Mentoring Boys - The official website of Barry Macdonald author of Boy Smarts

By: Mentoring Boys  09-12-2011
Keywords: literacy

Many parents are worried that their sons are not developing the literacy skills they need for the future.



They recognize that we are preparing children for jobs that don't yet exist and for jobs that use technologies that haven't been invented yet to solve problems we don't even know are problems yet.


Where we once accepted that teachers were the gatekeepers of information and that there was a fixed set of facts to memorize, we have now become uncomfortably aware that digital information is expanding at mind-staggering rates, leaving classroom textbooks to gather dust.

This month's newsletter explores two questions:

What skills does my son need for his future career?

What are the best ways to teach literacy skills to boys in the classroom?




“The first step in helping readers who struggle is to ensure that they experience some form of success to boost their confidence levels. Involve boys in literacy experiences that build on their prior knowledge, language, and vocabulary. Focus on themes and content that are meaningful to their lives. Begin with materials boys themselves choose, and seek to understand their choice as you engage them in meaningful dialogue. Reading begins with talking – so pursue rich and varied topics of discussion.”

Barry MacDonald

"Anyone who tries to make a distinction between education and entertainment

doesn't know the first thing about either"

- Marshall McLuhan

“The electronic media with all its games & gizmos have suffered from criticism.”

Barry MacDonald

Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) results indicate that to ensure greater academic success for boys, our school literacy teaching strategies must be more engaging:

1. Allow greater choice in topics and the way assignments are completed, presented and assessed.

2. Focus classroom activities on ways to harness all students varied learning styles.

3. Ensure that lessons allow for movement rather than expect hours of sitting still and being sedate.

4. Make learning more activity-centered rather than quiet writing focussed.

5. Utilize a wide range of literacies.

6. Encourage team effort and collaborative learning. Boys will succeed when they contribute to part of a group project, rather than fail the entire task.

7. In selecting topics for reading and writing, see boys' interest in real life tasks as a bonus not a deficit. Select more 'how to' books, non-fiction texts, comics, magazines based on their interests.

8. Encourage students to create audio books, e-books, websites.

“Engaging in your son’s electronic world means taking the awkward steps to appreciate it rather than worry about it.”

Barry MacDonald
Boy Smarts Book Review from Suite 101 Boys Need to Establish Healthy Connections

The author of Boy Smarts, Barry MacDonald, explains that for generations boys have been urged toward independence, toughness, and competitiveness. These are undisputed cultural messages that endure even today. But boys, like girls, do need connections. Healthy love and support from parents instills confidence in boys.

According to MacDonald, when boys share a close connection to their caregivers they will likely become more confident, do better in school, sports, music, and later have a stronger likelihood of avoiding substance misuse, than boys who have distant relationships with these people. "No amount of appropriate bonding, attachment, or nurturance from a mother or father is harmful or leads boys to become weaklings or sissies," states MacDonald. He also indicates that, unlike popular belief, boys' independence need not be hurried but should be developed with time.

Give Boys Room to Develop Independence

Healthy connections and feeling loved does not mean discouraging independence. The opposite is in fact true. Within that scope, boys do need to be taught independence. Independence with the desire to achieve success can happen without over-parenting. Feeling attachment and over-parenting are two different things that parents often confuse. In Boy Smarts, MacDonald says: "Parents need to tune into the sensitivities of a particular boy while also being careful not to do things for him that he can do for himself. Over-parenting, over-teaching, and over-protection in general can smother a boy’s emerging independence." It is a fine line according to the author..

When boys struggle as readers, MacDonald says: “The first step in helping readers who struggle is to ensure that they experience some form of success to boost their confidence levels. Involve boys in literacy experiences that build on their prior knowledge, language, and vocabulary. Focus on themes and content that are meaningful to their lives. Begin with materials boys themselves choose, and seek to understand their choice as you engage them in meaningful dialogue. Reading begins with talking – so pursue rich and varied topics of discussion.”

Boys Need Mentors in the Form of "Authentic Heroes"

A strong male role model for boys who is present and attentive plays a large role in a boys self-perception. In Boy Smarts, MacDonald refers to these men "authentic heroes”, someone who exemplifies courage, a positive attitude towards life, achievement and even failure. "Courageous people are resilient and do not peg their self-worth success or failure." MacDonald believes that boys need encouragement to try, and to succeed. And if they fail, they need to be taught self-acceptance and the courage to try again.

Boy Smarts: Mentoring Boys at School is a must-read for any parent raising a boy. It will also benefit teachers who need to better understand male learning and behaviour. The book delves into personality, cultural influences, brain development, how boys learn, and so much more. It helps adults to truly understand the real differences (mainly cultural) between boys and girls. But most importantly MacDonald provides 100 guidelines and examples of how to go about helping boys develop confidence to become better citizens and stronger learners.

Keywords: literacy