Tag Archives: Education advice

Motivating Boys in English (by guest Blogger Ian Knightley)

english blog pic

Students come in all shapes and sizes: high flyers, hard-workers and some are just plain crazy! It’s this variety that can make teaching such an enriching and infuriating career path to follow. In my five years as an English teacher at a large comprehensive, the challenge of trying to motivate disaffected boys has undoubtedly been one of the biggest I have faced.

In my experience, when this issue is raised, suggestions for success and explanations for disengagement tend to follow along predictable lines:

a) Give them texts they’ll enjoy – ones about cars, computers and football
b) get them out of their seat; boys need to be active
c) boys don’t like learning – school’s not cool.

While I would not suggest that these comments are entirely lacking in substance, as somebody who sat in English lessons and was enthralled by poetry, prose and drama, I can’t help but find such rhetoric misguided, hard to swallow and to a degree, patronising.

Perhaps first I should clarify – I was by no means a model pupil; although I was reasonably bright, I did not enjoy many lessons and whiled away hours staring outside of windows. I can also clearly remember that awful feeling when I just couldn’t “get” something; exertion was rapidly usurped by frustration and frustration by resignation, a feeling I still experience when someone throws a simultaneous equation within a double decker’s length of me! So, the question remains: how do we motivate boys? How did my teacher motivate me? At the risk of adding my own sweeping statement to those listed above, he recognised one of the fundamental characteristics of many boys:

  • they like to be seen to succeed, especially if they can do so without looking like they’re trying to.


My teacher was a particularly crafty bugger. Time and time again, he would water our egos, snatching a book from a desk and reading aloud a ‘FANTASTIC’ (ordinary) short story or an ‘INSIGHTFUL’ (average) attempt at analysis. He would wave away our pretend protestations, allowing us to feel like we were doing well and more importantly look like we were doing well without appearing to be trying.

**Nothing is more motivational than recognition and success. **

Of course, this alone is not enough – some teaching must take place, some progress must be made.

  • But corrections would be made under the guise of suggestions and mistakes would be pointed out with subtlety and tact, not in bright, red scrawl.

Red Pen

The notion that sticking “laddish” texts in front of boys, sitting back and waiting for their enthusiasm to erupt is, in my view, one of the worse so-called solutions. For one, this is entirely impractical; the curriculum requires an understanding of a range of texts – like it or not, you’re going to have to learn Shakespeare along with a smattering of soppy poems. I tend to favour a very honest approach to this: it’s worth X% of your GCSE and if you don’t try, you can’t do well; although remember, you must first earn the right to be “honest”.

  • Where possible, frame units that you know won’t go down well with those that will – it can’t all be fun but it has to be sometimes – surround the thorn with roses – consideration of this should occur more frequently when planning specifications (why must all classes follow the same specifications?).

Secondly, pigeonholing boys within the narrow parameters of cars, computers and football, at every available opportunity, only serves to heighten their disinterest in/dislike of many texts that they have to study; you are effectively reinforcing a stereotype and conditioning them to believe that there are some texts they are supposed to like and some that they aren’t. What could be less motivating than someone making you read a text full of a plot, characters and themes that you believe you shouldn’t be interested in, in front of a room full of your peers who KNOW you shouldn’t be interested?

  • The establishment of an environment within which it’s OK to be interested is as important as creating the motivation to learn itself.

The problem is, it’s equally as difficult to achieve. I have found that presenting my own love of literature unapologetically has, on occasions, led to success. I want all my classes, whether boys, girls or both, to realise how much I love my subject and how much I want them to love it too. Even the most apathetic group of boys have found my love of Wilfred Owen a source of amusement, if not contagious and that’s a start, eh?


Working with Students with SEN in the classroom. Some examples of good practice that you, as a parent, could expect to see.

Teaching children with any degree of special educational need is not meant to be a daunting prospect. There are no magic formulas for immediate success but there are a range of things we as teachers can do to make learning for our students something that doesn’t have to be a negative experience. Our job as a teacher is to inspire, educate and motivate and what follows are just a few simple changes that could take place in every lesson.

  • Copying from the board.

    If copying from the board is not a learning activity then it shouldn’t be done. All students would benefit from the information on printed sheets to highlight key points from discussion. Make sure that the most important learning objective is isolated. You probably don’t want your students to get better at copying if correctly labeling apparatus on a diagram is the focus. 

  • Giving instructions.

    When giving instructions, make sure that the volume of instruction is kept to a minimum for each task to assist students who may have poor auditory and short term memory. If instructions exceed 3, they really would be better written down and displayed. This way it is clear what has to be done and when.

  •  Checking understanding.

    After issuing general instructions to the whole class, ask individuals questions to check understanding. Although this may seem obvious, do not ask ‘do you understand what you have to do’? Students will more often than not say yes just to get you off their backs. Get the students to explain what they will do first, and then what next to see that they have comprehended the task and are about to implement the correct strategy. 

  • Setting homework.

    Homework should always be a planned activity and not an afterthought. If it’s planned it can be given at any point in the lesson. The earlier homework is set the more time that students have to make sure it is noted correctly. Leaving homework until after the bell or in the closing few minutes of a lesson is likely to result in it not being done or being done incorrectly.

  • Making progress.

    Make it very clear to each student what constitutes progress for them. Getting one more mark on a test than last time is progress. Students should not be under the impression that they are expected to perform at the same pace and level as the rest of the pupils in the class.