One book that significantly impacted me the summer before I went back to work after my son was born was Boys Adrift: The Five Factors Driving the Growing Epidemic of Unmotivated Boys and Underachieving Young Men.
According to author Leonard Sax, these five factors most affecting boys are video games, teaching methods, prescription drugs, endocrine disrupters, and the devaluation of masculinity. While not all of these applied directly to my immediate situation as a mother of a newborn or as my role as an elementary classroom teacher, it was an incredibly enlightening read, providing several valuable hints as to how to approach my upcoming school year.
Here are my key takeaways I used to reframe my classroom and to harness, direct, and positively utilize the boy energy in my class: there is a difference between knowing about something and knowing how to do something, competition compels action - create competition everywhere, and teach patience.
There is a difference between knowing about something and knowing how to do something
Boys want to do, to create, to play. They love to be outside where they can smell, taste, hear, and experience their world. Whether it be because of increased fear of “stranger danger” or other factors, we are keeping boys inside or only involved in organized sports and activities.
The indirect experience of video games, Smartphones, and the Internet (YouTubing how to fish vs. actually going out to fish) has replaced direct experience as a means of understanding the world, resulting in an increase in hyperactivity and attentional issues in many children, but in boys especially.
- Let me go outside! I need to run and explore, sense and feel!
- Can I hold it? I need hands-on opportunities whenever possible.
- Give me technology as an information source, but not as a replacement for direct experience. I need to learn how to do things, not just to learn about things.
- Help me find ways to enjoy being distracted (aka deep-in-thought), relaxed (aka daydreaming), and hard at play(aka exploring my physical and social environment) in ways that are not prescribed by adults or technology but that require my own design and imagination.
- Give me projects that I can touch. Let me choose what and how I want to learn, at least some of the time. I will do your type of work if I know you will also let me do mine.
Competition Compels Action - Create Healthy Competition Everywhere
Boys thrive on competition, but only when there are certain criteria. If they can see that the game is rigged or that they will not win, they will not participate. Why should they? To be beneficial, competition must be meaningful, challenging, and risky.
- There must be winners and losers. No sense in trying hard if I am going to get an equal reward either way.
- The outcome must be in doubt until the end. I will keep trying if my chances of success are still uncertain.
- True winning should depend on how hard I play or try. The reward is sweeter that way and I will try harder next time if I fail this time.
- Tell me what I need to do to improve. I am not content as I am but as I should be. I need constructive, honest feedback. I may have talent, but I am not done excelling yet. Acknowledge my talents, but don’t stop there. Show me where I can still improve and I will try.
Success in the real world requires patience. Video games do not. Hunting, fishing, building models, all of these near-dying skills, once were the training grounds of patience. We need to embed opportunities to practice patience into a boy’s home and school life so this virtue does not slip away.
- Fill my bedroom and classroom with building and art supplies from an early age. This way, I learn how to appreciate and enjoy them from the start.
- Let me create often. In class, provide legos or other building toys as a reward for completed work or for free time. Let me take these tools outside so I can make noise and take a break from the sitting still rigidity of the classroom.
This book, Boys Adrift, gave me a glimpse into the mindset of a boy. I read it for my son, Beau, so I could provide for him a childhood that embraces his boyhood. But more immediately, I read it for my students. Thanks to this book, I had the courage to take a big step the year I returned from maternity leave.
My first big step was bringing Genius Hour into my classroom. This one thing changed school, not just for the boys, but for everyone. This is the MOST POWERFUL HOUR in school.
Next up, my journey with Genius Hour...