The Primacy of Relationship in Teaching Boys

in Boyhood Studies
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In a large-scale survey of effective teaching practices with boys conducted in 2008 across 18 schools in 6 different English-speaking countries, we collected lessons in a wide variety of subject areas (math, literature, science, art) shaped to fit boys’ particular learning needs and preferences. At a time of widely-published claims about boys’ relative failure to thrive in contemporary school settings, we surveyed schools dedicated to boys in particular—boys’ schools—in hopes of discovering the outlines of a pedagogy that might have broader relevance for boys everywhere. Nearly 1,000 teachers responded with detailed descriptions of teaching approaches that succeeded in engaging boys. Boys themselves—1,500 of them, aged 12-19—corroborated the features of effective instruction reported by their teachers. We suggest that the practices identified were “chafed” into being by sustained interactions between teachers and their male students. In this mutually-attuned, coordinated interaction between boy learner and adult instructor, we found qualities of responsiveness and connection echoing regulatory communication commonly associated with earlier periods in child development. Given current concerns about widespread gaps in many boys’ school performance, these stories affirming educational relationships could point the way to a clearer understanding of how best to engage boys in scholastic endeavor.

Boyhood Studies

An Interdisciplinary Journal