Instructional Strategies that Hurt Boys

Let me cut straight to the facts, instructional strategies are leading our boys straight to the slaughter-house. And this violence starts right at the elementary level. In Reading, out of all students who grade out at an A or B, there is a canyon-like gap between boys and girls starting in 1st grade that only expands by the time these same children get to 8th grade. For students who earn As and Bs in Reading (a strand of “English/Language Arts” in the Ontario curriculum), the percentage difference between gender reaches as high as 30 points. Are we trying to say girls are way more competent readers than boys?

We all know this is not true. But what happens in a reading program? That teacher says, “Okay it is silent reading time” and students quietly read. Then the teacher jots a sentence starter or open-ended question on the board and has her students reflect upon what they’ve just read. Then, the teacher assesses that piece of work for a grade. We are essentially assessing students’ reading skills through their writing. This sounds absurd when we take the time to reflect and look at this type of instructional strategy from a bird’s eye view. But this is what is happening, and our boys are getting their report cards with Cs in Reading even though their teachers haven’t properly assessed their skill in it.


Still Not Satisfied?


If you think I am taking the example of Reading assessment out of context, fine. Let’s look at Learning Skills. We will start with one – organization. I already know what you’re thinking. “Typically, girls are just more organized than boys. It’s just the way it is.” When it comes to their desks or their binders, your case stands strong. But take a walk outside at recess and observe the boys at your school. What are they doing?

The boys go running outside, jackets in hand (because, you know, boys don’t bother with putting on jackets). They all converge on the pavement and place their jackets in two piles – one at either end of the pavement. What are they doing? They are making nets for a game. Next, they huddle up into one big group. What are they doing here? They are designating captains and making teams. After that, they start playing. Shortly after, an argument breaks out – yes, boys love to argue right. But what do they do next? One kid steps back about 10 feet from a net and takes a “penalty shot”. Case closed, argument over. The ball never lies. And the game goes on. Recess is over and a boy yells, “Continuation!” What does that mean? It means – next recess, same teams, same score, game on. Is this not a supreme example of organization?


What are we looking at?


We need to ask ourselves as educators, what exactly are we looking at and valuing when we decide to instruct and then assess. Our instructional strategies need to align with contextual arrangements that erase preconceived notions of what many teachers think about when they consider excellence. It seems illogical that a student can get an A+ in Physical Education but a C in Health Education. We are doing something wrong with teaching our students and especially teaching our boys. The stats, across the board, point this fact out.

So we can either sit with the stats and play the blame game and urge kids (read boys) to “get their act together” or we can look at the bigger picture and understand that we must seriously think about how education can be improved to validate certain traits without demeaning the other ones that may not be present in a traditional form. Perhaps becoming less explicit with the implicit “rules” of school may be one step to a more open and inclusive instructional strategy.



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Matthew R. Morris

Educator, Speaker, Writer

Matthew R. Morris is a writer, speaker, and elementary educator in Toronto. He has an M.A. in Social Justice Education from OISE at the University of Toronto and is the author of the forthcoming book, Black Boys Like Me. 

Matthew R. Morris

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