Some students do better in single-sex classrooms – TDSB director says

By RON FANFAIR

The traditional unisex approach to child development is seriously flawed, says Toronto District School Board (TDSB) Director of Education, Dr. Chris Spence.

“Boys and girls are different and it’s not the boys’ culture that’s flawed, but rather it’s how we manage it,” Spence told parents and educators at an information session last week hosted by trustee James Pasternak at Fisherville Junior High School.

Spence shared his vision of hope that includes a boys’ education strategy to cast a critical eye on how underachieving male students are reached, taught and developed.

“I believe with further and differentiate support for our boys, our schools will be safer and perform better academically,” Spence said. “There is so much data to support our need around doing more to serve our boys. When we take a look at who we suspend and who is underachieving, it’s disproportionately boys and now it’s time to do something about it.

“The most important thing we can do is to really protect the instructional relationship that needs to exist between the student and the teacher. Boys learn the teacher before they learn the curriculum so the teacher is the curriculum. It’s so important that we provide opportunities to establish a long relationship. Once that is in place, those students will do absolutely anything for you.

“Boys underachieve in comparison to girls across age groups, socio-economic classes and ethnic groups. This is not a TDSB problem. This is a universal problem…There is increasing evidence of boys’ disengagement from school involvement in an anti-learning culture. In other words, it’s cool to be a fool. One of the things that students want is to get status and recognition and too many boys are getting this from their peers by engaging in this kind of culture. Disruptive, aggressive and violent behaviours by boys are also demonstrated in school district discipline data.”

A former Canadian Football League (CFL) running back and youth worker, Spence is proposing single gender classrooms, mentoring and digital learning programs and a pilot male leadership academy to be established in September 2010 as part of the focus on boys’ education.

“For most of the time, co-ed classrooms are going to be the right answer for a child’s learning needs, but studies conclude that, in some instances, students do better in a single-sex setting,” he said. “I am talking from experience as well. I taught an all-boys’ class in Grade Six and I can tell you from some of the testimonials of those boys it was probably their best learning experience.”

Spence, who served as Director of Education with the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board prior to coming to the TDSB, made it clear that girls are not being overlooked in his relentless endeavour to close the achievement gap and produce equitable outcomes.

“We want to continue to support the all-girls school at Heydon Park Secondary (it was established in 1962) and we will launch an all-girls only program,” he said.

The program is expected to be similar to the Project G.O. (Girls Only) initiative that Spence developed.

In his quest to create learner-friendly environments, Spence and Canadian Idol judge Farley Flex rolled out the TDSB Idol Challenge last week that will give secondary students an opportunity to participate in singing competitions and explore careers in myriad sectors, including business and marketing, fashion and image, design and technology/multimedia through the music industry.

The first phase of the competition starts this month with school-level singing competitions followed by regional challenges in March, 2010. The top 12 teams will advance in the TDSB Challenge a month later.

Leading education law expert, Eric Roher, joined Spence at the forum which was organized by Pasternak, the TDSB trustee for York Centre and an unwavering supporter of the Africentric Alternative School which was launched this semester.

Roher addressed the roles and responsibilities of students, parents and schools in the wake of the H1N1 influenza virus and cyber bullying.

“A major part of the problem is that kids don’t share information about this form of intimidation with their parents because they are concerned that their computer privileges might be taken away, reprisals or that their parents will not and cannot do anything about it,” he said.

He encouraged students who face this form of online torment to desist from responding to the poisonous messages, inform a trusted adult and their school administrators, and change their e-mail address, user name and account number if necessary.

“You can also file a complaint with the Internet provider or contact the police if need be,” he added. “Cyber bullying can be a transforming experience, impacting on students’ study skills, their attitude, health and confidence.”

In February 2007, 19 Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board students were suspended for “cyber bullying” their principal.

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