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NYC Helpline: How To: Manage Your Classroom
View Instructional Videos for Teachers about Classroom Management

Classroom Management (Secondary)

A high school science teacher demonstrates how her structured and routine-based classroom environment is the key to success.

Classroom Management (Elementary)

An elementary school teacher guides us through her daily classroom routines and shows how consistency and structure are essential.

Classroom Management through Cooperative Groups

View two elementary school teachers demonstrate how they engage their students through group work to help them learn.

How to Home
NYC Helpline: Manage Your Classroom
NYC Helpline: How To Get Started

Some Thoughts on Achieving Breakthroughs with Boys in Today’s Classroom
Charlene Davis

“Boys have a lot of Huck Finn in them—they don’t, on average, learn as well as girls by sitting still, concentrating, multi-tasking, listening to words.” What is your thinking about this Michael Gurian quote, included in the book, Boy Writers, by Ralph Fletcher (p. 21)? If you narrowed matters to gender, from which would you say more of your undesirable displays of behavior come from? If it is in fact from boys—and I am smugly assuming your classroom does have some behavior issues by virtue of your reading this article—have you explored strategies specifically targeted to boys? This article intends to venture into that realm. I certainly have noticed an added “busyness” among more boys; I, too, have noticed a “disconnectedness” from them in certain parts of the English Language Arts workshop. It troubles me—bugs me—perturbs me because I do love the unique energy that boys bring to the classroom. I will admit there can be a vulgarity—an intensity of emotion that I have seen boys express that often confounds me; however, my maternal nature keeps me pulling for this group of boys, and prodding them, nevertheless.

There are authors who have been paying attention to this very important subject; two of whom have been mentioned already. Following are some suggestions gleaned from the writings of various authors, as well as from me.

  • Go out of your way to seek out literature and topics that will interest your boys!  I am going to guess that you’ve heard this one before, but I’m discovering that there is so much undiscovered territory in the world of boy-appealing literature! 
  • I recently learned of Jacqueline Woodson’s, Miracle’s Boys, which focuses on the lives of three, inner-city orphans—the eldest of whom takes the weighty responsibility for the younger two. For any boys feeling trapped, or who are angered by heavy issues, this book can provide an outlet for discussion, or writing!
  • Another new discovery for me is Stanford Wong Flunks Big Time, by Lisa Yee. Appropriate for grades 6-7. I began reading this book aloud to students because of the academic apathy toward school that I was witnessing as I went from classroom to classroom. This book focuses on the life of a middle-class boy grappling with many issues, the most important of which is his poor academic performance. This poor performance ends up hampering his participation in athletic activities, much to his horror.
  • I highly recommend, We Beat the Streets, by Doctors Davis, Hunt, Jenkins with Sharon Draper. This was a book club choice for our middle school. It takes the reader inside the lives of these three men, from their boyhoods to medical school. It is rich with reflective thinking about the wrong choices they often made and about the grace that saved them. As I began to move around and read early parts of this book aloud, it ignited a desire among the fifth-graders to read it, too.

These powerful books are a good start, but I encourage you to begin talking to colleagues, librarians, and book store professionals to uncover the jewels out there that await your boys!  Also, you can inquire at Bank Street Bookstore which promises “the latest and best of all you can find” www.bankstreetbooks.com.

  • Seek out tools to help you to better understand your boys!  I began by mentioning both Michael Gurian’s and Ralph Fletcher’s books, which were written to open up the teacher’s understanding, and to help inoculate us against undue frustration!  Fletcher mentions many more authors, and shares many samples of boys’ writing. I would like to add two more authors to the list.
  • Mychal Wynn’s book, Follow Your Dreams: Lessons I Learned in School was sent to me by a beloved relative who teaches. Wynn had come to his school to speak. In this book, he shares his personal account of challenges he suffered with remaining motivated. He reveals how it was that he got turned around; then he offers original motivational poetry he’s written, as well as strategies teachers can use to help boys set goals to succeed. I consider this text to be a great tool for facilitating the paradigm-shifting efforts that boys need to take to remain focused. He has also published a teacher-parent workbook, specifically targeted for African-American males.
  • You may be familiar with actor Hill Harper’s Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny. This book is an American Library Association winner, and is intended to focus males’ thinking toward higher aspirations in life. It is targeted for teens and young adults. I especially like the adages he includes throughout the book. He also uses quotes, as well as e-mail queries he received from young men across America.
  • Lastly, Fletcher mentions interviewing boys to find out their interests, likes and dislikes. Surveys are something I firmly believe in for all students at the beginning of the year and I encourage the use of meaningful reflective thinking and writing throughout the year. I can see the power of having students look back at their survey at year’s end; I can also see the power of an actual one-on-one interview with each boy since we often find them to be reluctant writers. Some questions could be: How often would you require movement in a classroom? How would you make it happen? What topics are of major, of medium, and of little importance to you? Who would you love to meet, this school year, from any walk of life? Why? What was your most thrilling experience in life, so far? Why? What things matter most to you in this life? What projects are you interested in taking part in (go as small, or as large as you’d like in your thinking)? What things would you like to do differently, this year?

Boys will become men, and men are expected to lead in major ways. They are expected to lead families, to lead in the workplace, and to lead in their communities. My thinking then is that we certainly owe it to boys, during their formative years, to keep them passionate about learning, and to keep them intent on doing their very best!  We can guide them accordingly, while celebrating—and teaching them to celebrate-- their uniqueness.

As always, if you have any questions or comments, feel free to e-mail me.


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