Fidgety Boys program studies learning style

By Alissa Groeninger

For the past six months, Making Minds Matter LLC – an organization that trains educators and parents on the learning differences between boys and girls – has been running a program called Fidgety Boys, which strives to educate teachers about the learning styles of boys and how to engage them in competitive and hands-on activities.

Bill Costello, training director of Making Minds Matter LLC, said boys are having more problems in schools than girls. Costello referenced a study done by the National Assessment of Educational Progress which tested the reading ability gap between boys and girls. The study found that the gap grows as students get older. When children are 9, girls are reading at a higher level than boys by five points. When they are 13, this gap increases to a 10-point difference, and at 17 years of age, there is a 14-point gap, the assessment said.

“Often times boys with reading problems experience the domino effect,” Costello said.

He added that improving reading ability among boys is important because reading difficulties may lead some boys to drop out of school and then commit crimes. According to Costello, 90 percent of incarcerated criminals are male.

“I strongly believe that there are differences in the ways boys and girls learn. It is interesting to see that this research is focusing on how boys learn,” said Janice Hari, science department coordinator for Urbana Middle School.

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Costello added that schools often cater to girls’ learning styles.

Charles Weinberg, English teacher at Centennial High School, said he has observed a disproportionately high number of girls placed in his Advanced Placement Literature course. However, he said he has not noticed a significant difference in learning styles once the students are placed in the class.

Pamela Alexander-VanEaton, math teacher at Centennial High School, disagrees with the Fidgety Boys program. She said males in elementary school may need more stimulation then their female counterparts. However, she does not believe this is the case in high school.

Teachers participating in the Fidgety Boys program are taught that boys need to move around and take breaks during the day and are encouraged to utilize lessons that allow for movement around the classroom.

“The activities in the Fidgety Boys program are designed to engage boys in learning,” he said.

During the training, teachers participate in all the activities they learn, with the purpose of allowing them to completely understand what they will be teaching.

Many of the activities in the Fidgety Boys program are competitive team learning exercises because boys are motivated by these activities since they do not want to let their team down and they feel a drive to win, Costello said. These competitive activities allow teachers to use the natural tendencies of male students to help them learn, he said.

Hari said she has seen this kind of activity play out in her own classroom.

“(Boys) are the first to shout out an answer or raise their hands to answer,” Hari said. “They thrive on ‘hands-on’ activities: physically moving around the classroom, building models, testing hypotheses. In a group they are often the first to use a piece of equipment.”

Writing activities in the Fidgety Boys program are based around the idea that boys are visual learners, rather than verbal learners. Teachers are taught to have boys begin the writing process by drawing pictures. They then write a story based on the pictures. This allows them to better organize their thoughts and to add more detail to the story, Costello said.

“As educators we need to accommodate the needs of both genders and provide relevant, challenging curriculum,” Hari said.