The Essential Characteristics of a Boy-Friendly Learning Environment
The environment a teacher establishes in the classroom is a major contributor to how effectively students learn. Traditional classroom environments, in which all children are expected to sit quietly while following along with the teacher, presume that all children learn in the same way. Those who have trouble with the format may fall behind despite their capacity to learn. Additionally, this isn’t necessarily a structured environment, nor is it necessarily an engaging one that will foster a passion for learning.
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To engage all students, teachers should instead employ an active learning environment. This type of setting stimulates self-motivated learning within a flexible yet disciplined atmosphere. By teaching students learning strategies (a written record of assignments, note-taking strategies, time management techniques, and study methods), educators teach students how to learn or “the process of learning,” and students become empowered to pursue knowledge more eagerly and successfully. An active classroom also demands that the students are presented with choices. By having the freedom to choose between projects, students are more willing to take on the challenges that learning entails. By having a say in their education, students not only take on the responsibility of learning but have a more meaningful and lasting experience while doing it.
TraditTraditionalrooms are structured to follow a teacher through exercises, skill acquisition, and learning curriculum-mandated materials. In this model, sometimes referred to as “sage on the stage,” all responsibility for the children’s learning is placed squarely on the teacher, and students are more or less passive recipients of knowledge. In contrast, Grand River Academy has created the “guide on the side” model, challenging students to take a highly active role in their education. In this type of classroom environment, the curriculum is based on questions students have on a given topic, and students work together to answer these questions. Within this structure, students experience a marked shift in how they interact, behave, and focus. Because the classes are essentially designed by the students, the curriculum fits the learning preferences of all the students, and stereotypical classroom behaviors disappear. Curiosity and inquisitiveness are encouraged and fostered in this environment, setting them up to be lifelong learners.
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Despite the shift in responsibilities, the role of the teacher remains critical in the classroom. While students are eager learners, most have not experienced the extent of self-organization, patience, and collaboration required by this classroom format. To keep the class moving forward, teachers act as a resource for leadership and guidance as well as information. They also participate as members of the group, posing their own questions for students to investigate his way, teachers still have a guiding hand in the curriculum while also creating an environment of active learning and engagement.
A major component of applying a “guide on the side” philosophy is encouraging collaboration among students and allowing them the freedom to work and solve problems creatively. Classroom exercises often require that students sit quietly and complete work individually before sharing. Relying on this style has the potential to create dead time, during which attention drifts and students are no longer engaged with their work. While independent study is appropriate at certain times, the classroom gives students a unique opportunity to interact with peers and educators to cultivate a deeper understanding of the material. By instead using classroom time for collaboration, children can help each other through common problems, develop ideas through peer contributions, and inspire one another with questions about the material. In a creative and flexible environment, students have the freedom to explore new areas, coming to a deeper understanding of new material through the shared exploration of personal questions.
Even today, society imposes the “BoyCode,” as Dr. William Pollock identifies it, onto boys starting from a very young age. This is the idea that masculinity demands that men don’t complain about hardship, but rather act “tough” in the face of it. In the classroom, this attitude translates into a familiar scenario: when boys have trouble and can’t keep pace with the curriculum, they don’t seek help from teachers — they act out. Teachers reacting to this behavior will often approach the issue as a disciplinary problem rather than a scholastic problem. As this situation continues to repeat itself, frustration and depression begin to characterize the child’s experience at school. Tragically, Pollock also notes, between the ages of 10 and 19, boys are four times more likely to take their lives than girls are, and over the last 20 years, these figures have increased 300%. Fortunately, schools have incredible assets for promoting the emotional development of boys: their own staff. One of the most important factors in the emotional security of children at school is having a teacher, administrator, or adult with some level of authority whom they can go to and speak within an open, non-punitive way. Forming “shame-free” connections between adults and students helps boys deal with feelings of anxiety and depression as they navigate life at school.
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Research clearly demonstrates that intelligent, energetic boys are being left behind within the current education system. Unsympathetic critics may point to men’s success in the workforce to justify inaction. However, an uneducated, low-earning male population will not contribute to eradicating later gender gaps, and such an attitude of retaliation unfairly sacrifices the development and futures of boys across America. Ultimately, to ensure that young men have a fair chance at a productive, fulfilling life, teachers must learn ways of creating equal-opportunity classrooms. When teachers adopt a student-centered approach to education, boys are given the freedom to express themselves, to explore material in a way that engages them, and to grow as individuals.
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