An Advanced Approach to Teaching Boys

“Confusion, bravado, restlessness, a preoccupation with peers, and questioning of authority aren’t manifestations of poor attitude; they are hallmarks of a particular time of life.”
-Nancie Atwell, In the Middle: New Understandings About Writing, Reading, and Learning

Imagine the educational possibilities in a setting where educators welcome the spirit that boys bring into the classroom. Boys whose bodies are in perpetual motion, who are bored in half the time, and who want to touch everything.

At Seven Hills we take advantage of what makes middle school boys different, and we find meaningful ways to channel their energy and social needs instead of trying to legislate against them. More independent activity, more say in what happens in the classroom, more responsibility for their learning, more peer instruction, and more hands-on experiences that help them organize concepts and reality.

Boys Learn Differently

“Ten areas where brain-based research reflects critical differences in learning-styles between boys and girls: 1) Deductive and Inductive Reasoning, 2) Abstract and Concrete Reasoning, 3) Use of Language, 4) Logic and Evidence, 5) Likelihood of Boredom, 6) Use of Space, 7) Physical Movement, 8) Sensitivity and Group Dynamics, 9) Use of Symbolism, and 10) Use of Learning Teams.”
-Michael Gurian, Boys and Girls Learn Differently! A Guide for Parents and Teachers

Seven Hills is founded on the belief that the differences between girls and boys are significant enough to support a model school committed to instructional methods based on current research concerning the minds and hearts of boys in their middle years.

Research clearly points to benefits in critical thinking and collaborative learning for boys in schools where class size, classroom space and layout, schedule and structure, opportunity for movement, and full sensory instruction are reexamined and connected. Few traditional schools can implement such a sweeping reconfiguration, and rarely can public schools consider grouping students by gender. Seven Hills is on the leading edge of a national movement recognizing the unique connections between boys and learning.

A Focused Learning Environment

“In American education, the numerical assessment of student performance inordinately influences curriculum and methods of instruction. From kindergarten to graduate school, educators “teach to the test.” The transformed middle grade school will require new assessment approaches that promote disciplined inquiry among young adolescents.”
-Carnegie Council on Adolescent Development, TURNING POINTS: The Report of the Task Force on Education of Young Adolescents

Teachers at Seven Hills are encouraged to reduce teaching time at the front of the classroom and instead to work side-by-side with students during class periods. We employ a variety assessment tools to measure student learning and progress. Tests function as learning exercises that deepen the learning experience rather than generate performance-based comparisons.

The Teacher as a Model

“Most importantly, I take off the top of my head and [learn] in front of the students. I show them how I plan, change my mind, confront problems, weigh options, make decisions, use conventions and [adjust] to compose my life.”
-Nancie Atwell, In the Middle: New Understandings About Writing, Reading, and Learning

Each Seven Hills teacher is challenged to model curiosity based on her or his own spirit of inquiry. Teachers embrace each boy’s achievement, from his slightest observations to his most stunning accomplishments. Learning is fun at Seven Hills because the joy of it is modeled throughout our community. High fives are common here and are considered an appropriate gesture when boys make connections across the curriculum and share experiences.

Seven Hills is Organized Differently

“All of these ideas sound great, but other schools have the same research, right? Some even make the same claims? Is Seven Hills really different?”
-Prospective parent

Seven Hills is about more than vision and innovation. Seven Hills has two transforming gifts that help it deliver on its promises. First, Seven Hills is small. Second, Seven Hills is based on an intentionally dynamic model that adapts to the changing reality of its students. Combined, these two characteristics produce the responsive environment that middle school boys need. Committed to a class ratio not to exceed 16 students, Seven Hills is and does what so many schools can only imagine. We firmly believe that class size matters and that smaller is better.

Our Board of Directors, Head of School, faculty, and staff believe that the most vital changes necessary for transforming classroom settings and learning experiences for middle school-age boys occur best in settings where the entire school community is involved and instruction approaches are based on the finest, most credible research available.

Why Single-Gender Education Works for Middle School Boys

“At no time in their lives will boys experience more change than between the ages of 10 and 12.”
-Knowles and Brown

Middle school boys “shuttle back and forth between everything. Physically, [they] are antsy. They tap pens, jerk their legs and feet, squirm, gaze around the room and into space while apparently doing little, but doing everything all at once. Emotionally, the students experience wide swings of mood. When they like something, they love it; when they dislike something, they hate it and all of this for only a short season until a new fancy arrives. They don’t want to be weird, therefore, they see weirdness everywhere.”
-Nancie Atwell

Researchers at Cambridge University found that “using single-sex groups is a significant factor in establishing a school culture that raises educational achievement.” The advantages of single-sex education for middle school boys fall into two general categories:

1) Teachers can tailor their teaching style to the boys.

A nationwide study published in the Journal of Educational Psychology confirmed what the majority of studies suggest: at every age, boys in coed schools are less enthusiastic about school than girls are. And, as boys get older, the “enthusiasm gap” widens. The older boys get, the more they tend to perceive doing well in school as “geeky.” Boys typically perceive the coed middle school as an institution run largely by women and according to women’s rules: sit still, don’t make too much noise, don’t be disruptive. They see that the top students are girls, which inspires a devaluation of academic excellence for the typical boy. At this age, being an “A” student generally does not raise one’s status with other boys, and in fact may lower it. At Seven Hills we tailor our curriculum to the way boys learn. Our teachers understand that the best way to get boys energized to learn is to keep the classroom personal and lively, with each student involved.

2) An all-boys classroom promotes a more diverse and well-rounded educational experience.

Rigid gender stereotypes, particularly with regard to boys are common in traditional school environments. Research consistently shows that boys who attend single-sex middle schools typically do better in terms of maturity and social adjustment, than boys who attend coed schools. It also supports the conclusion that boys in single-sex schools feel more free to be themselves and follow their interests and talents.

A School Designed with Boys in Mind

“If you look around the school, you’ll notice it’s not very fancy. It’s not like places where everything is sectioned off and you can’t touch stuff. Everything at Seven Hills belongs to all of us.

Even while building Overbrook, I can honestly say our leaders never stopped putting the students first. What I really love about Seven Hills is that people are put ahead of stuff, students before grades, acceptance before perfection. That’s why I like to say that, at Seven Hills, I’m learning life!”
-Jared Shanks, Former Student Government President

Simply put, Seven Hills is a school that boys love. We keep the boys at the center of every choice in designing both our instruction and campus spaces. That effort pays dividends in making this a place where boys are comfortable to work, play, learn, and grow in amazing ways.