Boys and girls are different – let’s get over it and help them find ways to learn to the best of their genetic and environmental differences. Yesterday I wrote a bit about the intriguing book, Boys and Girls Learn Differently, by Michael Gurian, and highlighted some of these typical gender differences. While not all boys and girls fall into gender typecasting, there is enough scientific and practical data to show that the sooner we recognize the propensity for gender differences, the sooner we can embrace them and help both genders learn and thrive.
How to Help Boys and Girls Learn
Gurian writes of ways to create the ultimate classroom, where children are treated as individuals and their genetic predispositions are recognized. It doesn’t mean that we need to further develop stereotypes, but there are some practical ways we can address typical gender differences in order to help children develop to their fullest potentials.
What? Yes – aggression, when differentiated from violence – is one of the most talked about issues that teachers face, especially with their male students. Statistics show that male students make up 80-90% of discipline problems, and many of these are the results of aggression. Gurian coins the phrase “aggression nurturance” – acknowledging aggression activities that include:
- Physical touch
- Competitive games
- Aggressive non-verbal gestures
Remember – we aren’t talking about aggression in terms of violence. Think about some typical boys you know, perhaps your sons. Are they more likely to nudge shoulders or have consistent eye contact with their buddies? Boys often use aggression in a nurturing way. They use it for bonding, building strength, increasing focus, and raising attentiveness. In our house it is the double-bro-back-tap, knuckles, and thumb wrestling that help the boys communicate with each other – and me. Yes, I too have learned the art of the back-tap, and recognize when the guys need room to move.
Imagine the difference in our classrooms and homes if we learned to mentor aggression, turning it into something valuable, such as services to others (physical work done for those in need). Some ways to incorporate aggression nurturance include:
- Using games that require physical space and touch
- Spending adequate time outside in learning activities
- Allowing for physical bonding, such as high fives, fist bumps, and even hugs (even though some schools don’t even allow this anymore, it does not help solve long-term behavioral issues)
While many parents of boys can probably relate to the aggression issues and accept that nurturing those natural tendencies can be effective, it is important not to dismiss similar needs in some girls. In fact, encouraging stronger physical play and outdoor exploration can help girls nurture that often overlooked side and help develop their confidence in physical skills. Giels should be provided with encouragement to express themselves physically, through sports, competition, and nurturing touch.
Girls are sometimes automatically viewed as the more empathetic gender, but this is not as black and white as it may seem. It is true that girls tend to verbalize emotions more easily than boys, but it doesn’t mean that boys don’t feel empathy – they sometimes just don’t know how to show it. In fact, sometimes girls understand emotions so well that they become adept at manipulating them and using emotions in bullying. We need to raise the emotional IQ of our children, among both the boys and the girls.
- Attach words to actions. “It would make me feel frustrated and ignored if I always got picked last for the team. How do you think it makes Bill feel?”
- Role play and act out scenarios where kids get a chance to think about reactions and emotions without having real consequences before them.
- Keep talking to the boys about emotions, even if they seem to shy away from those conversations.
- Keep girls accountable for respecting the emotions of others.
More Ideas for Better Classrooms
There is no one magical answer for creating our own ultimate classrooms. Many factors, including gender, influence the environments, so we need to consider multiple options for improving educational settings for our children. Not all ideas work in all communities among all ages groups, but there are definitely some that are food for academic thought.
Consider school year round. Summer vacation used to fulfill the need of parents to have children helping at home during this time, and parents were not both working outside of the home at the rates today’s families are. Continuing education at varied pace throughout the year can reduce the breaking of attachments to school staff, friends, and expectations for learning.
Consider multigenerational classrooms, much like Montessori methods. Research shows that children learn infinite amounts from peers who are older and younger. Teachers also benefit from the extra support that older students provide.
Employ teaching teams where teachers have at least one other partner in the classroom. Sometimes there is honestly just not a great bond between certain students and teachers. Using teaching teams would increase the likelihood that students could develop positive relationships with at least one teacher.
Use mentorship programs. Studies show that children who have positive role models are more likely to succeed.
You’ll notice that these ideas are not along the same path – they use different techniques and tactics. That is because by in large, boys and girls are different. When we recognize their differences and work with them instead of against them, those differences can be balanced and beautiful.