Boys Apart - Will Segregating Young Males Help Them Succeed at School?

Fewer and fewer Canadians males are suceeding at school. Is giving them their own space to move the secret to reversing the troubling trend?

By John Lornic (Reader's Digest Canada, November 2010)

(Photo: Mike Kemp/Rubberball/Corbis)

One morning this past June, teacher Wayne Forman and several slouching eighth graders were clustered around a terminal in their school's computer lab. They were watching a video clip of two of the students clambering up a steep slope. The camera work was shaky, and some joker compromised the soundtrack by whistling through a blade of grass. But otherwise, the effort was a compelling recreation of the opening scene of Banner in the Sky, a gripping young-adult novel about a 16-year-old determined to scale one of Switzerland's deadliest peaks (the Matterhorn, renamed "the Citadel" in the book).

The video was a school assignment. Instead of the traditional book report, Forman, an English teacher at C.B. Stirling School in Hamilton, chose to give his class activity-related group projects. One lanky student, Josh Wood, built an impressive model of the Swiss summit from plaster-cast mouldings. Sebastian Helmer, his shaggy classmate, starred in the video and helped edit it.

Forman explains his approach: "You've got to be creative, and it has to be meaningful."

Educators seek to engage students, but Forman, a good-humoured 33-year-old, pushes himself to be especially innovative in his role as leader of an all-boys class. For the past six years, C.B. Stirling, a K-8 public school, has offered optional single-gender classes for boys, from Grade 4 onward. (Girls-only classes have begun in Grade 5). For the boys-only classes, Forman favours pedagogy that offers students the freedom to explore topics and behave in a way that comes naturally. His fast-paced lessons often involve plenty of movement, and assignments exploit his young charges' obsession with technology. There's a teamlike vibe, and the boys seem to enjoy it.

Fourteen-year-old Wood looks every bit the muttering teenager, but is eloquent when he says, "You don't have to be afraid to stand up and answer questions." Helmer, with earbuds seeming to sprout from his T-shirt, is more expansive: "There's a lot more freedom, more physical activity. I don't think everyone can sit down the whole day."

Next: Why interest in single-gender education
suddenly picked up.

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