Impacting on the focus of males in the classroom (and females too)

Title: Impacting on the focus of males in the classroom (and females too)
Focus: Teaching strategies to increase boys focus and engagement from the start to the end of the lesson
Strategies: Starters and plenaries
Further reading: Gary Wilson – Breaking Through Barriers to Boys’ Achievement: Developing a Caring Masculinity

As many of you know; boys are underperforming nationally against girls and our school is no different, but what you may not know is that boys’ genetics are contributing to them doing so. They’re made to mature later in life and their fine motor skills, I.e. writing, takes considerably longer to develop, so complaints that their hands hurt when they write may actually be true. There are many other barriers that boys face in education and the strategies that will help them overcome these barriers will also help girls to achieve too, a win-win situation.

The biggest barriers that some girls face in the classroom are the boys themselves and how they react, distract and disrupt within that setting. Therefore, if we put in place strong teaching and learning strategies that are not only good practice for boys, but for all, then everyone in the classroom will benefit. The best examples of these strategies are strong starts and ends to lessons. If students know what it is that they’re learning and how they can improve (learning objectives and outcomes) from the start of the lesson, and are reminded of them consistently, then they will be able to re-focus their attention to what matters. Also, if at the end of the lesson students are able to complete a planned recap (plenary) of learning, then this learning is consolidated. This recap is also able to be accessed at the start of the next lesson as a short recap, so bridging the learning that has taken place lesson to lesson, and allows students to retain methods, theories or key focuses lesson to lesson.

In many lessons that inspectors see nationally, the first challenge can’t be seen until after the first 15 minutes, so there’s no wonder that some students start to lose focus and let their imaginations wander. In a boy specific context, the misconception that ‘all boys love competition’ can be used to benefit learning here, as they in fact love challenge and proving people wrong, rather than being reminded of their flaws in competition. In order to counteract this and engage students from the very start implement these two strategies:
1) have the learning objectives and outcomes on the board as students walk in. Leave these up and visible for the lesson at the top of each PowerPoint slide, or have students write them in their books.
2) have a challenging starter on the board for students to complete as soon as they enter the room alongside the learning objectives and outcomes. Target this challenge for the top end of ability in the class. This will initiate a focus at the start of the lesson and set the challenging learning tone for the rest of the hour. You could; use a question about the previous lesson, ask students to list key words of a topic that they’re yet to study, have a discussion about a real-life dilemma going on in your subject at the moment.

One of the biggest impacts that can be had on students learning is planning and taking the opportunity to reflect on their learning. A quick and easy way to do this is to ask students to write three bullet points on what they have learnt in the lesson, with the focus of explaining this for next lesson. Doing this in green pen will not only make this stand out to the learner, but also follow the policy of green pen for reflection and consolidation of learning. This is a simple way of student reflecting on their learning, but structuring it in bullet points enables boys to see it as a short and punctual task, and girls to detail specific points concisely.

To summarise the intended teaching and learning from this blog:
Start the lesson with a clear focus and this will continue
Students that know the focus and are reminded of the focus will stay focused
Consolidating learning at the end will allow for a bridge of knowledge to the next lesson

Thank you for reading, you may have even noticed the subtle starter and plenary activities in action here too...

Thanks for reading

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