Engaging Boys in Education: Strategies to increase engagement.
It is no secret that boys are not interested in reading. Video games dominate their spare time. It is also no secret that boys' achievement levels have been decreasing (See Dr. Leonard Sax, Boys Adrift).
The following is some of the strategies we have employed with our homeschooling and when I teach in the classroom.
1. Increase the Experiential Knowledge. Decrease the Screen Time.
The premise is simple. Boys learn best experientially. If you are teaching about marshes, take the boy to a marsh and resist the urge to watch a video clip on marshes. Video clips are entirely passive and the learning is minimal. Ask yourself, with every lesson/objective, how can my son learn this same objective in an experiential way. I'm not saying get rid of the rote learning, memorization - but rather add in the hands-on.
a. I had my students, when learning equivalent fractions, bake cookies with only one measuring tool. This resulted in having to use a 1/3 cup to measure out 1/4 cups of sugar and cups of flour.
b. When teaching story writing, I always have my children focus on including more detail. However, I first have them experience the detail first. I have them hold snow in their hand for one minute, draw blood with a thorn bush, crawl through the forest on their belly and then have them write these details into the story after they have experienced them.
2. Match the Work Load with your boy's focus time.
Every boy needs to develop their focus. Especially in our fast food society. With the amount of technological stimulation that gives immediate gratification it is important to make a concerted effort to develop and increase their focus time. That being said, we need to match the work load to their ability to focus.
For e.g.: my 7 year old son is as rambunctious as a wild hog and grammar just doesn’t hold his attention for very long. After long battles, we decided to break up his day into 15min. slots where he finishes 15min. of good work and then gets 15 min. of play. The result has been less battles and better work completed. Now the key is to incrementally increase his attention span.
3. Work to Increase Attention Span
Take away or limit or diminish the screen time.
Make sure he gets enough sleep at night. Protect their sleep time!
Decrease the sugar intake.
Teach him to pray: in learning to pray (eg: the Rosary) he learns to still himself and to focus.
Spend time in silence in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament.
When reading with him: increase the amount bit by bit. I'll address developing a culture of reading in a different post.
4. Use Physical Contact
Wrestle him. Take a break and wrestle. Then go back to work. Admittedly, I’ve done this not only at home, but in the classroom as well. Boys need and love physical contact.
Get your boy out in nature. I have taken my students out in the middle of winter and sat them in trees and had them write poetry. This increases the quality of the poetry and the engagement.
I’m convinced you can teach almost any subject in nature with a bit of creative thinking. It takes a lot of effort, and needn’t be for every assignment, but the more a child is in nature (without a smartphone) the more his brain will learn to engage without a screen to depend on.
“There is a growing amount of evidence that links physical exercise and experience in nature to mental acuity and concentration.” – Richard Louv, Last Child in the Woods.
“There is something wrong with society that spends so much money, as well as countless hours of human effort to make the least dregs of processed information available to everyone everywhere and yet does little or nothing to help us explore the worlds for ourselves.” – Richard Louv, Last Child in the Woods.
6. Use Drama
Drama can be used for much more than simply role-playing. Use drama to assess whether he understands the concept.
For eg: ask him to stand and show you 1/3 with his body. Can he show you an equivalent fraction to 3/10 with his body?
Have a spelling test by having him spell the words with his body.
Act out the climax of the story he has written to see if there are holes or gaps in his writing.
Use drama to show the parts of a cell.
These strategies are short term strategies. Strategies that work in the short time to help increase engagement right away on a daily basis. However, there are long term strategies that need to employed that will take time, but will harvest greater results. These, I’ll address in my next blog.
God, bless and protect our sons.