Teaching Boys to Prosper in the Modern World

Teaching Boys to Prosper in the Modern World

Education authorities are waking up to the fact that there is a collective failure to provide a suitable education that engages boys.

The latest 1019 NAPLAN results in Australia point out a specific problem with Year 9 students, particularly boys.

It is the tip of the iceberg.

Statistics tell us the following: ·

  • Boys repeat year levels at twice the rate of girls. ·
  • They are expelled from preschool at five times the rate of girls. ·
  • Boys are diagnosed with attention deficit disorders and learning disorders four times the rate of girls. ·
  • They receive lower grades than girls and do less homework than girls. ·
  • They drop out of school more often than girls. ·
  • They make up 43 per cent of college and university students. ·
  • Boys behaviour is regarded as harder to control than girls. ·
  • Boys lack concentration in class

A study, 'Teaching Boys: A Global Study of Effective Practices’, published in 2009 by Dr Michael Reichert and Dr Richard Hawley outline eight categories of instruction that succeeded in teaching boys.

Lessons are more useful when they include one or more of these elements:

1. Producing an end product such as a booklet, poem or comic strip.

2. Competitive games.

3. Movement of some sort.

4. Some responsibility for the learning of others.

5. Open-ended questions or unsolved problems.

6. Teamwork and some form of competition.

7. Independent personal discovery and realisation.

8. Drama in the form of novelty or surprise.

It seems that the most effective, way to teach boys is to take advantage of their high energy, curiosity and thirst for competition.

However, don't pigeonhole girls. They can benefit as well from this approach.

They are expected to behave quietly.

According to Reichert and Hawley, "Doing better by all children includes doing better by boys."

"Educators should strive to teach all children, both girls and boys, by acknowledging, rather than dismissing, their particular and distinctive educational needs."

As Richard Melvoin, headmaster at Belmont Hill School in Massachusetts wrote,

"To provide rights and opportunities to girls is important; to call for the diminution of males, to decry their 'toxicity' as [Richard Hawley] has put it so poignantly, has not served boys and girls—or men and women—well"

May we all find ways of understanding even better this complex' piece of work' called man.

" We have known for decades that boys education is faltering. Why has nothing changed?

The relevant people are not willing to take action that's why.

They believe boys are slow starters and will catch up. The brutal reality is they usually don't.

Boys literacy skills lag in the early grades. The problem is ignored.

The focus on college and university education ahead of technical colleges has filtered down to the early primary grades.

The intense focus on developing literacy skills in the first three years of primary school has not given children the time to develop reading readiness skills.

Ignoring child development is commonplace.

The press reports that experts are saying children should learn to read at age three! Some can! Most won't.

I have taught children in the first three years of primary school. I know children do not learn to read at the same age.

Play and hands-on activities are limited. These all contribute to developing reading and writing skills and are necessary.

Literacy skills instruction is also open to question.

Young boy concentrating on reading a book with just his eyes visible over the top as he studies for class

Historically, sexism has protected boys. Girls have received destructive stereotypes. But as sexism diminished in schools, girls began outperforming boys.

Today, the children who don't reach proficiency in any subject on the OECD's Pisa tests – are overwhelmingly boys.

Sexism also encourages boys to fail. Parents often stereotype girls as readers and boys as adventurers.

There is evidence that boys lose motivation around eight years of age.

I  suggest the reason is their struggles with literacy. A boy's illiteracy shows at sixteen when he is deciding on his future career. His opportunities are limited.

Although most workplaces appear to be male-friendly workplaces and schools more girl-friendly, it is not going to remain that way.

Boys play more video games and generally spend more time online. That can give them practical skills, but it can also alienate them from real life.


The boy problem, in comparison to girls, has been overlooked. Possibly because boys from elite homes are not affected.

Men still fare better than women in the workplace.

Boys from disadvantaged homes are not so fortunate. Boys' underperformance is concerning.

Here are some recommendations:

Some suggestions for coping with boys' underperformance ·

More Suggestions for Coping with Boys' Underperformance

  • Be liberal in the choice of reading matter. Reading a sports magazine is much better than reading nothing. ·
  • Do not ignore literacy problems.
  • Arrange for tutoring. ·
  • Give specific attention.
  • Listen to them comment rather than write about what they have read.
  • Ask for their opinion and the reasons or it.
  • Encourage them to relate what they have read to their lives. ·
  • Boys often have limited vocabularies. Encourage speaking up!
  • If they aren't reading, read to them and discuss the content. Play word games and crosswords
  • Regulate the use of video games. ·
  • Check school attention rates. Truancy is a predictor of future problems.
  • Expect punctuality to class.
  • Start the day with something boys won't want to miss. ·
  • Be wary of punishing them for poor grades and misbehaviour. Often, they are linked. ·
  • Don't assume anything.

Boys are not worse than girls at reading and no better at maths. 

 Learning approaches that appeal to boys. (Girls too!)

  • Competition, humour and challenges should be used. ·
  • Provide technical or hands-on experience for boys.

Technical education was once valued. Disposing of it has affected boys in particular. ·

Children need to move around the classroom.

Boys respond to clear expectations. (Girls too!)

Sir John Holman – emeritus chemistry professor at the University of York, senior educationalist and former headteacher of Watford Grammar School for Boys – says boys enjoy organised, high-achieving environments.

"They don't like it when school feels like a waste of time. It's about setting clear expectations: 'What we come here for is to learn."


Francesca Borgonovi is the Senior Policy Analyst, Directorate for Education and Skills at the OECD. When asked how to make classrooms more boy-friendly without disadvantaging girls, she replied: "It's a tough question." She pauses, then: "I'll get back to you.

"Some of education requires the self-regulation and discipline that we value in girls." was her response.

If you would like to receive a monthly copy of my Homeschool Review of primary education you can find out about it HERE