Building a Boy's
Q. If it's true that boys are falling behind girls in at
least some measurements of academic success, what's the key reason, and what
can be done to reverse that trend?
It's all about the words that a boy knows, can
spell, and is able to use in written and oral communication. A study by the
Rennie Center for Education Research & Policy in Massachusetts indicated
that boys are falling far behind girls in measurements of reading success,
particularly on standardized tests, because they do not have a good grasp of
The finding is alarming, since the
size of one's vocabulary is the single-most important indicator of future
success in school and career.
According to the study, "Are Boys
Making the Grade?" (www.renniecenter.com),
the problem is more severe in large, urban school districts. Sophomore girls
scored significantly higher than boys on the top two statewide tests of
English, with 46% of the girls and only 36% of the boys in the top two performance
Educators suggest these reasons for
n Mostly female teachers
misunderstand normal boys' behavior and treat them as "disruptive" with a
punitive attitude, when in fact they are just expressing that normal boyish
activity. Boys don't feel as supported and cherished as they should, and so
they disengage from the classroom.
n Mostly female teachers
tend to pick stories and novels that are more geared toward the interests of
girls, fearing that action-oriented stories might encourage aggressiveness by
boys. But the boys, as a result of the mismatch between the reading and their
interests, "check out" of reading and miss out on valuable vocabulary-building
n It's normal for boys to
lag behind girls in kindergarten and first grade in terms of handwriting and
reading skills, but many teachers act as if they are goof-offs or slow learners,
and create anxiety and school refusal.
These problems are thought to be
causing huge problems such as the fact that boys comprise two-thirds of the
special-education placements, and dropout rates for boys far exceed those of
Suggestions for getting boys more
engaged in school, more in to reading, and with bigger and better vocabularies:
n Limit TV and video games
to one hour a day. "Screen time" with electronics is doing more than anything
to sharply reduce boys' vocabularies and knowledge bases.
n Ask your child's teacher
what topics he likes to write about; you may be shocked to learn that he writes
about nothing other than TV shows and video games. You must put a stop to that!
n To build your son's
vocabulary, take him on one mini field trip or learning activity per week,
after school or on the weekend. For example: a museum, the zoo, ice skating, a
tour of a gas station, a tour of the Courthouse, etc. etc. Even a trip to the
grocery store can be educational. Before, during and after, talk about your
shared experience to give him new vocabulary to work with. If this means you're
doing laundry and dishes at 10 p.m. one night a week because of giving up your
own time for your son, so be it.
n Parents should work
closely with a librarian and bookstore employee to keep quality children's books
in your home that appeal to your son's particular interests.
n Reading encouragement: put
up a chart on your refrigerator and give your son a star for every 30 minutes
he spent reading. After earning 10 stars, he gets a special treat, like a pizza
dinner or having a friend sleep over -- whatever will motivate him. Set a goal
of daily and weekly reading and guide him to meet that goal.
n Work with your child's
teacher to get more action-oriented reading assignments that appeal to boys in
class, instead of so many descriptive or expressive reading passages, which are
n If the right books and
stories aren't being assigned in class, it is imperative that a boy's love for
reading be fostered with out-of-school selections. Take your son to the library
once a week or once every other week, and help him check out adventure stories
and other books to read for fun.
n Parents should maintain
an orderly homework space at home for their son, with an expectation of nightly
study. Allow frequent breaks since boys do like to move around more than girls
n Parents should not allow
their sons to spend all their time out of school on sports and video games; set
up your home so that your son will read for fun as well as diligently do his
homework, and THEN, if academics and reading are going well, he can invest time
in sports and amusements.
n Schools should be
directed to recruit more male teachers, particularly minorities, who understand
what boys are into and can select assignments and manage classrooms in a manner
more comfortable for boys.
n Schools might offer
all-boys and all-girls schools or classrooms for some or all school subjects.
The need for preadolescent and adolescent boys to appear cool and aloof before
their peers tends to dissipate in the all-boy environment. Boys feel free to
embrace literature and art, while girls in an all-girl setting will get in to
science and technology better.
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