Helping boys learn

As a high school student in the early 90s, I was already aware that teacher expectations for my school success were less because I was a boy. Ever since the developed world in general made the compulsory schooling opportunities the same for both sexes, the girls have increasingly extended their dominance over boys in most areas of educational achievement.

Fortunately for a post that’s trying to stay under 500 words, my scope here does not include why this is the case. I could talk about maturity, social awareness, societal pressures on girls, the changing role of men, and even computer gaming, but I won’t. Let’s look at what some teachers are doing to better cater for boys and thus level results.

Helping boys learn-eduwells


IMG_0024A number of variables impact on boys’ relative ability to cope socially, or be productive in groups. This includes the classroom. They are often more productive and positive when they are able to study independently, i.e. the learning resources are available on demand and students can expected to go at their own pace. The average boy also responds better to one-to-one support from teachers, rather than having to publicly interact in whole class discussion. Numerous colleagues and educators I’ve worked with around the world have all shared positive correlations between them stepping away from the front of class delivery and boys results. This is achieved through systems such as flipped teaching or project-based learning. This is connected to boys needing to be doing rather receiving. Most boys need to be active learners.

Keep learning active

Boys also respond well to learning environments that allow for movement. Teachers I have worked with on modern learning environments have often expressed how boys have responded positively to having choice regarding where and how they learn in a classroom. I have had conversations with boys about them enjoying the variety and allowance to change how they physically place themselves to work. This can include standing desks, couches, beanbags or the floor. One’s not necessarily better than another, it’s the freedom the choose and change during a lesson that’s key. For similar environmental reasons, headphones can also help boys who are clear on objectives to shield themselves from other distractions to ensure they get something done.

Maintaining focus on the game

IMG_0025This is a much discussed topic but possibly due to typical social habits, many teachers feel boys do get distracted more easily in a classroom of 30 people. This is where gamification does have a role to play in keeping boys productive. Any parent will tell you that distracting a child away from a game is difficult. This is because there are multiple elements added to games to maintain focus. The two most common gaming tools to employ in a classroom for the benefit of boys are timers and progress charts. Once boys know where they are at in the learning and how long they have to complete a step, they respond accordingly. Boys enjoy challenges that are visually clear. They do not respond well to ambiguous learning targets as they are less likely to use their social skills to fill in the gaps, such as asking the teacher or friends.

No such thing as “a boy”

I am not assuming that all boys are the same and will respond to these ideas but in my experience working with educators, they will help many boys achieve better in your classroom.


EduWells2015Author: Richard Wells
Teaches grade 6 to 12 – Head of Technology at NZ High School
Top 40 in edublog awards 2013
Top 12 Blogger – The Global Search for Education
Known for Educational Infographics (see Posters)
and an International Speaker.
Twitter :  @EduWells

This post is written as part of The Huffington Post’s The Global Search for Education: Our Top 12 Global Teacher Blogs: A series of questions that Cathy Rubin is asking several education bloggers. I’ll be sharing the link to her post that collects all of the responses. I’m excited to be part of this group of edu-bloggers.


Here’s an extra resource on the impact and use for Game-based learning and Gamification of classroom activity.

The Gamification of Education