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Do Boys Learn Differently? (Nassau Guardian)
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Posted by:Mar 2nd 2005, 02:18:33 pm
Fig Tree News TeamDo boys learn differently?
Finding an alternative to male underachievement

By Thea Rutherford, Guardian Staff Reporter

Mrs Adderley raises her hands up before her class of sixth grade boys and forms numbers and addition and subtraction signs with her fingers.

The 26 boys in her class are seated at tables grouped together and surrounded by brightly coloured bulletin boards separating them from the mixed grade 6 classes. They quietly focus on Adderley's shifting fingers and try to determine the answer to the silent math problem that she signs. After a few minutes of attentive watching, a student solves the sum. "Here's my mathematician!" she says rewarding him with a playful rub of the head.

Adderley holds an engaging interactive silent math session, a technique she learned in her course at Nova, with her all-male class at Stephen Dillet Primary. Part of a pilot programme established in 1999 when the boys were in grade 1 called "Taking Stock in Our Boys", the mostly 11- and 12-year-old boys have never shared a classroom with girls.

Although males and females were exposed to basically the same type of instruction and opportunity, says Leonora Black, the boys were being out-distanced by the girls. Currently the Northeastern District Superintendent at the Ministry of Education, Black was principal of Stephen Dillet when she spearheaded the establishment of the all-male learning initiative six years ago.

With the disparity between male and female academic performance as one that has often been observed and noted, Mrs Black and her team at the school investigated the underlying factors that may explain the phenomenon. They found that the disparity between males and females was not just a matter of attainment, but that boys were falling behind in school attendance and enrolment as well. There were more boys repeating and more boys dropping out of school.

And while birthrates showed that more male babies are born than females though males are more susceptible to disease as infants and later accidents and early death due to lifestyle, these factors did not sufficiently explain the drop in the number of boys in school from the primary to the senior level. "Somewhere along the line we would have lost quite a number of males," notes the district superintendent.

Having identified the trends, the all-male initiative at the school became a proactive way of beginning to effectively tackle the problem of perceived male academic underachievement at the primary school level. Black's passion for the programme was born of a personal interest and concern for males. A mother of 3 sons herself, the former principal says, "I knew that boys didn't have to fall by the way."

she continues, what people observe as disruptiveness in the classroom by male students, is simply boredom. The bottom line, Black and her team discovered, is that boys learn differently from girls. "We were teaching them [boys] using a strategy that doesn't fit their learning styles," says Mrs Black. "While girls are contented to sit at a desk, it is not natural for boys. Boys like cooperative learning and working with peers. You teach them through activities that may be considered play." She adds: "They like to do."

Elrico Knowles, a 10-year-old student in Mrs Adderley's all-male class at Stephen Dillet vividly recounts such a class. The boys learned to make graphs, pictographs and tally sheets in an interactive, outdoor exercise.

"We made a tally sheet," says Knowles excitedly. "Two people in the group counted cars, trucks and jeeps driving past. We made a long tally sheet and everyone had to join in." Exclaims the 10-year-old, "It was fun that everyone had to join in."

A marked difference

Other studies have found that there is in fact a marked difference in the way boys and girls process information. A September 20, 2004 report in the Detroit News entitled "Boys, Girls Learn in Different Ways: Parents, Teachers Hear how to Reach Each Group" notes some of the findings of American social philosopher, therapist and author, Michael Gurian who has done research in neurobiology and how the brain works in each gender.

Gurian's findings showed that teaching boys in a lecture-like manner could prove ineffective due to the fact that the male brain doesn't take in as many words as the female brain. The researcher cites this reason for why boys won't process as much when lectured to.

At Program SURE, a special school established in 1992 under the Ministry of Education for boys who have fallen behind for disciplinary or substance abuse problems in the mainstream school system, the boys are 'lectured' in an interactive way.

In a class of just 8 students, the school itself has less than 50 students, the boys openly respond in a dialogue-like format as Father Sebastian Campbell teaches them about Emancipation in their social studies class, that may be construed as disruptive in a traditional setting.

The boys are encouraged to express themselves and be vocal through the duration of the lesson. They use real-life examples to relate to what they are learning while talking through the lesson with their teacher. They even correct each other as each boy offers a verbal response at some point in the lesson.

"Father uses the responses as a teaching tool," explains the school's principal, Joseph Rolle. Says Rolle, the boys are less violent when they can express themselves.

Curriculum building for some subjects at the Ministry of Education looks towards finding ways to make lessons attractive to male students. Says Senior Education Officer responsible for the social sciences, Sharon Poitier, "We use examples that boys would readily relate to." In teaching mapping skills, Poitier offers, instead of asking students, boys in particular, to look at the distance between Los Angeles and Miami, they ask them to look at the distance that the Lakers have to travel to play the Heat. "We found that it [the strategy] helped quite a bit," she reports.

In the Language Arts at the primary school level, the Ministry has just published its own textbooks for grades 4 to 6 that teach the subject and include topics that boys find interesting.

Mrs Black identifies a difference in even the way that boys and girls are cared for that ranges from cleanliness to illnesses that shows favour towards girls. School psychologist at the Ministry of Education, Sterling Gardiner agrees with this perception. Gardiner notes that on taking a look at the inner-city, boys largely make up the children that are seen on the streets during the evening and at night.

"We place more limits on girls, steering them in the right direction right away," says the school psychologist. But in a number of cases, boys are left unchecked. Gardiner also notes a flaw in the remedial education system that ends up tracking girls in info-tech and business administration jobs and boys in the vocational areas. While he calls this tendency an unintentional one that can be attributed to a societal mentality that some jobs are for boy and others are for girls, Gardiner views the tendency as one in need of amelioration.

"Girls are put on track to be studious and go up the ladder," he says. But what about the boys?

Since its inception, the all-male initiative at Stephen Dillet Primary has grown and proven to be a positive experience for its students. Each grade has one all-male group and the concept has spread to a few other schools on the island and in Grand Bahama, says Mrs Black.

While the programme has yielded positive results, the school's guidance counsellor, Sinah Skinner-Major, and sixth grade teacher Brendamae Adderley, agree that there are necessary ingredients that it lacks. The number one ingredient lacking in the all-male group, both state, is a male classroom teacher.

The lack of male teachers is a deficiency that schools deal with nationwide. Mrs Adderley and Mrs Skinner-Major are among other who conclude that salary plays a major role in deterring males from the profession in the country. But the presence of males in the classroom, particularly in such all-male initiatives as the one at Stephen Dillet, is crucial. "A female can't teach a man how to be a man," says Mrs Adderley. "Most of the boys have mummies and a female influence all around them."

In spite of the shortage, Skinner-Major says, "Mrs Adderley is very good for them." She creates a motherly atmosphere and is concerned about their morality, Mrs Skinner-Major adds. But both feel that a male classroom teacher would be ideal.

The boys admit themselves though, that the experience has been an enjoyable one for them. "Learning is fun, the boys don't disturb you. You could do your work. It's quiet," says Jhadem Smith, 13, a student in the group.

Yet, in a few months, they will have to enter a co-ed environment in junior high school that will be completely new for them. Some of the boys are expectant. Says an eloquent 11-year-old Denzil Wells, "I think it'll be a nice experience. I'm ready to go back in class with girls and boys mixed."

But Dominique Joseph, also 11, is not so sure. "I feel like it will be kind of strange," he says of the mixed class. "I might call the girls by my friends' names," he smiles shyly.

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