Despite a continuing stream of concern on the part of researchers, demographers, and cultural pundits about a crisis in boys' social development and schooling, surprisingly little attention has been paid to what is perhaps the richest pool of data: current, observable teaching practices that clearly work with boys. In schools of all types in all regions of the globe, many boys are thriving. Boys of limited, ordinary, and exceptional tested aptitude; boys of every economic strata; boys of all races and faiths--some of them--are appreciatively engaged and taught well every day.
Our career-long immersion with school life convinced us, in partnership with the International Boys' Schools Coalition, that it might be possible to document the elements of successfully teaching boys in schools where the process was most clearly observable: in schools for boys. We did not presume, nor do we now, that effectively teaching boys was possible only in boys' schools. Rather, we wanted to document common characteristics of effective practices and, if we found them, to consider their applicability to schools generally.
Although our previous research in individual schools suggested it might be promising and even revelatory to sample a large pool of teachers' and boys' accounts of "what works," we did not begin with any assumption of what such reports would reveal or, more critically, whether there would be any common factors in what was reported. Moreover, we did not want to hear only from or about proven faculty "stars"; we wanted to hear from whole school faculties--beginning, mid-career, and veteran teachers; men and women; teachers of all types in all disciplines; teachers who had taught in both single-sex and coed schools.
Participating schools were in the United States, Canada, New Zealand, Great Britain, South Africa, and Australia. The schools ranged in enrollment from a few hundred boys to over a thousand. Some were highly selective, others not at all. Many were primarily fee-based; a few were mostly government-supported. We asked teachers working in grades 7 through 12 to share an example of a lesson that worked especially well and to provide their reasons for its effectiveness. Specifically, we asked:
Please describe an effective practice you have employed. Tell the
story of the practice, as if you are explaining it to a colleague in
another subject, or perhaps to a younger teacher who is looking for
We are aware that teachers' narrative gifts vary a great deal, and we knew that the depth and clarity of their narrated "best lessons" would vary with these gifts. We did not know what kind of quality and substance we would get from busy teachers asked to engage in yet another task imposed on them by their schools and us.
We received nearly a thousand teacher narratives, representing a majority of each school's faculty. Without much prompting, most teachers in the participating schools responded with great care, detail, and evident pride. Their lessons were clearly articulated, revealing in the narration considerable enthusiasm, an impressive command of the material composing their selected lessons, and a sharp eye for their students' responsiveness.
The teacher submissions were sorted into categories determined by the kinds of activity the teachers narrated. The categories included Gaming, Motor Activity Emphasis, Role Play/Performance, Open Inquiry, Teamwork/Competition, Personal Realization, Responsibility for Outcomes, Intrinsic Subject Matter, and Novelty/Drama/Surprise.
Regardless of other factors, such as different disciplines, length of tenure, school regions, and cultures--the similarities among reported practices were profound. Nearly every reported lesson included multiple elements, as when a teacher devises a game in which boys form teams to create a product that will be judged competitively.
In the following excerpt, submitted by a veteran U. …