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Helping Boys to Blossom: 10 Tips for Teaching Boys

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Photo of Alison Smith
Updated | 4 min read

Supporting Intellectual, Social and Emotional Growth

If you’re anything like me, you carry a deep desire to help all students blossom intellectually, socially and emotionally. While we all agree that stereotyping is a ‘no-go’ area, in order to achieve the best outcomes in classrooms it is imperative for teachers to be aware of the different learning needs and styles of boys and girls. My interest in this field of thinking originates from my experience of teaching at all boys schools. During this time, I saw firsthand the positive impact of adjusting learning experiences and my approach to teaching to accommodate the specific needs of boys.

The Differences Between Boys and Girls

So what is the difference between boys and girls? With the advances in medical imaging technology such as PET scans we now have a greater understanding of the physiological differences between boys and girls.

The list of physiological differences between boys and girls is a long one. But, in a nutshell, the area of the brain devoted to spatial, mechanical functioning is larger in boys than in girls and the area devoted to verbal and emotional functioning is smaller.

As a result, boys generally develop spatial memory earlier than girls, while girls generally develop language skills, emotional intelligence and fine motor earlier than boys.

I was very interested to learn that, generally, boys have 35% less hearing than girls. Maybe this adds to the number of reasons why we might need to repeat our instructions? You’ve probably already worked out that boys tend to find transitions particularly challenging and that girls can multitask more easily than boys. You might have noticed that many boys prefer to deal with stress on their own and avoid asking for help? These are typical male emotional responses that stem from their genetic makeup.

Coping with Hormones

Testosterone

The big ‘T’ has a lot to answer for! The hormone testosterone is linked to boys finding it hard to stay sedentary for long periods of time. Testosterone has also been linked to lower levels of emotional intelligence and to aggressive behaviour. Girls have testosterone too, but generally, boys have a far greater amount.

Serotonin

Have you heard of the feel-good hormone serotonin? Serotonin is the hormone that sends messages between your brain and your body. It helps us to deal with big emotions, to stay calm and to feel confident and happy. Serotonin also helps us to regulate body temperature, sensory processing and to promote the onset of sleep.

The male brain secrets far less serotonin than the female brain. Research has shown that lower levels of serotonin can be linked to impulsiveness, irritability and aggression. So, when we put these facts together and reflect on our experience of teaching boys, things start to make more sense. The best news is that exercise can have a very positive influence on serotonin levels. So yes, you’ve guessed it- it’s time to get everyone; boys, girls and teachers moving!

Characteristics of Highly Sensitive Boys

Did you know that research has shown that 20% of the population, boys and girls, have a sensitive nervous system? This means that one in five boys has a finely tuned nervous system that is highly sensitive.

A highly sensitive boy may be:

  • acutely aware of the environment around him
  • highly sensitive to smell, touch, taste and noise
  • overwhelmed by new experiences, crowds and a busy classroom
  • deeply affected by experiences, words, his emotions and the feelings of others
  • reluctant to be involved in aggressive situations.
  • highly creative and imaginative
  • highly articulate
  • happy in their own company in a quiet space
  • gifted in a particular area of interest.

Ultimately, it is this sensitivity that will be one of his greatest strengths. It is our professional duty to look out for highly sensitive boys, to be mindful of their needs and to support them.


10 Tips for Teaching Boys

Here are some of my top strategies for making boys blossom intellectually, socially and emotionally:

  1. Swap a worksheet for a hands-on, kinesthetic or STEM learning experience.
  2. Involve and engage boys in the learning process by allowing them to have input, share ideas and set their own goals.
  3. Increase the use of graphics, images and technology.
  4. Support writing by using non-verbal planning tools such graphic organisers and storyboards.
  5. Include project-based learning in your programming.

  6. Build in some healthy competition through activities such as debating, goal-based learning experiences and games.
  7. Allow students to choose their own writing topics, research subjects and reading material (including comics, magazines and graphic novels).
  8. Incorporate physical activity and regular brain breaks into lessons.
    – Pushing and pulling movements help to exert energy and regulate the nervous system.
    – Try asking the students to rearrange the classroom furniture.
    – Ask the students to hold the ‘plank position’ for 1 minute for an instant, pretty much anywhere, anytime brain break and a core workout.
  9. Include mindfulness activities to help students to regulate their emotions.
  10. Provide teacher support for sensitive boys, seeking guidance from the school counsellor if necessary.

Teaching boys is an incredibly rewarding experience. There is nothing better than the feeling that comes when we make a connection with our students and see them shine. Meeting the specific teaching and learning needs of boys means setting them up for success and nurturing their self-esteem, self-confidence and resilience.

So give it a go and try to build one or two of my ten tips for teaching boys into your daily practice.

Remember that small steps can get big results.


References:

  • http://www.ascd.org/ascd-express/vol6/604-gurian.aspx
  • ACEL e-Teaching Management Strategies For The Classroom -September 2016
  • https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/blog/creative-development/201201/the-highly-sensitive-boy

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