How Girls and Boys Learn Differently

A key to helping your child do better in school is to understand how girls and boys learn differently. As a parent you probably have felt this was true. But now there’s scientific evidence that biology does indeed influence the learning process in elementary, middle and high school classes.

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Michael Gurian, a noted educator and author, has shown through research that “hard-wiring and socialized gender differences affect how boys and girls learn.” Simply put, male and female brains are equal but different.

Let’s tour the human brain for a moment. Did you know that your brain has one hundred billion neurons and one hundred trillion connecting cells? That’s impressive. The brain has four lobes at the top where thinking is done, and it's divided into right and left sections. The right side handles spatial skills – measuring things, understanding directions and working with objects. The left manages verbal skills – reading, speaking and writing.

“Boys use the right hemisphere more, and girls the left,” says Gurian.

In general, female brains develop faster than male brains. This means that young girls usually have good verbal skills: they talk sooner and read better than boys. On the other hand, boys have good spatial abilities: they do well in subjects such as geometry and map reading.

There are other differences, according to Gurian. Male brains secrete less serotonin, a chemical that relays signals in the mind. Because of this fact, boys tend to be more restless and impulsive than girls. What about hormones? Gurian notes that males are dominated by testosterone and females by estrogen and progesterone. Levels of these important hormones are known to affect a child’s daily mood and thus influence learning abilities. He also says research shows that girls usually hear better, and this may be a good reason for having boys sit near the front of the classroom. He says girls are able to see better in a dark room and boys see better in bright light.

With that overview, Gurian gives seven ways how girls and boys learn differently based on brain research. Keep in mind this is a list of major general tendencies with many individual exceptions for each child.

How Girls and Boys Learn Differently #1. Reasoning
Boys process information from the general to the specific application (deductive) and do well on abstract multiple-choice tests. Girls start with concrete examples and move to general concepts or theories (inductive) and do well in expressing their thoughts in writing.

How Girls and Boys Learn Differently #2. Language
Girls generally talk to themselves or others when learning a subject, while boys frequently remain fairly quiet in studying. When learning new concepts or ideas, girls prefer usable and everyday words for understanding, while boys like to use jargon and coded language.

How Girls and Boys Learn Differently #3. Logic
Girls are usually better listeners than boys in the classroom and are more receptive to details in speech. Boys tend to ask for reasons to support an argument or claim.

How Girls and Boys Learn Differently #4. Boredom
Boys can become bored easily by a subject and need stimulation to stay interested, while girls tend to remain involved during a lesson.

How Girls and Boys Learn Differently #5. Movement
Girls move around less in learning situations than boys, who find it difficult to sit still very long. Boys like more frequent stretch breaks due to lower serotonin and higher metabolism.

How Girls and Boys Learn Differently #6. Cooperation
Girls find it easier to learn in a group setting than boys, who tend to be more socially aggressive. Girls are sensitive to the emotions of others in solving a problem, while boys focus on finding an answer quickly.

How Girls and Boys Learn Differently #7. Symbolism
Boys and girls like pictures to help them learn, but boys seem to depend on them for greater understanding. In the upper grades, boys tend to learn best when using symbols and girls prefer written texts.

From this list, we see that boys and girls have innate learning-style differences, or advantages, based on how their brains are wired and their genetic make-up and how they respond to life around them. It’s important for parents to recognize and appreciate these differences in their school-age children. This understanding of how girls and boys learn differently can help motivate kids, boost confidence and improve grades and make learning more rewarding.

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