How do we motivate boys to learn to read and write?
Ben was six. Before walking into my classroom for the first time I already knew he had an anger issue, he was disruptive, and he was not showing progress as he should.
On meeting him, I immediately liked him. He communicated directly, contributed to group discussions, and while he did get easily angered when frustrated, he was also able to take on board some simple behavioral techniques to manage his emotions.
But he was not at all interested in reading.
As he turned headed towards seven, he was put forward for special reading assistance. Nothing was making an impact, so I sat down with him and asked him one very simple question, “Ben, don’t you want to learn how to read?”
His answer? “It’s not that I don’t want to. It’s that I don’t need to.”
I was shocked—of course he needed to read! So I asked him why he believed it wasn’t so important.
He replied, “I’m going to be a builder when I grow up, and builders don’t need to know how to read.”
I was a little dumbstruck. Ben wasn’t lazy, or slow as others had thought. Instead he was envisioned, focused and choosing to put his energy into the things he believed mattered.
There was an easy fix for this—I invited a builder to come into the school and talk t him about why he needed to read for his job, and how it helped him every day, and Ben was a changed boy.
Within ten weeks he was not only reading on a par with his peers, but was in the top reading group, and much of his frustrated behavior also reduced.
Part of the issue with many boys in education is that they are often driven to seek the higher purpose of a task. A girl tends to be driven by a desire to please—her survival process (whether we like it or not), is to keep the adult who is responsible for her on her side, and she does this by being compliant, and willing to do what is asked of her. This fits our education system far better than a boy’s all too common desire to survive through independence, and exploration.
A boy needs to know why. What is the reason for learning this? Does it fit in with his plan? He’s not particularly interested in YOUR plan, if it’s not in line with HIS plan. We need to create a need for him, before we provide the solution.
In early years this can be helped by adding clipboards, and paper and pens to the process before letting boys loose with carpentry tools, or with blocks or Lego. Give them the option of drawing down their ideas. Help them make lists of the materials they might need, and help them get to a point where they are frustrated that they can’t record their findings the way they need to during a scientific process, because they cannot not yet write. Through that haze of frustration, we can provide them the solution of teaching them how to read and write.
We need to tap into the types of books and writing young boys love. Create signs to tell birds to keep off the garden, or create books made of photos of thier favorite Lego creations, or block work, with their pointers of how they created them. (Boys’ art tends to be non-permanent creations, whereas girls’ art tends to be beautifully two dimensional, and far easier to keep and store.) Use non fiction books as reference books and the internet to explore fascinations.
Instead of us trying to fit boys into a girl styled education system, let’s reshape the process to fit them and how they learn best. Isn’t that what teaching to the individual needs is all about?
Read more in Education.
Image credit: woodleywonderworks/Flickr