Boys and girls learn differently

Dr. Michael Gurian sharing his work during a free community presentation at Dawson School.

There are traits that the male and female genders share, and many things that differentiate the two. And while some traits are fluid and can be present in either, there has been enough research to tell us that when it comes right down to it, boys and girls learn differently.

Dr. Michael Gurian wrote a New York Times best-selling book on that very subject 10 years ago, effectively changing the conversation about gender differences in learning, and providing a guidebook for parents and teachers all over the world.

Gurian spoke at the Dawson School on Oct. 10, giving a primer on how girls’ and boys’ learning differences manifest and how acknowledging and understanding those differences can make a world of difference in both genders’ success.

“One little thing that can make a big difference is understanding the minds of boys and girls, and then applying it to our systems,” Gurian said. “If we create systems based only on our ideas of culture, instead of being (human) nature-based, then we’re making a big mistake, and we’ll be leaving people behind.”

Gurian has been studying gender and relationships since the 1980s. He has authored 32 books published in 23 languages and has provided information to the White House on gender learning differences. He has spoken for the United Nations on violence against women, and has briefed the 114th Congress on the boy crisis in America. He co-founded the Gurian Institute to conduct international research, create pilot programs for organizations and train professionals.

Sharing anecdotes and video clips to illustrate the research in gender learning differences, Gurian encouraged audience members to become “citizen scientists” and not just accept the most current research, but to test it out themselves in their own lives and relationships.

Citing research and sharing PET scans of male and female brains, Gurian shared the differences in how the hemispheres of each gender’s brains operate. Giving the example of how preschool boys typically tend to be more physical and fidgety than preschool girls, Dr. Gurian noted that it’s really not a boy’s fault.

Both sides of the female brain light up in a PET scan when words are being processed, but only the left side of a male brain lights up when processing words. However, the right side of the male brain is far from empty or non-functioning; instead, that right side is for spatial processing and movement. In a preschool setting, it’s likely that the little girls will be able to sit still, listen and discuss much longer than the boys, but only because the little boys need to move a little to continue to access the left-side/word processing part of their brains. Getting your teenage daughter to discuss her feelings might be as easy as sitting down and asking, but if you need to draw out some emotions and feelings from your teenage son, then taking a walk while talking it out might get better results.

Dr. Gurian’s work can be accessed online at Michalegurian.com and Gurianinstiture.com.