Educating Teenage Boys

4 Aug

Recently I put my class of 13 and 14  year olds through a growth mindset quiz with interesting results using the research of Carol Dweck. What I found asks hard questions of how we do education, particularly with teenage boys.

It was anticipated that the good students in the class, primarily the girls, would score higher than the troublesome students, mostly boys. That makes sense. The good students, concentrate, work hard and get better results. Therefore it is logical that they have more of a growth mindset than the ‘naughty’ boys.


The ‘naughty’ boys outscored the the good students at every level. They were the ones with a high growth mindset, even though their academic scores failed to show it. Why?

My thesis is that teenage boys are risk takers, possibility thinkers and curious. They want to know what is possible and what they can do. They take risks in the social and emotional aspects of their lives. They push the boundaries, try new and sometimes dangerous ‘things’ and, generally, are resilient. They bounce back. They are impulsive and find themselves trying stuff they didn’t think possible. They are growth mindset thinkers.

The good students have a more fixed mindset because they are committed to getting right, making sure they give the right answer, do the right thing and behave appropriately. They engage their logical thinking system 2 (Taleb) before acting.

But it is interesting to see what happens as boys progress into years 10-12. In my class these are the students who yell out, argue, comment, offer answers and get involved. Sometimes they are chaotic and create chaos but they are there, taking risks and being heard. When they get further along they have learnt that this is not appropriate for ‘good’ students and close down. They know they are not good academic students and therefore simply withdraw. The very tools that helped them to learn, their risk taking chaotic spontaneity, is shut down. Their growth mindset becomes a fixe mindset – ‘I can’t do this.’ And I would add, ‘I can’t do this like this’.

So what do we do?

We stream classes so that we allow the boys to have the freedom to engage their teenage risk taking in a learning environment. Now, I know that goes against the prevailing attitude, but after some 30 years working with teenage boys, I believe it is an appropriate strategy. It allows the ‘good’ students to develop their own specific approach to learning with out them being impinged upon by the chaos of a shared class room.

I will continue to explore this and would like to know what others think.

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