The Joy of Boys Learning
I recently attended the annual conference of the National Council of Teachers of English. I was able to take in several informative and useful presentations. I attended an afternoon session titled From Blocks to Social Media: Boys’ Play Based Composing of Self and Story. The presentation was an examination of case studies of a preschool play model, a high school virtual communication model and college level Role Playing Game model, all intended to help boys construct meaning and establish identity. The conference itself was quite fascinating – especially to me as an educator in an all boys' school which celebrates the liveliness and joy of boys, both in their work and their play.
As engaging as the presentation was, it was not what I found most interesting. What did capture my curiosity was the nearly tactile nervousness (if not fear) about boys among the educators in the room. At times, I have heard boys described by teachers as “big,” “loud,” “noisy,” “scary” and “unable to sit still,” and the tenor of the room was on pitch with those characterizations. As I listened to the models at three different developmental levels, I found myself being thankful to work in an all boys’ school that embraces “boyness” rather than considering it “the boy problem” that was referenced in this presentation.
Why are boys so wonderful to teach? The answers are as nuanced as boys themselves, and they transcend stereotypes. Boys long to be useful. They seek agency and action. They want to solve the problem successfully. They want to be helpful (though probably a descriptor that parents might not apply to their adolescent sons). Boys are tender; just bring a puppy to the pickup line or watch boys as they compete to play with a faculty member’s baby. Both instances provide boys “safe” avenues to be gentle, tender and loving – something society hasn’t yet figured out how to do often enough. Boys are witty and they see the humor in just about every niche where it hides. They like to be funny, and they like to be made to laugh. Boys’ competitiveness permeates all of these attributes. They rise to challenges. While not terribly verbal, boys are social beings. They want to feel connected, and they are loyal friends. They are moral and ethical, and often right and wrong is as clear as black and white to them. Finally, boys are exuberant, joyful, and wonderfully messy, and I am fortunate to work in a school where our love of boys and our care for their spirit enables them to thrive.
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