Boys and Girls: What's the Difference?
Teachers and parents often make comparisons between the boys and girls in their lives. When faced with a high boy-to-girl ratio, teachers often believe that their classes will be loud, active, and competitive but when faced with more girls than boys, teachers describe their classrooms as active but quiet. Parents also have observed differences between their sons and daughters.
Moms and dads often say that they tried to provide the same experiences for their boys and girls but that the responses are different based on gender. When given a doll, many boys choose to use it as a hammer or weapon, whereas girls tend to feed and nurture the doll. These differences have led parents and teachers to believe that there may be biological differences between boys and girls even when the environmental conditions are similar.
In the book, Boys and Girls learn Differently: A Guide for Teachers and Parents, the author offers an explanation to teachers' and parents' observations of differences between boys and girls. The explanation has its roots in brain-based research.
Part I of the book provides an overview on the differences in male and female brain development. The author explores developmental and structural differences, chemical, hormonal and functional differences as well as differences in emotional processing.
The author, Michael Gurian, also discusses the evolution of these differences in terms of male and female brain development. Some of the differences he describes are already familiar to us. For instance, girls are more able to engage in multi-task behavior, use both sides of the brain when processing information, hear better and are more physically active.
He also includes information we are less familiar with, such as boys may take more time in processing emotive information, thus making it more difficult for boys to quickly adjust after engaging in stressful or emotionally charged situations. This lag time can interfere with the learning process for boys.
Gurian also helps us to understand how these differences influence learning styles, school performance and behavior. He suggests that these differences make boys and girls advantaged in some areas and disadvantaged in others. According to Gurian, boys are more likely to exhibit more learning disabilities, behavior problems, and poorer academic performance; whereas girls are more likely to receive less attention from teachers, participate less in athletics, and experience gender bias in the classroom.
After he describes the differences and reasons for the differences between boys and girls, in Part II, Gurian describes the "ultimate" school and classroom. He offers characteristics of the ultimate preschool and kindergarten, elementary school, middle school and high school.
In many instances, in Part II, it becomes clear that brain-based research provides strong support for developmentally appropriate practices. The strong relationship between developmentally appropriate practices and the findings of brain-based research might suggest that if all schools and classrooms were designed with children in mind, there might not be a reason to talk about the differences between boys and girls or design ultimate schools and classrooms. Knowing and understanding individual children and meeting their needs in schools and classrooms might help solve the problem of boy and girl differences.
I don't want to imply that we would not need to explore the knowledge base, including brain development and child development, because we do. However, teachers and parents would be using that knowledge base to better meet the needs of the individual children they encounter daily rather than those of a generic child. Much of the information is based on good teaching practice. There is an abundance of good information about such practices for boys and girls in this book.
In this section of the book, Gurian also raises some issues that might stimulate discussion and debate such as single gender classrooms, use of uniforms, character education, class size reduction, zero-tolerance policies, and rites of passage experiences.
Boys and Girls Learn Differently: A Guide for Teachers and Parents is a book worth reading because it raises as many questions as it answers. There is a wealth of information. Some of the conclusions are documented by specific research findings and some are based on ideas not yet proven.
The reading will be interesting, stimulating and thought-provoking. Anyone who has noticed that boys and girls are different will enjoy reading this book. Parents and teachers will appreciate this book because it provides many "how to" and "what to do" suggestions.
This article was originally published on SparkAction (then Connect for Kids) on June 17, 2001. It was reviewed and updated in 2012.
Find Boys and Girls learn Differently: A Guide for Teachers and Parents, Michael Gurian, Jossey-Bass, 2001.
Margaret King, PhD, Professor of Early Childhood Education, Human and Consumer Sciences, Ohio University, Athens, Ohio 45701. She is a teacher educator and has worked on issues related to providing developmentally appropriate classrooms for young males for about 10 years. She has also been a primary and preschool classroom teacher and early childhood program administrator. She has a ten-year-old son.