Boys and Girls Learn Differently

In his book Boys and Girls Learn Differently, Michael Gurian cites 20 years of brain research to highlight the differences of how males and females learn. In the past few years, being a boy seems to be a pathology as more boys are being diagnosed with ADHD, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and undergo drug therapy, usually based on the observations and recommendations of female caregivers or teachers.

Understanding some of the learning differences between boys and girls would serve all of us–children, parents, teachers, caregivers and families.

If there were no differences between males and females, what would we joke about?

Research shows general learning differences between boys and girls. These findings may or may not be specific to an individual. Remember that the exception makes the rule.

So what are these general differences?

Reasoning style is one difference. Boys tend to use deductive or “top-down” reasoning and seem to go from general principles to concrete more quickly than girls. Girls go from the concrete to the abstract faster than boys and are more apt to be able to give examples of a concept.

In language, girls tend toward usable everyday language. Boys prefer coded language, anagrams and jargon. You can grab a boy’s attention by saying, “Put the 493 into the CR T56,” which is much more exciting than saying, “Please take out the garbage.”

Girls can be better listeners than boys. In conversation boys may ask more questions and require clear evidence to support a statement. As mothers and teachers, we may misread a boy’s questioning as inattention or insubordination.

Boys tend to need more personal space than girls. When boys take more room at a table for a learning activity, females may construe this as being impolite, rude or out of control.

Boys tend to need more large movement than girls to be able to control impulsive behavior. What may be perceived as “hyperactivity” may be an immediate need for movement.

In group situations, boys tend to be more task-oriented than people oriented. In their book, Raising a Son, Don and Jeanne Elium quote Lew Powers, a 20-year Boy Scout director, as saying boys just want to know three things: “One, who’s the boss? Two, what are the rules? And three, are you going to enforce them?”

In group situations, boys require leadership first, then relationships. Girls tend to need leadership built on a relationship.

Boys are more attracted to written text that includes symbols, diagrams and graphs. Boys tend to focus on the imagery of a story, while girls focus on the characters in a story.

Boys tend toward boredom, since they need more movement to stimulate brain function than girls. In school and home settings I’ve witnessed boys hit someone out of nothing but boredom and a need for brain stimulation.

Boys’ groups and teams tend to be structured with defined roles. Think football. Girls tend toward looser organization with less definition of roles. Think lunch. Think shopping.

In working with pre-school and school-age boys, we need to be aware of brain research information to help provide successful learning opportunities.

We need to provide boys the following:

1. Opportunities to see the big picture.
2. Introduce abstract ideas first, then go to concrete.
3. Use jargon and specialized language.
4. Allow boys to ask questions to understand instructions or a statement of fact.
5. Provide adequate workspace and clear definition of that space.
6. Give opportunities for large motor activities, at will.
7. Focus on job completion.
8. Include symbols, graphs and maps in learning activities
9. For brain stimulation, allow movement and teach non-disruptive ways to fidget.
10. Have defined roles and tasks in a group setting.

Boys and girls learn differently. Being male or female is not something that should be treated as a disorder. Ritalin is not the answer.

The answer for our boys and girls is for enlightened adults to create environments and structure that encompass a wide variety of learning styles and needs.

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