Friday, April 19, 2013

Teaching Boys Who Struggle in School: Pathway 1: Support

Cleveland devotes the second half of her book to exploring the 6 pathways to turn underachieving boys into successful students and men. The first pathway is Support. Cleveland begins by quoting from psychologist Lev Vygotsky that “optimal learning takes place when a student is able to stretch just beyond his current level of understanding or proficiency. In this new territory lies an optimal degree of challenge that stimulates learning without overwhelming the learner.” This exposes the problem with learning and underachieving boys: if underachieving boys are afraid of failure, they will not take the risks necessary to put themselves into new situations or stretch themselves. How can this be combated?  Through support.  By creating trusting relationships between the teacher and student, “ a secure teacher-student relationship encourages the underachieving boy to accept the risks of learning; and second, a supportive classroom culture encourages him to persist through both the trials and errors of learning without shutting down.”

Cleveland goes on to explore these two aspects. Boys need to believe that their teacher knows they can succeed.  Also, that if necessary, the teacher will provide support when necessary. Cleveland quotes from a research report called “Boys Getting it Right: Report of the Inquiry into the Education of Boys” regarding the qualities teachers can have that communicate trust and support:
  • Teacher to Boy Interactions
    • Attends to my interests in some way
    • Cares about me individually
    • Easy to talk to
    • Helps me feel OK about myself
    • Knows how I learn
    • Knows me personally
    • Knows what I am feeling
    • Listens to me; is understanding
    • Listens to me when I have a problem
    • Respects me
    • Talks to me about what interests me outside of school
  • Responses to Misbehavior
    • Doesn’t hold a grudge
    • Fair
    • Gives me a second chance
    • Has no negative expectations
    • Likes me even if I mess up
    • Shows no favoritism
  • Support During Learning
    • Encourages me to try again
    • Explains work carefully
    • Helps me learn and makes sure I get it
    • Helps me learn from my mistakes
    • Makes work interesting
    • Passionate about and committed to what is being taught
  • Fear reduction:
    • Doesn’t humiliate me in front of the class
    • Explains policies and why they are being enforced
    • Relaxed and can laugh at own mistakes

One tool that Cleveland explores to provide the support boys need as a leader coach model.  In this model, teachers aren’t just focused on learning content, but on building life skills in their boys. Boys that have coaches and mentors in their life that are more concerned for the individual create a more positive learning environment and warm relationship. This often translates to success in all areas of the boy’s life.  

Another access point Cleveland explores is creating a safe learning environment. The importance of creating a non-threatening learning environment where boys can feel safe while learning new material, learning and exploring from their mistakes, and forging ahead with confidence in new ideas is imperative.  This learning environment needs to be a space that “a boy belongs and feels both respected and valued as a member of that environment.”  If the space doesn’t feel safe, the boy is unable to learn.  Cleveland cites research from DePorter and colleagues that discusses the importance of everything in a classroom speaks to the students.  So, how do we create classrooms that are safe, nurturing places of learning?

Cleveland moves past the tool of coach models and safe learning environments to creating classrooms of shared principles. She argues of the importance of creating a culture of mutual responsibility in a classroom where teachers and students are equals- both have a say in deciding the direction of the classroom culture.  This creates buy in for the students as well as for the teacher regarding accountability.  And, this take considerable time to develop. Teachers need to constantly reinforce principles that are mutually agreed upon over and over reteaching and relearning from mistakes.  

Cleveland shares Deporter’s 8 Keys of Excellence with her readers as guiding points to help develop shared principles. These principles are great for classrooms as well as rolling over into the students’ lives outside of school.  
  • Integrity: match behaviors with values
  • Failure leads to success: learn from mistakes
  • Speak with Good purpose: Speak honestly and kindly
  • This Is It!: Make the most of every moment
  • Commitment: keep promises
  • Ownership: Take responsibility for feelings, words, and actions
  • Flexibility: Remain open to change
  • Balance: develop mind, body, and spirit
After explaining and adapting these 8 skills, Cleveland uses the as a spring board to develop classroom policies with students as another tool to employ to create a safe and secure learning environment.  She suggests:
1. Involve boys in creating the policies: this removes the power structure from the process and empowers the students to see their view points as equally valuable and relevant.
2. Limit the number of policies to five or fewer: the longer the list of policies, the harder it is to enforce
3. State policies positively: state the behavior you wish to encourage.
4. Make sure the policies are fully understood before enforcing them: many boys evaluate the policy by how it is implemented rather than the fairness of the behavior it asks for.
5: Be Consistent. Be consistent. Be consistent: consistency reinforces safety
“Boys need clear, firm boundaries; the harder they push against them, the stronger those boundaries should be. It is important to remember, however, that part of the purpose of boundaries is to give them something to push against, so don’t be surprised (or angry) when they do just that.”
6. Enforce policies in a matter of fact way: boys push against boundaries as a means of getting attention.  The stronger you react to each infraction, the stronger the boys’ response.  Keep it simple. Be positive. Be calm. Be clear.
7. Forgive and forget. No grudges allowed.  Boys are more likely to hear if we say it, and then move on.  
8. Acknowledge effort: give genuine praise.

Cleveland sums up her explanation of Pathway 1:Support stating:
  • Remember that building trust is a long term process.  
  • Having clear policies help students and teachers develop safe and secure learning environments
  • Everything we do speaks to our students
  • Live the principles everyday so students see the principles ingrained in their school and personal lives.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Teaching Boys Who Struggle in School: Part One

I began reading Kathleen Palmer Cleveland’s book Teaching Boys Who Struggle In School: Strategies That Turn Underachievers into Successful Learners because a good friend of mine knew of my studies regarding boys and learning.  

Cleveland opens the book giving the reader the dual perspectives that exist regarding why boys don’t achieve.  One perspective is that because there was such a fixation on catching up girls, boys were left behind and are now suffering from this crisis.  The other perspective suggests that boys brains are hardwired differently and therefore need to be taught differently. The one perspective all points agree on is that boys in ethnic minorities struggle the most especially if they live in low socio-economic areas. Rather than focusing on probable reasons of why boys struggle, Cleveland focus on finding solutions for boys’ underachievement.

Cleveland found that there are four key areas affecting boys underachievement:
1. Influence of non-academic factors on academic success: social confidence, attitudes about self and learning,  and access to support systems.
2. Factors contributing to the “experience” of school: relationships kids have with friends and their teachers at school.
3. How competence can enhance persistence: lack of literacy skills affect boys the most
4. How a classroom’s physical arrangement impacts a learner’s success within it: lighting, seating, room arrangement affect boys

Cleveland that suggest her goals to help boys become more successful in school:
  • Replace his negative attitudes about learning with productive perspectives about the role  of risk ( and even failure) as a necessary and valued part of the learning process
  • Reconnect him with school, with learning, and with a belief in himself as a competent learner who is capable, valued and respected
  • Rebuild his life skills and learning skills that lead to academic success and also lay the groundwork for success in life
  • Reduce his need to use unproductive and distracting behaviors as a means of self-exploration

To begin her journey towards achieving her 4 goals, Cleveland spends time dissecting the learning styles of most boys who are underachievers. Surprisingly, 63% are Sensing/Feeling and 24% are Intuitive/Feeling.  This means that over 87% of underachievers fall into these two categories.  So, how do we meet the needs of these boys?  With the SF, we need to create learning environments that are non-competitive, but rather collaborative environments.  We need to allow boys to express themselves verbally using their own words, and connect personally to his learning.  With the NF learner, we need to create learning environments that are focused on larger issues, appreciate creativity, and create emotional connections to others. These students also like to work in groups and personally connect to their learning.  As Cleveland comments regarding why these particular groups conflict with traditional school is “learner’s need to connect with what he is learning before he learns so that he can learn it, a process that takes extra time for both the student to do and the teacher to accommodate.”  How can we do this in our classrooms?  
  1. Work interactively with others
  2. Forge a personal connection to the information
  3. Engage with the information in a creative manner and that allows a personal expression of the learning.
Too often as teachers, we teach to the style we are comfortable with rather than creating a classroom that fosters all learning and type styles. This contributes to considerable negativity and lack of success with boys since their needs are not being met.  But, this is not the only contributing factor to boys struggles in school. Cleveland devotes an entire chapter to exploring the issue of the cultural expectations we place on boys.  Boys have a huge fear of failure  which connects to their lack of trying new things because they do not want to be seen as unsuccessful.  Cleveland breaks down these concerns into three factors:
1. The boy code:boys are supposed to behave like superheroes and hide their emotions, they also do not want to be seen as smart, boys don’t want to talk through conflicts, and do not like to read and write.  
  • This boy code, “negatively affects his attitudes and willingness to engage in learning on many levels: by labeling literacy or being smart as feminine and , thus, something to be avoided at all costs; by emphasizing being tough and uncommunicative; and by convincing boys to adopt a host of counterproductive hyper-masculine behaviors and defensive maneuvering, including the willingness to fail in order to secure a sense of belonging.
2. The code and emotional fragility: boys that suppress their emotions and do not learn to deal with their emotions appropriately end up with life long problems:
  • boys will be less able to deal with conflicts, problems, and changes
  • less able to interpret and respond to others, thus unable to develop deep relationships with others
  • boys will tend to turn inward since he can’t get help from others or turn outward and act cruelly
  • ultimately, because he can’t deal with emotions, he can’t read emotions or feel empathetic which puts him at a disadvantage to understanding literature
3. The code and the Lack of Positive Male Role Models: the negative impact of the code increases when boys do not have positive male role models to demonstrate the importance of being a man goes far beyond adhering to a code

Cleveland then goes on to create a multifaceted approach to re-connecting and re-engaging boys.  She creates six pathways to re-engagement: support, guide, reinforce, adjust, ignite, empower. She breaks down the pathways as overarching focuses.  The access points that follow allow the teacher to narrow your focus to a course of action. Finally, the tools give the teacher the means to respond to the students. In subsequent blog posts, I will break down the six pathways.