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Boy Smarts: Mentoring Boys for Success at School    by Barry MacDonald order for
Boy Smarts
by Barry MacDonald
Order:  USA  Can
Mentoring Press, 2006 (2006)
* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Master teacher and Registered Clinical Counsellor Barry Macdonald, who has worked with at-risk students for over twenty years, offers Boy Smarts as a 'work of the heart' to fellow educators and parents concerned for boys struggling in school. He tells us that boys are 'more fragile than they appear to be ... often misread', their reticence 'mistaken for a lack of feeling', their active learning patterns 'seen as threatening'.

Macdonald says that 'Understanding a boy's talents and how to mentor those talents is the central endeavor of this book.' He emphasizes that addressing boys' underachievement (and he quotes data that shows 'a significant and widening gap' between the sexes, including the fact that in 2004, only 33% of Canadian first year university students were male!) should not compromise the recent gains made by girls in education - it's not a choice between teaching one sex or the other well, but rather an objective to help all students reach their potential.

His insights and practical, hands-on advice combine gender research with the wisdom gleaned from experience, as well as a healthy dose of common sense. He begins with the Gender Gap, discussing recent trends and suggesting how to capitalize on boys' strengths, such as 'being energized by competition' and 'focussing on end targets and goals'. He wisely emphasizes that brain differences are only 'relative tendencies', and that both boys and girls vary across the continuum.

However, in general, he tells us that most boys (but also some girls in each case): need movement for brain stimulation; emphasize competition in social interactions; are good at spatial and abstract reasoning; deal best with one task at a time; can get lost in an instructional narrative; are prone to zone out; and need to work on emotional literacy. Re. the latter, Macdonald suggests we 'need to hear what is not being said' (something to which I strongly relate as a mother of boys).

The author warns against mistaking high energy for ADHD, explores the culture of masculinity, and discusses what motivates (and demotivates) boys in learning. Specific tips and guidelines include: frequently changing classroom layout, teaching media analysis, fighting homophobia, facilitating peer mentoring, laughter as a motivator, use of sociograms for classroom seating, kinesthetic learning, role drama to encourage literacy, Thinking Aloud Paired Problem Solving, Restorative Action, and student-led conferences. But there are many more.

MacDonald concludes with the advice to avoid quick-fix bandwagon solutions like gender separation, and suggests how to enlist community support and make a school plan for change, that fits the needs of the specific educational environment. Boy Smarts is an excellent resource that should be read by any parent or educator concerned about boys' and young men's success at school.

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