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How Boys and Girls Learn Differently

2013/09/25

The latest technologies for viewing brain activity are showing just how differently boys and girls think, learn, and even see. As teachers we are taught to think of students as individuals with different needs. But we're not really taught to respect their gender differences. Yet all teachers with a little experience grow to have different expectations for boys and girls.

We tend to think of boys as being like broken girls. Frustrated that they won't sit still, play nice, or listen. Psychotropic drugs are nowadays prescribed in an attempt to reprogram their nature and to get them to sit... down. But boys just tend to be more action-based when learning. Which might have been great back on the farm, or out on the hunt. But it puts them at a disadvantage with their more peaceful, clever, and orderly girl classmates... because it just so happens that these are the traits that are more valued in the classroom.

Most schools separate students by age group. This is meant to reflect physical and mental maturity, and also subject progression. But for some things, like how long a student can sit still, be quiet, listen to directions, and pay attention, the difference between gender groups is larger than that of age groups. Meaning that students of opposite genders are more different  than students of the same gender from a different age group.

There are many exceptions to this rule, like the girl that can't sit still, or the boy who likes to talk things through, and naturally boys and girls can both enjoy the same things. But the latest research and resulting data is so strong that it allows us a couple of interesting generalizations. 

Recently there has been evidence showing that lessons taught with a gender seperation show improvement for both genders. David Chadwell, a single gender education coordinator, explains that boys and girls are very literally differently. For instance, the composition of a male eye focuses on motion and direction. Boys see the possibility of objects to move, and in a way everything is moving for them already. Therefore a teacher for boys should be moving around the room constantly, and try to be that object which grabs their attention. The female eye is drawn to textures and colors, focusing on details, like faces. The teacher for girls should move slower and with pause for focus. Girls usually work well when grouped in circles, with plenty of eye contact, and lot's of colors to attract their eyes.

As for the nervous system, boys are more alert when they are standing and active, and a colder classroom sharpens their senses. Stress, pressure, competition, and challenge increases blood flow to their brains  helping them to stay focused, alert, and interested. But for girls sitting comfortably in warm room without stress or conflict will help them concentrate. Threat and confrontation sends blood to a woman's gut, which makes them feel nervous, anxious, and unfocused.

Girls and boys judge performance and motivation to learn differently as well. Girls tend to try to please adults with their study and good behavior, often gaining interest for a subject based on the positive reinforcement they received from adults. Boys are generally only motivated when they identify with the material for themselves. Boys view their success and failure differently from girls also. If a boy does poorly on a subject, their sense of worth is only affected in relation to that subject. They don't really mind if they're not good at one subject, because they know something else is their speciality. But a girl's sense of worth tends to be more holistic. If a girl does poorly in one subject, it can affect her entire self-worth. Girls generally tend to be more critical and reserved in estimating their abilities. Whereas boys tend to jump the gun, over-estimate, and require the occasional reality check to cut them back down to size.

Please keep these differences in mind when you are teaching. Remember that girls enjoy context, indirect stories, seemingly insignificant details, praise and support. But boys want to get right to point, down to the heart of the matter, blast around the room, and bump heads every once in awhile.

So until the day that it's determined genders should be separated for English classes, maybe the best you can do is to provide a lesson that has a little something for everyone.

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