Edmond Dixon: Six Keys to Success with Middle-School Boys

My principal sent us this in an email:

Six Keys to Success with Middle-School Boys 

In this article in AMLE Magazine, Edmond Dixon says it’s not lack of passion and energy that keeps adolescent boys from learning – it’s teachers not figuring out how to direct it. Drawing on his experience as a parent of boys and a middle-school teacher and principal, Dixon offers these suggestions for eliciting motivated engagement and focused effort:

• Movement – It may seem contradictory that boys are restless and fidgety in class and yet can play video games for hours, but these have the same source – a need for constant action. Classrooms that ask boys to be passive and sit still for extended periods of time will encounter problems.

• Games – Boys get powerful psychic rewards from setting goals, competing, improving their performance, and winning. “However,” says Dixon, “if they don’t think they can win in school because they aren’t smart enough, they will often refuse to play the game.”

• Humor – Boys’ love of funny stuff can veer into the inappropriate and crude, but teachers can take advantage of this trait to capture interest and spur learning.

• Challenge – Posing difficult problems can motivate boys to commit energy and mental tools to improve their performance. Marshall Memo 541 June 16, 2014 10

• Mastery – “Success for any boy ultimately comes when he takes ownership for his own learning,” says Dixon. Part of this is understanding why it’s important to learn something, how things work, and how to control them.

• Meaning – “Why do we have to learn this?” is a perennial boy question in middle-school classrooms, and it’s not about being lazy. “It is essential for him to understand the importance and meaning of the task at hand,” says Dixon. “If a teacher can help him see how his learning fits into the larger picture, a boy will increase his interest and commitment in the classroom.”

Dixon believes that the first three – movement, games, and humor – are the beachhead to getting boys engaged in the classroom. Once engaged, they’re ready for the next two – challenge and mastery – increasing the chances that they’ll reach the ultimate goal – seeing meaning in what they’re learning in school. This helps a boy attain his “heroic individual potential… an outcome he secretly longs for, but fears he is not worthy of.”

Dixon’s website has examples of strategies in each area and a three-minute quiz:http://www.proprofs.com/quiz-school/story.php?title=NTM2NTk1.

“Six Secrets for Success in Teaching Boys” by Edmond Dixon in AMLE Magazine, May 2014 (Vol. 1, #9, p. 28-30), www.amle.org; Dixon is at dr.dixon@helpingboyslearn.com.


I think it makes a lot of sense.  Now, I’m thinking about how to incorporate these ideas into my classroom next fall.  So goes the life of a teacher.  One school year is barely in the rear view mirror and we’re already making plans for the next one.  This could be why I love my job!


2 thoughts on “Edmond Dixon: Six Keys to Success with Middle-School Boys

  1. It can be especially challenging in the ELA classroom where the focus is on lots of independent reading! 🙂

  2. mrsfenger says:

    I agree! My curriculum currently is highly teacher directed which is also tough!

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