Developmental differences among students can affect school performance, particularly with mandated curriculums, testing pressures, etc. Combine these differences with a shortened school year, larger class sizes, fewer support services and we can recognize a few causes of poor male student performance. However, another factor rarely discussed, but known by brain researchers is that reading and/or language arts skills are not natural learning paradigms for boys’ brains. In other words, we need to recognize that the brains of the male gender are structured differently from that of the female gender, which generally does well in reading and language arts.
Brain differences not only affect a boy’s linguistic abilities (reading, writing etc.) but also affect his social development. For example, the corpus callosum, a part of the brain that serves as a bridge between our brain’s right and left hemispheres is smaller in boys than in girls. The 25% difference in size causes less communication between the two halves for the male gender, diminishing cross talking and multi-tasking, which support increased language arts skills. Further, the hippocampus, a major component for memory storage, is smaller in boys, than in girls. As a result, boys learn to read 9 months later than girls, and the average boy’s learning capacity for writing and formation of words is also 9 to12 months later for boys than for girls (U.S.D.E., 2008)!
Moreover, the prefrontal cortex, seat of executive function, and a part of the brain responsible for decision-making, organization, abstract thinking is more developed in girls than in boys. Additional statistics indicate that boys, ages 5 to 12, are more likely than girls to have repeated one grade; 42% of boys have been suspended once by age 17; only 65% of boys who start school graduate from high school, compared to 72% of girls. Finally, the amygdala, a part of the brain that signals fight or flight is larger and faster growing in boys than in girls, which could be a reason why boys are 2.5 times more likely to be diagnosed as ADHD (USDE, 2008).
The following are some recommendations and effective strategies for teachers and schools in response to the needs of the male gender: vary teaching strategies, especially in the language arts; use symbols, abstractions, diagrams, objects in space, as well as technology and manipulatives. Boys have more spatial and mechanical functioning, which supports more hands on learning experiences for boys. Also, enlist male mentors for male students. Only one out of every nine teachers are males in this country and the United States leads the industrial world in the percentage of fatherless boys.
What can schools do to support these statistics? 185 public schools now offer single sex classrooms in order to allow both genders to be more focused on studies. The Gates Foundation is now setting goals of reforming high school curriculums to help male students benefit from this mission of more flexibility in teaching approaches. Currently, the Gurian Institute has trained more than 15,000 teachers as to how to work more effectively with male students.
Dr. David Sortino, a psychologist and current Director of Educational Strategies, a private consulting company catering to teachers, parents, students. To contact Dr. Sortino, e-mail davidsortino@comcast or go to his blog: Davidsortino.com