotive.

So what does this mean in terms of learning? What teachers might see are boys fidgeting and restless in the classroom, so the assumption is that they are not engaged.

While girls might chat on their phones with their friends on social media, but be more cautious when it comes to learning more important computer skills.

The implications of all the studies and research is that schools, teachers, and parents must be more aware that boys and girls have varied learning styles.

With this in mind, I have created the Top 10 ways to engage your boys in learning. So, in no particular order, here are some ways to encourage engagement for boys of almost any age.

1. Positive Male Role Models: Male students need to have positive male role models that show they value education and learning/reading, this doesn’t always need to be a teacher, it could be a family member (father, grandfather, uncle, brother) or coach.

2. Make learning less “school like”: Often male students may “resist” homework or schoolwork because they view it as a school expectation. However, when the context for learning is shifted they are more willing to invest and engage in the learning process.

3. Find their interests and capitalise on them: This is a number one idea for all learners, when parents and schools find the interests of their learners the engagement is much higher.

4. Making learning an “active” process: There has been a lot of research for everyone about moving more. Adults are told we should move more at work, and how many “standing” desks have you seen recently? Now imagine being in a school and sitting in class all day. It is important to recognise boys in particular need to be moving more during the learning process.

5. Provide Choice: Popular children’s author Jon Scieszka (www.guysread.com) has said that it is important to provide boys with a choice in what they read. The same is true for learning. If boys have multiple options for a task even if they are very similar there is more “buy in” as they feel at least they have a choice with what they are learning.

6. Provide social opportunities: Just like making sure male learners are moving, it is important that they have a chance to socialise through the learning. From a literacy perspective one way to do this is to have all-boy book clubs. This idea would promote reading and connects to a number of the other tips as well (for example, numbers 1, 2, 3 and 5).

7. Welcome different text types: After I wrote my book Best Books for Boys I had a number of adults come to me and say, “this is wonderful, but my (insert male figure here) does not “read” and I always responded, they don’t read at all? And then I would find out they read magazines, or newspapers, or online text. We need to expand our definition of “reading” and make sure all text types are recognised and accepted.

8. Make connections in their learning and previous learning: With the focus on inquiry-based learning, this is easier to help learners see connections in their learning, capitalise on their interests, and give them choices too.

9. Embrace the humour: Boys of all ages have a unique sense of humour. It is important that adults are able to embrace the humour whether it be bad puns or even the fart jokes. By not shying away from the humour you are validating their humour and what they appreciate (and sometimes you might get a good laugh as well, and laughter of course, is the best medicine).

10. Recognise that we are all learners: Remember the old saying, “you learn something new every day?” It is important that male students understand that learning is fun and we all do it every day of our lives even after the school experience is over.

I hope that these ten ideas give you a bit of insight into the young males in your lives and help you to continue to engage them in their learning.