What is my vision for boy’s primary teaching and learning in the next five years? An opportunity from the left field provided me with the perfect opportunity to reflect upon this question recently. What I came up became a timely reminder of what is actually important in my own school and the education of our young males.
You see, I’m not sure that wholesale change or new educational initiatives specifically targeting the achievement of boys play a huge part in my vision for the education of boys in the next five years. During this introspection I found that rather than obsessing over boys achievement, I was more concerned with tailoring our education programs, teaching approaches and curriculum so that it is concentrated on the holistic development of quality boys.
In doing so this didn’t mean that quality-teaching practises are no longer at the forefront of the education we provide our students. The vision within the New Zealand Curriculum for life long learners is similar to my own where students use tools that enable themselves to express themselves clearly and to share their ideas; to be creative, innovative and enterprising thinkers, to be curious, enquiring and open-minded and to know how to gather and analyse information and make informed decisions.
I hope that by focussing on raising the holistic child I am actually emphasising the need for quality teaching but also highlighting that need for our teachers to provide opportunities for the students to achieve this vision through boy specific contexts.
My own boys, along with research, highlights that fact that a boys slower rate of development often means that many of them aren’t ready for formal learning until they are 6 or 7 years old. Rather than being a barrier to success we need to ensure the schooling environment is geared for boys, particularly for our younger learners, by creating opportunities for boys to be active and move around the school, using more visual and tactile teaching methods, encouraging the use of personal devices and being flexible with class times.
We can’t compete with the excitement and unrealistic adventure that screen based entertainment provides the modern learner. Rather than try, we need to provide our boys with real life movement, excitement and exploration that incorporate the use all of the senses. Allowing for inquiry based learning opportunities that are tailored to the interests and or needs of the students as well as being framed within the context of the school or local community are the perfect tool for this to happen. The context may seem like an inhabiting factor when we allow our students to drive their own inquiry. The reason I include this in my vision is that I have had far more success when the impact or outcome of an inquiry-learning unit has directly impacted upon the immediate world of the students, their parents and or their own community.
Building upon the competitiveness and risk taking tendencies of a boy’s is also part of what I see as important within the primary education of our boys. Allowing them to play bull rush, climb tress and jump of wharfs are the real life, real time, real space opportunities that allow them to regulate risk taking in the future. Rather than trying to curb this in students I am interested in finding ways to harness these traits and allow boys to gain success whether it be on the sporting field, the musical stage or the debating team.
One thing that I have had personal success with and would definitely look at developing further with male learners is the mentoring programme that I established with the support of a willing parent at St Josephs School. This programme provided the role model figure for the boys that sat outside of their own family but close enough to their daily lives to understand the ins and outs of the adolescent issues that the lads involved encountered. Whilst my current programme uses the context of hunting to develop this relationship, it could easily be adapted to other outdoor based activities.
I guess a smaller scale of this mentoring idea is the provision of opportunities for students to learn from one another in Tuakana Teina type learning situations. Having the opportunity to teach someone younger than themselves allows our older boys to experience success as a learner, particularly when they are not as capable as their immediate peer group and have a positive impact on how they view themselves as learners.
Underpinning all of the classroom approaches mentioned above is the core thread of student voice and student agency. Developing learner agency is a major component of any future focused curriculum we provide our boys. For me, this means providing opportunities for our children to take ownership of, and responsibility for, their learning by having a voice in the decision making processes that determine ‘what’ and ‘how’ they learn at school.
At the end of the day we all learn best when we are engaged in the learning context, secure in our surroundings and gaining success from some if not the entire multitude of activities we participate in during our school life. Raising quality boys, providing opportunities and the environment for them to become lifelong learners will ensure the academic achievement of these individuals happens naturally.
Ministry of Education (2007). The New Zealand Curriculum for English-medium Teaching and Learning in Years 1–13. Wellington: Ministry of Education
Tree Climb – http://goo.gl/V66R1w