Bid to put boys in the hot seat

14th May 1999 at 01:00
Boys can raise their exam performance by 7 per cent and girls by 2 per cent if classroom seating is reorganised and teaching styles adapted to suit boys' natural patterns of learning.

The claim was made by Geoff Hannan, a leading English-based writer and consultant, at an in-service conference in Dunblane this week.

Teachers should group pupils on a boygirlboygirl basis instead of letting them sit with small groups of friends, Mr Hannan said. Splitting pupils into pairs is also a powerful strategy for raising attainment.

In a contribution that drew critical acclaim from some 140 teachers, he said: "Two kids working together on a task will actually help each other learn and frequently far better than any teacher can do. The language is right and it's at the right level."

Mr Hannan, a former London deputy head and inspector, who has become a guru on gender differences, said that teachers would be "crazy" not to reshape classes, especially in cases where they were having difficulties.

From the beginning of secondary school, pupils should be taught for a third of the time in friendship pairs, a third in single-gender, non-friendship pairs and a third in mixed pairs.

"Reorganise the classroom and immediately teachers will feel it easier and better to manage. When a boy and girl work together there is seven times more language actually used," he said.

By breaking down the small group of boys who cause 95 per cent of the hassle, teachers were able to increase the amount and quality of learning. After initial hostility, pupils say they prefer the new arrangement which allows them to work at some stage with everyone in the class.

The new arrangements lead to less bullying because of the safer learning environment. Mr Hannan said: "Classrooms are not informal social environments. They are socially engineered environments for learning outcomes."

Research on the brain showed genetic differences between girls and boys with girls having twice the area devoted to communication skills. "Girls are born with a greater propensity for language and communication skills development and this is immediately to their advantage in the classroom," Mr Hannan stated.

"Men either think or talk. Women think while talking."

Boys learnt and thought in different ways, were not good at linear progression and demanded immediate gratification. They learnt by doing. Boys on average were able to concentrate on a task for five minutes but girls had three times the concentration level.

"Girls are linear, sequential language-based learners who learn through analysis and language," Mr Hannan stated.

He believes teachers can counter genetic and social differences by tailoring classroom strategies to boys, including shaping lessons sequentially to aid their learning.

Performance is boosted if up to a third of lessons follow a three-stage pattern - descriptive (how), reflective (why) and speculative (if). "This is a simple and powerful code to lead kids through the lessons. If a lesson goes wrong, the hierarchy of language is invariably out of order. Lessons that go well have this in place quite unconsciously," he said.

Teachers had to watch for a drop-off in boys' learning, which in Scotland was probably between S1 and S2. "If you think about the coasting male, you are on the road to improving boys' performance," he said.

Performance would improve if boys could see and understand the short-term aims of a lesson and if there was a challenge. Natural competitiveness drew them to quizzes as a means of revision.

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