Gender Differences in Learning

Agree or disagree.

But, at least let your mind be open to hearing what some researchers are saying. You can then make up your own mind if some of their findings are worth remembering when you start to observe some behaviours in the classroom, at home, in the park or on the playing field.

OK. Now onto the research ….

In her article “Recognizing the Different Ways Boys Learn (2019)”, educator Becky Hunsberger starts out with the following statement:

“Boys and girls are different. They play differently, relate differently, even develop differently. While little girls are practicing their newly found language skills, chattering away to whomever will listen, little boys are busy climbing on things and racing cars—delighting when there is a big crash with a lot of noise. Anyone who has ever worked with young children will attest to these obvious differences. And yet, despite these clear differences, our classrooms are often set up to treat both male and female learners the same. Why is this, and what can we do to address it?”

There’s some real truth to those generalizations. So, what has the research said about the actual wiring in boys and can we use that to our advantage as we develop lessons, classroom organization and assessment strategies?

Here’s a summary of what she said in her article:

Movement: Boys are hardwired to move. They wiggle, they walk around and they like to move stuff. When these types of opportunities are removed from their environment, they may get ‘creative’ in finding ways to do so, sometimes with the potential consequence of being disciplined.

Games: Boys love games especially when there may be a competitive nature to them. Games capture their attention and imagination. They engage boys like few other things can.

Just a Picture of a Dog

Humour: Boys will often use humour more than girls to connect with others, especially when it might even involve a surprise. Laughter is important to them. And while their humour may sometimes be a bit ‘off’ it does soundly resonate with them.

Challenge: Boys love a challenge, especially when they believe they have the necessary resources to be successful and if they can relate it to their own interests. Boys are often drawn to tasks that require mastery over a skill — building a complex Lego set or climbing a particular tree. If he feels that he has the ability he will work diligently to master it. If not, he may often quit or turn the situation into a power struggle to at least ‘master’ the situation at hand.

So, when I look at these differences, I picture some opportunities for us to think about in our classrooms and homes:

  • Put more movement and physical games into learning activities
  • Create ‘attainable challenges’ that push the limits of current abilities while also providing the necessary supports to get there
  • Recognize that humour can play a big part in communication and motivation
Star Wars – Millenium Falcon

Being able to adapt what we do in our classrooms and schools is what makes education such an exciting field. Ongoing research continues to push us with exciting new insights into the learning process. Here in Saanich, we regularly discuss these types of things and use those conversations as a springboard to create new ways of engaging students in their learning.

OK, gotta go. I’m off to climb a tree and perhaps build with my Star Wars Lego set.

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