by Georgia Charter Schools Association
By Rae Anne Harkness
Most people have heard about the decline in educational outcomes for boys and young men that have become more pronounced in recent years. There has also been an increase in research to determine the reasons that girls are outperforming their male counterparts. In fact, according to the author of Reaching Boys, Teaching Boys: Strategies that Work, boys are held back to repeat a grade at twice the rate of girls. They are expelled from preschool five times as often and are diagnosed with learning disorders and/or ADHD more than three times as often as girls.
I do not believe these outcomes have to be the destiny of our boys. This is why I chose to enroll my son in a single-gender charter school.
In a typical American classroom, a teacher spends much of her time lecturing. Students are expected to sit still, listen, take meticulous notes, and speak only when called on. This type of environment is alien to many students, especially boys. Researchers have identified more than 100 differences in the structure of male and female brains. We can’t fix these differences with medical prescriptions, counseling, or disciplinary protocol. To change the outcome, we must find teachers and schools that meet our boys as they are and teach them in ways that they learn best.
According to Michael Gurian, author of With Boys in Mind/Teaching to the Minds of Boys, there are several brain functions in boys that differ significantly from those in girls. The male brain has more area for spatial-mechanical functioning, while the female brain dominates verbal-emotive processing. Because of the way their brains are wired, boys tend to use fewer words than girls. Another difference in brain function is in the frontal lobe development. This part of the brain, which controls reading, writing and impulse control develops at a later age in boys. As a result, many young boys are misdiagnosed with learning disabilities or punished for behavior problems.
Another major inconsistency between the brains of boys and girls is in the neural rest state. Boys’ brains drift into a rest state multiple times each day. Boys often try to fight it by tapping a pencil or ruler or talking to another student. If the brain does enter a rest state, some of his brain functioning shuts down. This phenomenon does not happen to a significant extent in female students, who tend to remain alert even when bored.
A last major difference in brain function between the sexes is in the way the hemispheres of the brain communicate. The brains of girls send signals back and forth, making them naturals at multi-tasking. The compartmentalized activity in the brains of boys give them laser-like focus to follow a task step by step. If interrupted or when too many things are going on at one time, boys may become irritable and start to act out.
These major differences in the way the brains of boys and girls function should create increased demand and growth opportunity for new charter schools that offer single-gender learning environments. When single gender schools hire motivated, competent teachers and ensure they have adequate training in the best teaching practices for boys, the bias of “boy behavior” disappears. The complaints that our boys “won’t sit still, pay attention and do their work” can be conquered with simple, specific strategies. A global study published in 2009 collected data for boys in the US and five other countries. Included were data from schools of all sizes, both public and private and various races and income levels. The study identified the top eight categories of instruction that succeeded in the instruction of boys:
1. Lessons that result in a product (model, poem, drawing)
2. Lessons structured as competitive games
3. Lessons requiring motor activity
4. Lessons engaging boys to help others learn
5. Lessons where open questions or problems are addressed
6. Lessons that require both competition and teamwork
7. Lessons that focus on independent discovery and realization
8. Lessons that include drama as a novelty or surprise
The research I did before enrolling my son in a single gender charter school has empowered me to recognize that single-gender instructional practices are effective for boys when teachers intentionally use them in the classroom. Now that my son gets to write about things he is interested in, he comes home eager to read me his words. When he read the book, “Because of Winn-Dixie,” which has a dog as one of the main characters, he increased his reading speed by more than 25 words per minute.
Our relationship has grown stronger in the time we’ve spent working together on models and projects that he enjoys. Today he marched happily into our home singing a song about the parts of speech. If you have a wiggly, giggly, rambunctious young boy of your own who is struggling in school, you may want to consider enrolling your son in a single-gender charter school as well.
Rae Anne Harkness is a long-time charter school advocate whose son is enrolled at Ivy Preparatory Young Men’s Leadership Academy.
The views and opinions expressed on CharterConfidential are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any agency