Around the nation for the past 10-plus years, the educational battle cry has been No Child Left Behind. While there are many programs, federal and state dollars are being spent to focus energy on closing the achievement gap. I would argue that there is a large population of student that gets lost in the statistical analysis of student success—our boys.
Since the inception of the schoolhouse, there has always been a debate around how to educate our children. Over the past 15 years, there has been much discussion around gender difference and learning in our schools. Many books have been published on this subject by people such as Dr. Leonard Sax, Dr. Michael Gurian, and Dr. Michael Thompson. More recently, there was an article in the Washington Post regarding the success of boys in our schools.
As a continuation high school principal and PLC advocate, the question of educating our boys is always on the forefront of my mind. The demographics at my school show us to be culturally, racially, and socioeconomically diverse; however, we are not diverse when it comes to gender. Eighty-five percent of my student population is made up of boys who have been failed by our educational system.
As I work with the students on my campus, I think of No Child Left Behind and ask myself, what happened? I have seen so many programs come and go with some level of success, but how do we create a culture that ensures all students learn and, more specifically, how are we actively connecting and engaging our boys in the learning process? How do we form a connection that helps our boys learn? How do we help teach resiliency so that our boys have the skills and tools to be successful in a system that can seem stacked against them?
Boys do not always clearly communicate their feelings (my wife tells me it doesn’t get better as we grow older!) The third essential question of a PLC (What do we do when they don’t learn?) gets at the heart of helping us address our forgotten population, and we cannot afford our boys to be a forgotten statistic. This question allows educators to delve into why our boys are not successful and help them discover how they can best learn. More importantly, it allows us to create meaningful connections that can help our boys develop the resiliency to persevere.
So what are some ways to connect with all students, more specifically our boys? Here is a quick list of things that I have tried or observed in the classroom to help our boys engage with their learning:
- Greet students at the door and again as they leave; this helps set the tone for respect and makes it clear that learning will be happening.
- Build in activities that promote movement (for example, “pose” a vocabulary word, gallery walks, “cross-class” partner, collaboration groups).
- Use kinetic/tactile learning for a great way to gain engagement in a learning activity.
- Allow alternative assessments to demonstrate mastery (for example, video design, rap lyrics, a model or diagram).
- Structure lessons that require both competition and teamwork.
- Have lesson outcomes end in a product (for example, a booklet, model, video, physical structure).
Ask any of our boys about their teachers and they will tell you what makes the difference for them is connecting to the material, but more importantly, connecting to the adult who is making the learning relevant to them. While some would say that this is an innate skill that only some of the most skilled teachers possess, I believe connection is a skill that can be developed through the PLC process. For the success of our boys (and for all), we need to form those appropriate connections to ensure all students learn at high levels.