Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The difference between boys and girls?

Do boys and girls learn differently? This is a question not often asked about teaching and learning. Maybe it is time to give the issue some thought?

While presenting to a local group of secondary principal the ideas of Dr Leonard Saxs came up. Just recently he was talking on national radio about his ideas about learning differences between boys and girls and, in particular, the need for single sex schools to ensure boys realize their potential.

I can see his research being eagerly grabbed by principals and parents who believe in the more traditional single sex secondary schools.

There is no doubt too many boys are failing in our schools , and from an early age. With this in mind the ideas of Dr Sax need to be examined even if one does not believe in segregated education.

Up until now it has been assumed any differences were cultural and that co-educational schools were the appropriate approach to help all students. Co-education was made the legal approach in American in 1964 to avoid discrimination by any means including gender. Differences were then believed culturally derived or socially constructed. There were no innate differences.

Today new research on the brain throws such ideas into doubt.

If boys and girls do learn differently, in what they like to read, how they study, and how they learn, then some major rethinking is required. Reverting to single sex schools doesn't seem, to me, to be the only option which is Dr Sax's position.

The answer could well lie in 'customizing', or 'personalising', learning to suit each learner whether boy or girl, or any learner with any particular spacial need.

Research is now saying sex does matter and that there are immutable differences between boys and girls- that there are genetic differences between the sexes. Girls brains develop faster for starters, even before birth. The brain of a six year old boy looks like the brain of four year old girl - men evidently don't catch up until they are in their thirties! Emotional development is different in boys and girls brains- it is more evolved in girls. With their rapid brain development girls acquire language skills more readily. Boys, forced to read too early, begin to fail. Girls are currently getting better grades than boys in all areas, including maths.

As well girls thrive in collaborative learning situations and boys are more motivated by competitive environments with clearly defined winners and losers.Different reading preferences of girls and boys are well known.

My view is that if schools continue in their traditional mode then single sex schools may well be an answer but not the right one. One has to ask what competencies will students need in the future to thrive. Maybe the boys will have to learn new future attributes if they are to thrive . In the meantime there are enough competitive organisations, sports and occupations to absorb them - but not forever. Ritalin seems to be another solution- one that does nor face up to the real cause of boys behaviour. Single sex schools are at best a temporary solution and will only be under real threat when traditional secondary schools ( with their genesis in a past industrial age) transform themselves into 'learning communities' dedicated to creating the conditions to develop the gifts, talents and passions of all learners.

Will secondary schools be up to the challenge?


Anonymous said...

Very interesting - must do a google search about Dr Saxs.I agree with your conclusions - the need to personalise learning

Anonymous said...

Some interesting points Bruce.

I am a little skeptical of some of these research findings however. Many boys in our school love to read and write as much as any of the girls. It usually comes down to the skill of the teacher and their enthusiasm / creativity.

One of the real problems is the low number of men actually teaching our children. Boys need men around them to lead them and show them how a man behaves.

Another problem boys face is that we do not teach PE like we used to. All children need regular PE lessons to learn skills and also to learn how to take part in teams, how to win and lose and know about commitment and perseverance.

Some good food for thought Bruce. Last day tomorrow then a couple of weeks off.

Bruce Hammonds said...

Skeptical or not Tom there will be those who will jump on Dr Sax's research - and his support for single sex schools. I agree with you that it comes down to the skill ( or philosophy) of the teacher and his or her dedication to valuing the learning identity of all students. Tne opportunities you mention are being squeezed out of schools( PE, the creative arts, oudoor experiential learning etc) by an increasing emphasis on narrow testable 'targets' - particularly in the USA and UK. This is not good for more active learners, boys or girls, and contributes to rising numbers of ADD students ( mainly boys).

Have a great break Tom - have enjoyed your comments.

Anonymous said...

Traditional secondary schools are simply not up to the challenge - at best they can only 'improve' a faulty model of education; a model with it's genesis in 19th Century industrialism.