Learning about Learning

I recently attended a session at the IYI Kids Count Conference that explored the struggles that young boys encounter in the classroom. I was astounded by some of the statistics: 80% of discipline issues involve young boys, 80% of learning disabilities are attributed to boys, boys receive 70% of failing grades, and boys are typically 1 to 1.5 years behind girls in reading and writing skills. Based on these numbers, it is no surprise that boys are more likely to drop out of school and less likely to pursue higher education.

The speakers provided some neurological explanations for these eye-opening statistics. Until age 19, an average girl’s frontal lobe (the decision-making, logical part of the brain) is 25% larger than the average boy’s frontal lobe. Girls also have 15% more blood flow to the brain and develop language skills much earlier than boys. All of these statistics (from the Journal of Pediatric Studies, 2009) demonstrate the importance of teaching in a manner that facilitates learning for both boys and girls. Since boys often do better with kinesthetic and visuospatial learning, the program speakers emphasized the importance of providing an outlet for physical play, utilizing visual props, and also giving opportunities for friendly competition.

As I reflected on the significance of this workshop, I realized that the topic speaks to a broader issue regarding education. While this session specifically illustrated the differences between male and female childhood learning, this is not the only distinction that educators and youth service providers must consider. Children who come from different socioeconomic and racial backgrounds also face unique societal obstacles that may impede their learning. We must recognize the social and biological factors that influence learning and try to accommodate learning differences as much as possible in order to help ALL young people develop into empowered, capable, contributing citizens.

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