I recently became interested in the effect gender has on brain development. Research is demonstrating profound differences in how boys and girls learn. Unfortunately, much of this information is not finding its way to parents or teachers. As a woman teaching only girls, this hasn't been a problem. However, I’ve found that I was increasingly frustrated with the little boys I interacted with at church and homeschool co-op. As I become better informed on gender brain differences, I find that I now actually enjoy working with boys.
Please note that these sex differences vary from person to person. Some females have a more masculine brain structure and some males have a more female brain structure. There are also some children who have an androgynous brain type which allows them to perform well in a wide variety of brain activities.
Here’s a few things that I’ve learned.
* Girls can hear sounds much softer than the faintest sounds audible to boys
* Stress hormones can improve male performance and impair female performance.
This may explain why boys often perform better on timed tests. Also, boys often respond well to a teacher with a loud, in-your-face approach while girls could be traumatized by this style of teaching.
* Girls can interpret facial expressions better than boys.
Boys often interpret the actions of others in a more threatening way because they don't accurately read the other person.
* Boys tend to overestimate their own abilities, while girls have a tendency to underestimate their own abilities. Girls with a lower self-esteem do better academically than boys.
* Girls mature into an “adult” brain in the middle teen age years. The pre-frontal lobe of the brain, responsible for judgment and impulse control, may not be fully formed in boys until they are twenty years of age or older.
From the NASSPE website:
* In adolescence, brain activity associated with emotion moves up to the cerebral cortex. This change occurs only in girls. In boys, the locus of emotional control remains stuck in the amygdala.
As a result, boys and men can be more vulnerable than girls because they lack the means to verbally processes emotional events.
* The areas of the brain involved in language and fine motor skills mature about six years earlier in girls than in boys
* The areas of the brain involved in targeting and spatial memory mature about four years earlier in boys than in girls
The scope and sequence of teaching math and language would need to accomodate the differences in maturation. Strict guidelines for grade level would not be in the best interest of children with varying degrees of brain development. I found this out the hard way. Now I just wait to teach subject material until the child shows readiness to learn. Both my children and I are less frustrated this way.
Note: NASSPE is the National Association for Single Sex Public Education. It is an intriguing thought. There are enough boys and girls that cross over into the opposite gender's style of learning to question the effectiveness of this approach.
(However, after giving it more thougth, I find that I like the idea of single sex education more and more.)
It might be more efficient to test children for learning style and then match curriculum and teaching method to the child, whether educated at a school or homeschool setting.
I once had a conversation with a college professor who taught sociology. She was adament that all gender differences were the result of socialization. I was brought up with this philosophy too. When our daughters were small, we bought traditionally male toys like race cars, construction sets and building blocks. Our daughters were never interested in those toys. The only thing they ever built with the blocks was a baby doll bed. I finally gave most of the toys to Good Will. We kept the blocks because we could always use another baby doll bed.
For more information on brain/gender differences, check out the following resources:
Why Gender Matters
Boys and Girls Learn Differently
Excerpts from Brain Sex
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