Are Your Male Students as Wild as Unruly Elephant Calves?

Written By aperkins

On June 15, 2010

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Last month I touched on the topic of males as readers in my blog post Snakes, Snails, and Puppy Dog Tails. The research I interesting to me and motivated me to read more. I skimmed and scanned Boys and Girls Learn Differently! by Michael Gurian. boys_and_girl_learn_differently_p_and_aThis brain-based research informs teachers how to improve student performance by first understanding how the brain works.

Here are some points made in this teacher and parent guidebook:

1. Boys see better in bright light verses girls who see better in dim light. Also correlates to why boys are less sensitive to the sun than girls. Consider how this is important in classroom design and classroom instruction.

2. Boys do not hear as well as girls. Interesting Fact: girls are 6 Xs more likely to sing in tune over boys. Consider this when positioning boys in relation to teacher position, speakers, etc.

3. Testosterone hormone has direct impact on boy behavior because it is an aggression-inducing chemical. 69% of middle schools males interviewed said fighting is the best conflict resolution. This is why physical education is so important for males. It teaches them to self-manage testosterone. Maybe even makes an argument for mandatory sports? This aggression also has them wanting to show off for girls. This is why separating boys from girls is important. The separation could be in groups, classrooms or even in lunchroom. The book talks about how many lunchroom discipline problems arise and how removing the girls from the boys will minimize these problems. Hmmm…boys go through puberty within the window of 9-15 and the changes can take up to four years. Wow!!!

4. Boys have a far greater academic success rate after puberty. Another wow for me! Eighth-grade boys are 50% more likely to be held back at 8th grade than an eighth-grade girl. IQ scores for boys rise dramatically from ages 14-16. (Side Note: Performance on writing exam drops by 14% for females during menstrual cycle; interesting.)

5. Boys are spatial and therefore tend to take up more space in a class. Boys like to stretch out arms, legs, have space between each other. Important to honor this because movement helps to stimulate brain and relieve impulsive behavior. The spacing allows a boy to self-manage his need to kick, flick, or pick on someone close by. The book also suggests routine 60 second movement breaks for males.

6. Boys are more developed in the brain’s right hemisphere. Therefore, they tend to do better with symbolic texts, diagrams, and graphs. Consider a literature class. Girls tend to ponder the emotional workings of a character where as a boy tends to focus on author’s symbolism and imagery patterns.

7. Boys benefit from character education that’s absorbed into all classes. Boys need practice with peer-dilemmas scenarios to learn how to appropriately respond to situations. Important middle school teachers take time to mentor these students. Their first reaction is to fight so we have to equip them with more appropriate reactions.

8. Boys may try to become an Alpha and dominate and destroy. Why do they do this? Interesting analogy. A group of young elephants had been brought up in Africa without parents. When their testosterone came in, they began killing rhinos (not usual behavior) and trying to mate inappopriately. Park warden ordered them be put to sleep until a ranger suggested these adolescent elephants needed elder elephants to act as role models. Without guidance from elders, the elephants were following their hormonal pressures without guidance, much like our young boys. After a week of bringing in the elder elephants, the inappropriate behaviors stopped. How does this transfer to our students? Provide mentors. The Alpha research also supports a need for dress code because boys will dress toward dominance strategies (gang, hip-hop).

9. As boys are learning to manage their hormones, schools can help by managing their diets. Switch out processed foods for natural foods like vegetables, nuts, instant oatmeals, granola bars, air-popped popcorn, hard-boiled eggs, low-fat yogurt, low-fat cottage cheese, fresh/fronzen/dried fruit, reduced-fat cheese, whole grain crackers, peanut butter, healthy cereals.

What I most appreciate about the book is that the author does not stop with the biological research but closes with practical solutions and applications. The book would make for an interesting book study for parents, teachers, and administrators looking for brain-based instructional approaches.