Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Teaching Boys in the UK

For the first time in almost 6 months, I think I can say that I'll be teaching soon! I've taken a science job until the middle of July in a school in West London. It looks very different to Tamaki and it will definitely be a new challenge for me, not least because I'll be missing the female dynamic of my classroom - it's a boy's only school!

Now that I've accepted the position I've decided to do some research. 

I went to Scopus database first but it yielded a grand total of zero articles from the broad search terms "teaching boys science" - there appears to be a large gap in the literature there! 

Google Scholar was fine though. I limited my scan to the first five pages of results. I selected articles that mentioned boys achievement, engagement, motivation or perceptions in science in the visible blurbs (not just titles). Then some articles excluded themselves because they wouldn't allow me access.

Then I excluded a final article because it was about homework rather than classroom teaching, which left me with just three articles that I could get full access to without paying anything (see references below).

Article 1:
  • Self-belief and task values are predictors of achievement-related choices. It is not enough to believe that one can do something, one also has to want to do it, to pursue it.  
  • These values can be intrinsic (interest and enjoyment), attainment value (personal importance of succeeding in a particular domain), utility value (how useful the domain is) - these three values would attract someone to a domain - or finally cost value (which would push someone away). 
  • Girls aspired to careers that were not at all mathematics related, while more boys aspired to highly mathematics-related careers. Why?
  • Girls were less interested in maths, thought they were less able (despite equivalent achievement). Higher achievers across both sexes were more interested and thought themselves more able. Those who found it more difficult also considered it less useful and were less interested - catch 22 cycle.
  • Transitioning to secondary school disrupts and negatively impacts both sexes; changes to peers, having multiple teachers, increasing numbers of assessments, and higher curriculum differentiation were barriers. Longer term longitudinal studies show that students do not 'recover' post-transition. 
TLDR: Overall the first article was interesting but not practically useful for how to teach boys science, other than to plan lessons that increase interest and enjoyment, have high expectations, and shows students that what we're learning is useful in the real world - and reduce cost value which may be... their effort? Time? Silence? 

Article 2: all about the construction of masculinity and I stopped reading after 3 pages because I couldn't see the link.

TLDR: Didn't read the second article, it seemed irrelevant.

Article 3: 
  • An overwhelming body of accumulated evidence points to interest in science being formed and fairly set by age 14 (Lindahl, 2007; Murphy & Beggs, 2005; Ormerod & Duckowrth, 1975; The Royal Society, 2006).
  • The findings show that science is seen as only leading to a narrow field of careers by 12-13 year old boys (e.g. "scientist") and as only an option for "brainy" people which (within dominant discourse) is linked to middle-class (not working-class) masculinity.
  • Minority ethnic boys tend to experience particularly problematic relationships and sustained inequalities within the education system. The mainstream educational discourse locates the problematic behavior/attainment being located within the individual or "culture" rather than wider social structures. 
  • Such boys also tend to be placed in lower ability sets at school, which research has associated with providing a less interesting and challenging curriculum, lower teacher expectations, and more likely to be taught by less experienced teacher/with lower subject expertise. 
  • It is therefore unsurprising that these students are less likely to report being engaged by school science.
  • Students across sexes equally reported they would "like to study more science" (about 40% of respondents) or "have a job that uses some science" (28-34%) but only about 14-17% reported they would want to "be a scientist."  
  • The researchers interviewed Year 8 boys and divided them into common categories - two of which reflected boys who like science and who aspire to continue with it post-16 (“young professors” and “cool” footballer scientists) and three who do hold science aspirations but who have varying degrees of interest in or engagement with science (“behaving/achieving” boys, “popular masculinity” boys and “laddish” boys).
  1. Young Professors - the intellectual and academic nature of these boys' identify performances = a pride in and a foreground of high academic achievement, and a comparative lack of interest in popular culture. 
  2. "Cool"/Footballer Scientists - attempting to convey how these boys simultaneously balance their science aspirations with performances of popular masculinity; a fine "balance." 
  3. The "Behaving/Achieving" Boys - their behaviour and achievement are aligned with the values of the school and the education system in general; they were quiet, and often artistic, and their achievement is "good." 
  4. The "Popular Masculinity" Boys trying to produce normative, hegemonic but not extreme versions of masculinity by emphasizing engagement with popular "masculine" leisure activities such as football and video games; they refer to themselves as "normal" and are not excessively academic, liked science but don't want to "be a scientist."
  5. "Laddish" Boys - outside of school the term "laddish" means having a laugh, disruptive behavior, objectifying women and having an interest in pastimes and subjects constructed as masculine, e.g. football. Within schools it's associated with disruptive classroom behaviors, a lack of interest in learning and visible displays of "not working." 
  • "Laddish" boys are particularly unlikely to report enjoying science and the authors suggest that the dichotomy between popular, hegemonic working class masculinity and “brainy,” middle-class masculinity (which is associated with science) makes science aspirations particularly “unthinkable” for these boys. This may also be affected by any narrow views of the potential value of any science qualifications to labour markets they expect to enter, reinforcing that science is "not for me."
Conclusion of authors:
  • The barriers to increasing participation in science are substantial and entrenched. 
  • The researchers interpret their findings as indicating a prevailing belief that science careers are construed as not only male, middle-class and predominantly White/South Asian, but also only for the “clever” (the exceptional few). 
  • To imagine a future for themselves within science, students need to self-identify as “brainy”—an identity which is structurally more difficult for working-class and minority ethnic pupils to occupy due to the social discourse aligning privilege with academic achievement that is obtained through “natural intelligence" rather than effort.
TLDR: Boys from working-class, minority backgrounds need to be shown the value of science for a future they can envisage for themselves; either a shift in their self-belief to loftier aspirations, a growing sense of science being achievable to them, an understanding that intelligence is not fixed, or a link between science and their dreamed-of career paths (Linking to 'attainment value' and 'utility value' mentioned in Article 1). Attitudes to science and identity are quite fixed by age 14 so this should happen before then.