Susan Graham blogs under the TLN brand at Teacher Magazine. Her blog A Place at the Table offers a wonderful mix of reflections on education policy and practice, spiced with savory observations on the teaching life. This article for the ASCD Express online magazine draws on Susan's three decades of experience as a middle school home economics teacher who survived the transition to "Family and Consumer Sciences." In the Express's recent themed issue on Teaching Boys, Susan reveals that she actually has more males than females in her FACS classes these days. Quite a few more, in fact. And here's why:
The terms "machine" and "construct" provide insight into why my boys like to sew. At the risk of stereotyping by gender, boys are more likely to be kinesthetic learners; they are concrete, independent learners who are much more interested in solving problems than in absorbing content. Most students are more motivated when they "do" rather than when they are told, but a 13-year-old boy often really needs hands-on experiences at school. A sewing project requires students to read and follow sequential instructions and translate words on a page into a three-dimensional object. A boy who is resistant to literature often finds technical reading more engaging and more aligned to his long-term literacy needs. The mechanics of the sewing machine are a real-life lesson in the physics of interconnected simple machines.
However, workplace readiness skills are the core of my curriculum, and workplace readiness skills seem particularly appropriate for middle school boys. Although the adolescent transition of middle school girls may be dramatic, it is usually gradual. But middle school boys frequently explode into young adulthood in a period of months rather than years. They are impatient to be men, but they retain the impetuousness of childhood. Their enthusiasm to test their newfound skills and ideas is too often perceived as defiance or disruption.
They want control and independence, but rather than providing opportunities to develop responsibility and personal accountability, these boys are held to expectations that reflect values, priorities, and goals set by adults who never ask the boys what they thought was important. Adolescent boys tend to have more self-confidence than judgment, and they need to learn to assess their own level of competency. Working independently or in a small group to produce food or clothing is about as personal and immediate as learning can get. And performance is measurable when it goes in your mouth or on your back.
Great insights that reveal (once again) what the folks over in "electives" and "voc-tech" have to teach us all about engaging curriculum. Read more of what Susan has to say at the ASCD website.