Making School Work for Boys
Several years ago, I saw a story on the news about a school in Minnesota that worked with a furniture maker to design standing desks with a foot bar that kids could swing while they worked. It was designed primarily with boys in mind. I didn’t have a boy at the time, but it all made so much sense to me. The traditional classroom setting, where children are expected to sit still, be quiet and pay close attention to a teacher for 45 minutes can be tortuously difficult for children with a lot of physical energy to burn, largely boys. The energy they need to comport with those rules of the classroom alone detracts from their ability to learn, rather than enhancing it. And for some kids, it is such an impossible task, that they are removed from the classroom altogether for being disruptive. But doesn’t that seem to be a complete contradiction to the idea that learning should be energizing, participatory and inspiring? The desks were intended to give kids a way to move while learning, essentially giving those boys a legitimate outlet to “fidget.” It worked.
Jessica Lahey, an English, Latin and writing teacher in New Hampshire took it a step further and wrote about it for the Atlantic. She recognized that the vast majority of children she had disciplined over the course of the school year were boys, and she recognized that much of the discipline was due to disruptive classroom behavior. So she decided to do something about it and find ways to channel her students’ energy into productive work. She found research and studies that looked at the problem and developed teaching methods that used this energy to great effect. I wish more teachers would do that.
Here’s an example of a lesson Lahey plans to try in her class:
Split the class into groups of four and spread them around the room. Each team will need paper and pencils. At the front of the room, place copies of a document including all of the material that has been taught in some sort of graphical form–a spider diagram, for example. Then tell the students that one person from each group may come up to the front of the classroom and look at the document for thirty seconds. When those thirty seconds are up, they return to their group and write down what they remember in an attempt to re-create the original document in its entirety. The students rotate through the process until the group has pieced the original document back together as a team, from memory. These end products may be “graded” by other teams, and as a final exercise, each student can be required to return to his desk and re-create the document on his own.
I have a daughter who fits well into the traditional classroom model. I have a son who is bright and has a great ability to focus on a task, but who also has what seems to be boundless physical energy (until 8:00 pm, when he crashes into a heap). He’s only 2 1/2, so who knows how he’ll do in a traditional elementary classroom. But I can’t help but think that both of my kids would benefit from a classroom experience that would get them off their rear ends and gets their bodies and minds moving together to learn.
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