How Do Girls Learn Differently From Boys?

Classroom learning and gender differences

Boys Brains and Girls Brains. Are They Different? Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

Many studies have found that both girls and boys take a different approach to learning. If you’re teaching a mixed class, here are just a few of the learning differences that could be worth taking into account in order to get the best out of your male and female pupils.

The difference between boy brains and girl brains

Understanding the best way to learn means looking into the brains of both genders. Whilst not always the case, women generally have a larger hippocampus that is better suited for writing and vocabulary, whilst men have bigger cerebral cortexes specialised to spatial and mechanical functioning.

Generally girls will develop their flair for writing and vocabulary before boys. Girls may learn better from written or vocal instructions as a result, whilst boys will often respond better to practical demonstrations.

Boys need to be more active

Girls can still be prone to fidgeting – but it’s largely a boy thing. Boys often need to be doing something active to learn. They benefit from storyboarding a story with images before writing it, using blocks to do simple mathematics or taking part in a science experiment to see how it is done. Girls still an interactive environment, but may not need to be keeping their hands busy as much as boys.

Classroom learning games can be beneficial to both genders. Girls may benefit more from word games, whilst boys may prefer games that involve moving around.

Girls can be more self-critical

Studies have found that girls can often be more self-critical of their grades than boys. It’s for this reason that a girl getting straight ‘A’s may still kick themselves for wanting to do a better, whilst a boy getting all ‘B’s might be more content and not want to strive for those ‘A’s despite having the potential to do so.

As a result, smart girls may need to be built-up more, whilst smart boys may need to be knocked down a peg or two. This should all still be done in a positive manner, congratulating girls whilst encouraging boys that they have the ability to achieve even better.

Girls look to adults as an ally

Girls will often look to a teacher as an ally and someone that they want to impress. They may also be more determined to impress parents and carers than boys. They want to do adults proud and see them more as confidantes and as a result can often take their criticism with more trust and belief.

Quite often, boys aren’t interested in what adults think. They may be more likely to get high grades to compete against other classmates or simply to compete against their own past grades. Boys may be less open to criticism unless given sufficient reasoning. Rather than being told ‘don’t do this…’, they may respond better to being told ‘don’t do this because…’ allowing them to understand why it is wrong (in contrast, girls may be more likely to trust that it is wrong without needing further reasoning).

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35 thoughts on “How Do Girls Learn Differently From Boys?

  1. Love this! As someone who’s worked in the education field for 10 years, I can attest to the validity of this. Boys generally DO need and want more active activities and girls are more of the “readers and thinkers” – neither one is better of course. Haha. In our after school program, the boys ALWAYS (or almost always) wanted to go outside and play soccer. The girls often wanted to stay inside to color or do art projects. We always encouraged them to do what they WANTED to do. Some of the boys, then, would stay inside to do art and the girls would go outside to play soccer – but we were always aware of the gender differences. Wonderful write-up and, for once, I am an early commenter. hehe.

    • Cyndi, you were the FIRST commenter here, woot woot! Thanks for sharing your experiences as a professional in the classroom as that certainly adds validity to the article. Having your support here is.. awesome 🙂 I hope to join in at your FB event if time allows! I’m cheering you on with the new book ((hugs))

  2. Re: Figdeting and girls vs boys…I sure fidgeted a lot, and had to be pretty active to learn. When I would get home from school, I would just explode after having to sit still all day in class. By the time I got to high school, I skipped about 90 % of school…the only class I would show up for would be biology which was pretty active learning…especially when we went out on the research boat to study marine life.

    When I had to sit still, it felt like ants were crawling all over my body (metaphorically speaking) because I had so much energy. It was like fireworks going off inside me, and I would just get the mental version of itchy!

    It was doubly hard, because girls, back then, were supposed to be more composed and act like “young ladies” and here I was, a hurricane of energy.

    • Thanks for sharing your experiences with fidgeting. It sounds like staying still was punishment in and of itself. I knew a girl who always curled her hair around her finger and others made fun of her for her fidgeting, which she told me was because she was nervous. You’re right though that there are ideas of what to expect for behavior from girls vs boys, sigh.

  3. Thank you, Christy, for sharing the post. Although I agree there may be some differences in the brains of males and female, the above findings are too general and don’t take into account individual differences. Caution should be used when accepting generalizations that can contribute to stereotyping. Social conditioning may be just as an important factor as genetics and gender for how someone learns and acts.

    My daughter had characteristics of males described above, as she is an active learner and full of energy. Thus, I shake my head and balk at accepting these conclusions when there are too many variables to consider as to what makes each one of us tick.

      • I’m thinking of a few teachers, too. One was not girl friendly..but I got him on technicalities! I have to say, he was hard pressed to to listen, but in the end he did. Respect is a 2 way street, and I got to be the first girl to be a patrol and to hold the flag during assembly.

  4. There are definitely differences in brains and chemistry but there’s also cultural expectation. If we could raise children in a vacuum of expected gender norms, I do wonder how fully they’d disappear.

  5. Hi Christy…
    Smiles love the article and yes I was that boy for sure. I was far more interested in learning how to hunt and do boy things like take things apart and fix them. I left home early to work, by choice but within the first few years I learned the value of an education. I returned to night school and correspondence with a new appreciation for learning. At 45 I returned to college, entered into a very intense course. 37 started and I was the oldest and after the first year only 9 graduated. The next year there were even less. I ended up with 3 major bursaries which carried me further than I had intended.
    I do have to admit girls do learn much better and retention is greater. I mean as a boy it was more important to catch the biggest frog and scare the girls. In some ways that has never changed… smiles.

    Hugs with a frog in my back pocket.

  6. Christy this was an excellent post. You are on a tear my friend. So much time and effort put into this new series. You should consider doing a book with them all later. ❤ 🙂

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