The Mind of Boys.

I am always seeking to understand how my boys learn. Honestly they mystify me at times as I am not wired as they are.  Understanding brings clarity and helps ease frustration.  I found this interview (excerpts) below to be very helpful.

Clearly boys are struggling in school. The majority of special education students in the U.S. are boys. Most of the discipline problems in schools are attributed to boys, and according to some figures, boys comprise 80 percent of all high school dropouts. Less than 50 percent of the college population is male.

A large part of the problem, according to Michael Gurian, therapist, researcher, author, and founder of The Gurian Institute, is that schools are run counter to how boys learn and how their brains operate. The language centers of girls’ brains develop earlier, so reading and writing comes easier to them, while boys’ brains are better at spatial-mechanical tasks and males learn better when they are active.

The Gurian Institute researches learning differences between the genders and provides training for educators about how the brain learns and the differences between how boys and girls learn.

In the book, The Minds of Boys: Saving Our Sons from Falling Behind in School and Life,Gurian and co-author Kathy Stevens examine why boys are having more problems in school than girls, and offer classroom strategies and activities for motivating boys.

Education World: In what ways do boys learn differently from girls?

Michael Gurian: The whole brain system is different. Boys tend to be more kinesthetic, more hands-on, more spatial-mechanical. They don’t tend to sit still to learn as well as girls do. Of course, this is an average; there are some who can. They don’t tend to use as many words, they don’t produce as many, and they don’t think in words as much. Boys have about half the verbal centers girls have, so they don’t rely as much on the words. They don’t utilize their fine motor skills as much, and they don’t develop in the brain as quickly or as much, and that goes well into adulthood, too. They rely more on gross motor skills, so that means more physical movement.

Then there is another profound thing that readers seem to find very interesting, which is the rest state. A boy’s brain goes into a rest state many times during the day, so he tends to be the one who “check out.” He’s almost half asleep. Even in a rest state, girls have about half-active brains, so they are taking notes more, and they don’t zone out or check out as much. That in itself is actually quite profound, because the classroom exacerbates that rest state. So we lose more and more of these guys.

And when teachers understand that, when they get that rest state, when we show them the brain scans and they say, “Wow, look at that, that brain is completely shut off,” then they also see what’s going on in relation to that more kinesthetic, spatial-mechanical brain, and how much more it needs to move around, that it can’t just sit and listen to words.

I would say, though, if you are looking at traditional education or classical education, one thing it did better than we do now is that it included children constantly in relevance. Whatever they were learning was linked to some relevance for them, whether they had a debate, or if they were reading a book. [What was being taught] was important to your life.


Certain elements are cultural. The brain differences are not. The brain differences are chromosomal, so they are genetic; our research is from everywhere. If you scan guys in Japan, or do brain scans of guys in Japan or India, where I used to live, you see the same brain differences. Those brains still go to a rest state.  The culture differences are in how we guide children to get educated. But the brain differences are robust wherever you go.

Allow more physical movement  that will keep the brains out of rest state. That will compel these brains to keep working, and that leads to better education.There are many ways to facilitate physical movement; a boy can just pace a little.

Another thing is teachers will look at how they are teaching reading, writing, and language arts. Once they see the scans, and see how much less of the boys’ brains is working in these verbal areas, and see how much more is working in the spatial, they will utilize more graphics. A key way of doing this in the third and fourth grades is during the brainstorming phase [before students write] is to let the kids who want to and who think visually and graphically draw with colored pencils. They will draw what they are going to write about. And we have great data on this — in the chapter on reading and language arts, we have all sorts of success from folks who have done this. And the kids’ grades will go up, because they now will have sensory detail once they start writing.

A third thing that they can do is become more project-driven and less strand-driven. For boys, make sure that we do project-driven thinking, in which we do one thing, one strand, and the kids who want to, will just focus on the project, and they don’t have to multi-task the strands.

And the teachers know how to do both these, because most teaching in math initially was project-driven, it was point A to point B calculations. We have to go back to some project thinking.

And the last little thing is boys learn in master-apprentice relationships. They have for almost a million years. We need to bring more of the retired men from the community into our classrooms to read to our second graders and third graders. And we need to bring more of these mentors and more of these people in to help the teachers in the classroom, all the way through middle school, to get this other voice, this second person, this second mother, or this second grandfather in there, helping to be there for these kids. Boys don’t learn as well with 30 people to one teacher. Boys’ brains are not as adaptable to that framework. They are more adaptable to the one-on-one, single project [approach], which I call the master-apprentice.

Prolonged time in front of the screen that we have to worry about for boys.  Science-based research is clear that this is affecting brain development. [Some research has shown that young children who watch a lot of television are at greater risk of developing Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD).] Generally, we’re finding there’s an awakening among parents. They understand that the male brain is very mesmerized by any screens and spatial, but they’re also realizing that this must be done in moderation. A gun is attractive to someone who is spatial, but we don’t give him a gun. I urge parents not to allow too much screen time for boys–it is detrimental to their brains.  Don’t drive down the road and have DVD’s playing–give them books! Don’t allow movies, TV and video games to be babysitters for your boys.

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