As I continue to grow and develop, I’ve learned to embrace the following concepts:
Let boys be active. I often do small group instruction on a large floor rug. When boys lounged or fidgeted, I used to tell them to “Sit up! Pay attention and make sure your eyes are on me.” I’ve loosened my expectations on requiring students to be stationery. The bottom line is that they get their work done.
Give boys books that appeal to their interests. I used to pride myself on the range of books in my classroom library that represented a variety of genres, ethnicities, and cultures. Then I realized I needed books that would grab boys’ attention. I’ve expanded my collection to include more animal and “How To” books, as well as titles like Diary of a Wimpy Kid and The Adventures of Captain Underpants. This is not to say that girls aren’t interested in these books as well, just that I’m more conscious of titles when I select books.
Create hands-on learning activities. When I assign special projects, I provide my students with more “boy-friendly” options, such as a “biography box” in lieu of a book report. Students bring in a box with 10 objects connected to the person they’ve been researching, then write a list of the objects and a brief explanation of how the object is connected to the person. My boys prefer this option as opposed to just writing a paragraph. Collecting the objects (or even making them) permits them to be more active.
Stop eliminating recess as a punishment. When boys don’t have a chance to work off their energy, they can end up acting worse. A Harvard study stated that by school age, the average boy in a classroom is more active than the girls. Furthermore, most active girls don’t seem to express their energy in the unrestrained way characteristic of most boys. Instead of taking away their entire recess, I choose an alternative consequence that doesn’t end up punishing me and the student—such as running two laps around the blacktop or picking up 10 pieces of trash before going to play.
Reduce out-of-school suspensions. According to the Schott Report, Black boys in elementary and secondary schools are punished far more harshly for the same infractions as their peers. Also troubling, Black and Hispanic youth are disproportionately suspended from school, increasing their chances of falling behind in class and disengaging from school altogether. When appropriate, let’s replace out-of-school suspensions with disciplinary strategies less disruptive to learning.
America’s schools would benefit from rethinking the ways we educate all boys—and in particular, ethnic-minority males, who are disciplined, suspended, and drop out at far greater rates than their peers. Equipping educators with training and resources on male behavior and learning patterns would give us a powerful tool in closing the achievement gaps that exist in our priority schools.
Dionna Ricks teaches at Jackson Road Elementary School in Maryland.