10 ways to successfully engage boys in school

We have a tragedy in America when it comes to connecting with and educating boys.

According to the book Reaching Boys, Teaching Boys: Strategies That Work and Why, boys are kept back in schools at twice the rate of girls. Boys get expelled from preschool nearly five times more often than girls. Boys are diagnosed with learning disorders and attention problems at nearly four times the rate of girls, Jessica Lahey wrote some years ago for The Atlantic. It still holds true today.

Lahey shared eight key approaches to classroom instruction that can lay the foundation for brighter futures for our boys. I added two others that address how we talk to boys. So, 10 ways to engage boys for successful academic outcomes are:

  • Lessons that result in an end product–a booklet, a catapult, a poem, or a comic strip, for example.
  • Lessons that are structured as competitive games.
  • Lessons requiring motor activity.
  • Lessons requiring boys to assume responsibility for the learning of others.
  • Lessons that require boys to address open questions or unsolved problems.
  • Lessons that require a combination of competition and teamwork.
  • Lessons that focus on independent, personal discovery and realization.
  • Lessons that introduce drama in the form of novelty or surprise.
  • Use Language that shows empathy.
  • Use Language that uplifts, inspires and encourages freedom of choice.

Without knowing it or planning it, my first interactions with students just so happened to be what boys needed. My goal was to make workshops, read-alouds, and classroom literacy instruction as exciting as possible. I wasn’t thinking about reaching boys. I was thinking about reaching children — and not getting booed off the stage — which essentially happened with a group of high school boys when I was an editorial writer. I had been invited to give a talk and mistakenly was scheduled to arrive in the middle of their recreational time.  Worse, I began my “motivational” talk by spraying them with stats about all the calamities that would befall them if they didn’t take it upon themselves to get an education.

How dense of me. They rebelled at what felt like a damning sermon, and, right at that moment, I understood they were doing the right thing.

I practically owe those boys — from so-called “low-income, single-parent families” and “high-crime neighborhoods” — my career. They taught me always to speak to children with empathy and encouragement, and make it clear that I have the highest expectations for them.

I encourage you to give just one of these approaches a try and let us know how it goes.