Keep it cool

Lucinda Neall suggests ways of encouraging boys to prepare for exams

Many boys don't give schoolwork and exams high priority, and being natural risk-takers, they leave revision until the eleventh hour. This works well for some, but for others it is too little, too late. What can teachers do to get boys to prepare adequately for exams?

The most useful advice I can offer is this: do not expect their characteristics to change; rather, take account of these characteristics and use them to set boys up to win.

In contrast to girls, most boys do not like to admit their shortcomings or to ask for help, and they often over-estimate their ability. It is important to enable them to identify and sort out problems early on, without the risk of losing face.

Carry out a quick class review of the curriculum, asking students to give a thumbs-up or thumbs-down for each topic. From the front of the class you can quickly assess which topics need whole-class revision, and which students need individual help. The facial expressions accompanying the thumbs-up or down will speak volumes.

To motivate boys to revise, avoid lectures on the importance of grades to get a good job - such exhortations are a sure way to turn them off.

Instead, teach them time-saving revision techniques. What you offer should be upbeat, challenging, immediate, achievable and not take up too much of their valuable leisure time.

Ask them for creative and time-efficient revision techniques for your subject. Have "Ideas for revision" on the noticeboard and include suggestions from all exam groups.

Take advantage of boys' enquiring minds to get them involved in deciding what, how and when they are going to revise. Co-ordinate the approach to revision with other subjects and year group tutors to ensure students don't hear the same thing in each class.

Tutors can explain the notion of individual learning preferences, then set students the task of finding out what revision conditions suit them best.

For example:

* morning, afternoon or night;

* home, school, other (which room?);

* seeing, hearing, saying, writing or doing;

* silence, noise or music (what kind, how loud?);

* half-hour, one hour, hour and a half, other;

* alone or with others (who?);

* like help, don't like help (from whom, what sort?); Ask students what motivates them, and how they can use this self-knowledge to get themselves to revise. Do they want to win; have fun; be right; not fail; do their best; relax; be cool?

Friendship groups might allow frank discussion, but limit time to keep boys focused. Tutors can also help students with speed and legibility. Put the group into boy-girl pairings, do time tests to practise speed, then get partners to assess each others' legibility. Alternatively, set up same-gender pairings and get the boys to advise each other on sneaky ways to make untidy writing legible.

Getting boys to explore ideas is relatively easy; getting them to implement them is harder. Having explored with tutors which study techniques are likely to suit them, students need subject revision homework to test the techniques out. Even if you are still teaching the course, find a slot in the lesson to check the effectiveness of revision homework: such checks should be light-hearted, pacey, but important.

Before boys go on study leave they need to be in the habit of revising regularly. Some can manage their private study well, whereas others simply treat it as extra holiday. Get them to make a revision plan before they go and make yourself available during the period for revision classes, individual tutorials and progress checks. Ask boys how you can make revision sessions relevant and useful and set appointments to review progress.

Some boys really need to come into school each day to revise, but would only do so if it seemed a "cool" thing to do. Approach them privately and use your relationship with them to encourage them in. Provide space in an empty classroom and offer inducements such as music, food and drink. Reward them with attention and good humour.

The key to getting work out of a boy is to: * set up a process that is easier for him to opt into than opt out of;

* give him work that has to be done in short regular bursts;

* provide him with immediate feedback on his progress;

* create an environment that he enjoys and where he feels he can win.

Coursework While you are thinking about boys and results, spare a few moments to consider how to get them to hand in good-quality coursework on time. Set them up to succeed by asking for work in manageable chunks and monitoring their progress, eg:

* Step 1 - state choice of topic;

* Step 2 - hand in a coursework plan;

* Step 3 - hand in a copy of research notes;

* Step 4 - hand in first draft (rough but legible);

* Step 5 - receive first draft back from the teacher with comments and guidance;

* Step 6 - bring second draft into class, check and plan final amendments;

* Step 7 - hand in final draft.

* Lucinda Neall is the author of Bringing the Best out in Boys - Communication Strategies for Teachers, Hawthorn Press pound;14.99.

"Bringing the best out in boys" in-service training days will be run on March 9 in Glasgow and March 16 in London. Contact the Neall Scott Partnership

Tel: 01525 222600


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