I was delighted to give a workshop for parents and carers and inset on key stage 1 and 2 boys’ learning this week. We had some great discussions, focusing especially on engaging boys with reading, writing and maths.
Boys’ learning improves when what they’re doing interests them. Ever watched boys vying to find the most gruesome fact in the Guinness Book of Records? Boys, like everyone else, learn better when they’re doing something they enjoy. Playing games with boys is very valuable. Simple games like snakes and ladders have loads of maths. Computer games like Minecraft are brimming with numeracy, and support literacy too, especially when you factor in all the annuals and cheat sheets boys pore over. Top Trumps have masses of maths and reading.
Parents and carers can do so much to aid boys’ learning: reading to them, getting literacy and maths into day-to-day activities like shopping, following recipes, measuring, checking timetables and maps, helping them work out what to buy with pocket money, looking at the sports pages or the Argos catalogue.
Homes and schools need lots of boy-friendly learning materials. Games, yes, and magazines, brochures, manuals. Books too, needless to say. We all know that many boys enjoy non-fiction, so books on their hobbies are vital. Boys who aren’t keen on English often get the reading bug because of books used in subjects they like. Contrary to the stereotype, fiction is highly popular with vast numbers of boys. Comedy, adventure and horror are favourite genres. School and public libraries play a big role, supporting independent choice.
Learning is more accessible if it has an outcome. Much more interesting to read a novel if you’re going to create a comic-strip version or a computer animation. Drama and role-play help boys a lot. Photos, artefacts and videos are great starting points for learning. Literacy Shed has loads of videos and animations to inspire reading and writing. Mathematics Shed has great puzzles and games.
Of course boys need male role models. Members of the family are the strongest models in their lives, so it’s important to get fathers, grandfathers and brothers on board. How about asking firefighters, police officers, male celebrities to visit school to talk about how they use reading, writing, maths in their lives? Story-tellers and authors can totally change boys’ attitudes to literacy.
I once heard about a Y6 lesson where boys did the most reading their teacher could ever remember. Why? Because it was an art lesson and she’d covered the tables with newspapers. She was a keen motorcyclist, and all the papers were about motorbikes. Not much art happened, but so much other learning.