‘Let’s face it; I’m stupid. You know it, I know it, and my parents know it!”
I was a principal and these words were spoken in anguish and anger by Chad, a 12-year-old student sent to my office for incomplete work when . He reflected a profound problem that I could no longer ignore. I had seen too many boys who did not succeed in school. I knew he was not stupid, and his parents saw him as a smart, if unfocused, child. But our opinions no longer mattered. His experience in school had convinced him otherwise. He dropped out a few years later and I was saddened, but not surprised.
Your own son may not become a drop-out, but if he is like many boys, he dislikes school, does not apply himself to the fullest and is willing to let the girls in his class achieve more highly. Statistics show that this leads to boys who are increasingly unprepared for a world in which high levels of education and social-emotional intelligence are required. Without even knowing it, many of our sons are falling behind.
If we change how we approach their learning, we can help these boys be more successful, productive, and happier – without disadvantaging girls. More importantly, I have identified six “secrets” parents can use to profoundly affect a boy’s learning success:
1. He Learns Where the Action Is – Neuroscience has confirmed that boys develop more brain-wiring for movement than girls at early ages. This is why they love to move, fidget in class, and want to be wherever the action is. It also explains why they can sit still for so long playing video games: Those games are saturated with movement!
2. He Learns In the Game – Boys have profound learning experiences within the context of games because they receive a shot of testosterone when they set goals and achieve them. They love games and competition and if they see learning as something they can compete and “win” at, they achieve higher. However, if they don’t think they can win in school because they aren’t smart enough, they will often refuse to play the game.
3. He Learns With Humor – Boys love “funny” things. They often can veer into inappropriate or crude topics, but humor is an important tool for boys’ learning. It helps them feel comfortable with new concepts, engage in teamwork, and take on new challenges. It is a therefore a very effective way for adults to leverage boys’ interest and commitment to learning.
4. He Learns Through Challenge – In their desire to release testosterone by winning, boys are drawn to challenge. It helps them learn because through challenge they discover things about themselves and their environment. When parents and teachers present challenges, they can improve the motivation and resilience of boys faced with difficult learning tasks.
5. He Learns By Mastery – Success for any boy ultimately comes when he takes ownership for his own learning. He longs for mastery and will work very hard to achieve it if he sees the pathway to attain it and is allowed to control the way he pursues it. When boys make decisions about attaining mastery in school learning, however, their brains have evolved to want to know its usefulness. And that’s where the final secret is so critical…
6. He Learns For Meaning – “Why do we have to learn this?” is more than a way for a lazy boy to avoid doing work. It is essential for him to understand the importance and meaning of the task at hand and where he fits into it. Boys long to commit themelves to “heroic” tasks if they see that their efforts can make a difference. We have found that when a parent helps a boy to do this, his success can be amazing!
You may be wondering how you can apply these insights to help your own son. Happily, there are some very simple things you can do, but it works best if you know the place to start. To find out, take the 3-minute quiz at www.helpingboyslearn.com/boys-quiz or check out our Parent Community. Together, we can help every boy reach his potential as a learner!
About Dr. Edmond J. Dixon: A pioneer in the field of Cognitive-Kinesthetics for learning, Dr. Dixon is a human development specialist with 30-plus years of experience as a teacher, administrator, researcher, author–and parent of boys! He is the founder of the KEEN Differentiated Learning Group, an organization dedicated to helping struggling learners, and the creator of KEEN 5X, a series of strategies for classroom engagement and learning that has been used with more than 50,000 students and teachers. His latest book, Helping Boys Learn is published in parent and teacher editions. A dynamic and popular presenter, he has spoken throughout North America on education. For more info, visit www.helpingboyslearn.com