Are Schools Failing Our Sons? Why Boys Are Struggling
Should Parents Consider Single-Sex Schools?
The struggle with reading and writing greatly concerns parents as such skills are essential to a successful future. The NAEP reports that though boys and girls have similar preschool experiences, girls seem to have an advantage in early literacy participation experiences. Miller sees the writing gap in his first grade classroom and notes that his female students do seem to learn essential writing skills with greater ease.
“The fine motor skills develop later for boys, and handwriting can become laborious,” he says. As children begin to form letters and learn about the writing process, the child with strong fine motor skills is physically able to write with greater ease. Less time and energy is spent actually forming the letters and words, and the child is able to approach content of the writing more thoughtfully. Those who struggle with fine motor skills early on find writing labor-intensive, directly impacting the quality of the writing content.
Research also indicates that until about ten years ago, most of the literature children were exposed to in the classroom was oriented towards a girl’s learning style. Girls tend to prefer fiction while boys prefer adventure, mystery, sports-related, or non-fiction literature. As a result, boys were less likely to engage in reading for pleasure and were less motivated by the reading material presented within the classroom. This combined with the need for alternative teaching methods to reach and sustain the attention of boys has resulted in a decline in their overall reading scores.
The jury is still out on whether single-sex schools make a difference in boys’ achievement. Single-sex schools may offer teaching methods that support the male learning style and an environment void of the distraction of girls. Recognizing that a co-ed school is a microcosm of society, parents wonder if their boys miss out on vital social interaction that is not available at single-sex schools.
There is, however, some evidence to support that single-sex schools are beneficial. Dr. Pollack writes that “at a well-run boys’ school, boys feel more comfortable and are more confident about their abilities. Therefore they do better in school. In the absence of girls, boys don’t feel as competitive or as vulnerable and thus tend to be less tough on one another.”
Five Additional Steps to Support Your Son
If your son is floundering in school, the best thing you can do is become his advocate and develop a working partnership with his teacher. Many educators recognize the gender gap and will go to great lengths to deliver instruction that benefits all learning styles. Share your concerns with the teacher. Outline what you believe to be your son’s learning style, his interests, and describe what motivates him. Ask the teacher for her observations as well.
1. Inquire about the different hands-on learning and problem-solving opportunities that are part of the school day.
2. Take a look at the classroom library. Are there different genres of literature available? Do you see books that will pique your son’s interest? If not, ask if parents are able to donate books to the classroom library or take books out from the local library to supplement the collection.
3. If your son requires frequent breaks, ask the teacher how she allows for that during the school day. See if your child might be able to use a squeezy ball or fidget toy to help him maintain attention during instruction.
4. Are there alternative ways—such as literacy-based computer programs and games—for boys to engage in literacy activities? If such activities are not available, see if discretionary funds are able to cover the purchase of such materials.
5. Get involved with school-based committees to see how the school administration is dealing with the gender gap issue. If it isn’t receiving much attention, form a committee designed to tackle the specific issues related to the growing gender gap in the classroom.
Though the statistics are unnerving, parents can make a difference in their sons’ education. Evaluate your child’s strengths and work with his teacher and school to see that his needs are being met. Each child learns differently, and ultimately teachers and parents have the same goal: for all children to reach their academic potential. Be aware of learning style differences and advocate for fresh and alternative teaching methods, and your son will indisputably reap the benefits.
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