My daughters often ask, “why are boys like that?” I tell them that it is very normal, boys are different than girls. Reading in Chapter 24, Selections From The Minds of Boys (Jossey Bass, p. 405) I was pleased to see that my answer and advice to them is true. Boys brains are wired in different pathways than girls. “When you look at a scan of a male and female doing any kind of task, you see different parts of the brain light up” says Michael Gurian and Kathy Stevens in the chapter. Nancy Forger, from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst reports that “at least 100 differences in the male and female brains have been described so far.” (p. 405)
Here are some key differences cited in the text –
- Boys have more dopamine which increases impulsive and riskier behaviors
- Boys have a different size corpus callosum which decreases their ability to multi-task (girls are better at multi-tasking, but we know no one is really able to truly multi-task)
- Girls have stronger neural connectors in their temporal lobes which gives them better memory storage and better listening. Therefore, “boys pick up less of what is going on around them, especially when it is said in words, and need more sensory-tactile experience than girls.”
- Boys need more time to memorize classroom items and they do better memorizing in list form.
- Boys have a later developing Broca’s and Wernicke’s areas which delays their word production and expression of experiences and emotions through words.
- Boys have higher testosterone (aggression and sex) and vasopressin (territoriality and hierarchy). Girls have more estrogen and oxytocin. This means that boys learn more through competition and movement and less through sitting and talking.
- The male brain needs to “renew, recharge, and reorient itself between tasks by moving to a rest state.” This can been seen in the classroom by that boy dozing off or zoning out, he may have entered a rest state and simply can’t take in more information at that time. (Jossey-Bass, pgs. 407-408)
One key finding really stood out to me was that boys “compartmentalize brain activity”. The authors state, “Boys therefore tend to do better when focusing for long periods on one task in which depth of learning takes place; they do less well when required to move from task to task very quickly.” (p. 408) They go on to discuss how the primary response when they have to switch tasks too quickly is frustration. I definitely see this in my classroom and in my own son at home. Multi-step directions and too many words all at once coupled with quick transitions and not enough time to complete a task brings instant frustration to those boys. You see it across their faces and in the ones with less self-control it will come out in moans and groans, or even behavior issues. I do my best to combat this in the classroom by giving both written, visual, and oral directions, keeping my words to a minimum, speaking in a calm and quiet tone, allowing ample work time, and giving a “2 minute warning” for transitions all help to keep frustrations to a minimum.
Knowing what we know about the differences between boy’s and girl’s brains I can even more appreciate Wolfe’s recommendations for teaching and learning in Chapter 14 of Brain Matters. She suggests many key ideas that would benefit all students, but especially the boys in my classroom. One idea is to “provide as much experiential learning as possible.” (Brain Matters, p. 221) Also, she suggests providing many opportunities to revisit information over time and emphasizing big concepts and not just facts. (p. 222) Finally, she says, “take advantage of the fact that emotional events are remembered longer.” John Medina in Brain Rules agrees with that suggestion and asserts that boys and girls process emotions differently, but boys will remember the “gist” of emotional event and it does aid in memory (Brain Rules, p. 260)
I want to research more how I can better teach and help nurture the boys in my class in order for them to get the best out of our classroom learning environment. I think these chapters were a good start.
The Jossey-Bass Reader on the Brain and Learning. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2008. Print.
Medina, John. Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School. Seattle, WA: Pear, 2008. Print.
Wolfe, Patricia. Brain Matters: Translating Research into Classroom Practice. 2nd ed. Alexandria: Association for Supervision & Curriculum Development, 2010. Print.