Could blogs help boys catch up in school?

CleverClaire, via Flickr (CC license)
Could class blogs help motivate boys to catch up in school?

I just listened to the podcast of the July 27 edition of Colorado Matters, a show from Colorado Public Radio. The segment Some Districts Move Toward Gender Education. CPR’s Dan Meyers interviewed Kelley King, Director of Education at the Colorado Springs-based Gurian Institute, which offers gender education training to teachers.

The gist of their discussion was that boys tend to underperform in K-12 education, largely (according to King) because US K-12 teaching approaches have historically been more geared to the way girls tend to learn, get motivated and behave.

King said that one pervasive problem she saw as a teacher and principal in the Boulder Valley School District (BVSD) was that “We were having problem getting boys to rewrite and revise something that they’d already written. Once they wrote something, they were pretty much done with it. We realized we had to have something more motivating — which would be bigger audiences, pleasing someone other than just the teacher. …We know that boys aren’t as inclined to just want to please the teacher.”

BVSD experimented with approaches such as having students prepare work that they would read at an assembly, or to older children, and found that this did improve boys’ motivation and performance. Apparently, girls’ performance did not suffer.

This got me wondering about blogs…

Imagine this: A 5th grade class might have its own blog, but it’s not just open for any student to post. Students would work with the teacher to get their assignments or other work in good enough shape to post. That work would include revisions — and maybe even research, learning to include links and pictures, etc.

That content would then be available through a network of blogs, perhaps on the school’s site. Students would be encouraged to read and comment on other students’ work — and those comments would be moderated, and teachers would work with students to teach them about civility, tolerance, and constructive criticism as well as spelling, grammar, and coherence.

I’m not a boy, but I know this would have done wonders for my motivation in school! I pretty much got A’s if I liked the teacher and assignments, or F’s because I ignored them otherwise and did my own thing. I’m not sure this difference in approach King recommends is so much about gender as personality type, but who knows…

I know many K-12 classes already have blogs, but are any schools doing something like this? Or homeschool groups? I’d love to learn more. Please comment below

6 thoughts on Could blogs help boys catch up in school?

  1. You say, “I got . . . F’s because I ignored them [teachers] and did my own thing.” Don’t take for granted that “doing your own thing” is bad. Those times when I ignored my teachers and did *my* own thing were often when I learned the most.

    I suspect that insistence that boys supress their independence and priorities (including learning priorities) may be a main source of problems. I was a boy who hated school but did very well. I secretly placed very tight limits on how far I would go to appease the teacher (for example, I never raised my hand to answer a question; I would resubmit an assignment the teacher hated because I genuinely felt it was my best work regardless of his opinion). I reserved my best efforts for what *I* felt was important.

    When you talk about “working with the teacher” and grooming “assigments” for the *group* blog, I worry that you’re already setting things up for failure. For the better bloggers, blogging isn’t just (or at all) about popularity: it’s also about having a voice. Give the students enough freedom that they at least *believe* their work is their own initiative. Pleasing the teacher is often a disincentive to work. (Though some special teachers do pull this off, often through counterintuitive means, such as frequent criticism that’s harsh but fair.)

    Incidentally, I think this problem of external priorities may apply to girls too – I often wonder if, having been trained to look to others for direction (which is what I found school did, and it’s Wrong), they find themselves somewhat lost when they end school and find it missing.)

  2. Very good points, Geof. Thanks for making them.

    I’m torn on this one. God knows I’ve had enough bad things to say about US education not encouraging enough independent, critical thought and training minds to please others at their own expense. No argument there.

    That said, schools exist to impart skills as well. And that’s very important. Students do need to learn how to write, and write well. They do need to learn how to get along with others, have respect for different views and others’ work and expression. I’ve found that people who don’t master these skills often end up very frustrated at their own inability to communicate well.

    Yes, it’s a double-edged sword. But what isn’t? Ultimately with any tool it all comes down to the people who are using it, I think.

    – Amy Gahran

  3. I’m a college professor who has introduced blogging to my intro-level students, and I have to say, it’s done some very interesting things to the quality of the writing my students do. I don’t know how well tis would translate to the 5th grade, but my students are only a coupe years older than the typical high school student, who I thin would benefit a lot from blogging.

    What’s interesting, of course, is that only a few decades ago the same eductional styles today called “traditionally favoring girls” was considered too masculine for girls. Boys who today are assumed to be unable to sit still for school were then assumed to be the only ones with the discipline for school. What has changed is that we’re teaching boys to be more independent (which is good, in some ways, and not so good, in others) and authority-challenging, like the commenter above. What’s not-so-good about this is that, of course, in addition to creating readers and math-literate persons schools also have to produce citizens, and while the blind submission to authority is not exactly the desired outcome, neither is a person with absolutely no sense of his interconnections and responsibilities with his fellow citizens. So the anti-authoritarians don’t vote, don’t go on to college (last year college students were 60% female), and get shut out of a growing number of fields (college professors, again something considered a “man’s job” just a few decades ago, are overwhelmingly female today, though men are still the ones with most of the tenure).

    Group blogging would, I think, make learning less of an individual pursuit and more of a public, group on — and that plays well into male identities defined as “public”, as “part of the gang”, and might well help produce a sense of collective responsibility, in much the way that team sports do when given great coaching.

  4. Excellent points, Dustin.

    As I learn more and more about cognitive science (a side hobby of mine, I’m a bit of a Steven Pinker groupie), I’m impressed by how differently humans think and learn *in concert* as well as individually. When people talk together in groups, they tend to literally think differently, come up with different ideas and associations.

    Again, I don’t know if the moderated group blog & school blog network I described might help or hurt elementary education. I’m definitely not an expert there. But I suspect it might capitalize on both individual learning, one-on-one teacher interaction, and peer group visibility and interaction.

    Just a thought.

    – Amy Gahran

  5. Very convincing article!

    I think it is important for the children to see how good writing skills interact with “real life”. When you practice writing at school and you know that all you are going to get is some score, you are not interested in most cases. If you are writing for some kind of audience, it is a great motivation.

  6. According to the Dilbert comic strip, males have a natural ability to sense unnecessary work. What constitutes good writing is so vague that most boys think that it is unnecessary and disregard it.

    To get boys to perform you have to have a direct simple connection between the action and the payoff (not necessarily money).

    The easiest way to improve their reading and writing skills would be to give them a task and then forbid them to speak, forcing all their communication into a written mode and slowly scale up the requirements toward formality.

    The problem is that English is too freeform and boys have no problem testing its limits.

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