The constructivist approach.

As an alternative to the standards or “Back to Basics” approach, constructivist educators hold that learning should be child-centered, not teacher-led, with much curricula determined by students’ activities and wishes, not teacher direction (e.g., Ravitch, 2000). Here too, some implementations of the constructivist approach may not be conducive for the maximal learning of boys. Specific concerns about constructivism for boys include the following.

• Child-centered focus. The needs and interests of students are central, and academic expectations are related to their developmental levels, recognizing that children mature at different rates. Learning outcomes vary because the students
5“construct” their own learning based on their own perceptions and life experiences. However, some boys may be uncomfortable with the perceived “openness” and apparent lack of structure and “rules” of this approach (Sommers, 2000).

• Cooperation rather than competition. Constructivist classrooms often incorporate activities such as group projects, where students learn to work with others toward learning goals. These cooperative activities have two main aims: (a) to create opportunities for students to cross-pollinate their intellectual skills, and (b) to nurture the development of the democratic social skills that will ultimately serve them in future workplaces, as well as benefit society in general. However, small group activities may be easier for girls than boys (Sax, 2005). Boys may lack the sophisticated social skills often possessed by their girl classmates. Also, boys may prefer competition to cooperation in the classroom and on the playing field, and will often be more motivated to achieve when the opportunity to compete and/or shine publicly is at stake (Sommers, 2000).

• Literacy. In constructivist classrooms, the teaching of literacy typically draws heavily on “whole language” methods, which seek to create opportunities for students to experience reading and writing in a holistic way rather than learning isolated skills out of context. Two issues here include (a) the written material that boys are asked to read, and (b) the sorts of responses that boys are asked to generate.
For example, many boys prefer non-fiction to fiction. They are likely to respond to tales of adventure, suspense, history, science or science fiction, and stories with heroes. Unfortunately, there may be a shortage of early reading material aimed at boys’ interests (Smith & Wilhelm, 2002).

A second way boys may be disadvantaged in a whole language approach to literacy acquisition is in the ways they are asked to respond to the material. A popular way to teach literature and writing is to ask students to respond personally to characters or events. Boys tend not to respond well to these “emotive” lessons. They are more reticent than girls, and find it difficult to do assignments that ask them to explore their feelings. If they do not see an assignment as relevant (e.g., ‘Imagine you are a sock in a dustbin.’), they may simply not do it. (Sommers, 2000).