« Is the Stimulus Package a Preview for NCLB Reauthorization? | Main | Trying to Prove the Impact of Arts Education »

If Teachers Can't Figure Out How to Reach Boys, Disney Will


A post over at Core Knowledge Blog drew my attention to an article published in the New York Times this week about how market researchers at the Walt Disney Company and other media companies try to figure out how to engage boys in entertainment.

Here's an excerpt:

The guys are trickier to pin down for a host of reasons. They hop more quickly than their female counterparts from sporting activities to television to video games during leisure time. They can also be harder to understand: the cliché that girls are more willing to chitchat about their feelings is often true.

I'm thinking there might be some clues in this article for those of you who are trying to figure out how to engage boys in reading, as we've been discussing on this blog.


I have always said that the best kindergarten teachers are the best teachers. The reason for this is that the teachers of young children must know how to engage their students where the students are at. If they can't do this, they lose their students both physically and intellectually.

The Walt Disney company is eager to engage boys where they are at. Even if they haven't worked out a perfect system for doing this, they know what they have to do. Kindergarten teachers and the Disney Company are not alone. All teachers should consistently be striving to gauge the intellectual location of their students.

Here are several questions that might help in this process:
1. So, what was the most enjoyable thing that you did last night? Why did you like it?
2. If you could do your second favorite thing right now, what would it be? Why?

The answers to these questions and many others will help teachers know where their students are at. Only when we know this can we respond to them where they are at.


Unfortunately, it doesn't seem that Disney knows its own market if it thinks girls don't play sports or video games--or that boys don't express their feelings more now, than ever before, particularly in our world of blogs, tweets and Facebook. In particular regard to video games, here's an excerpt from a September 2008 article:

"Pew examined the popularity of video games among 12- to 17-year-olds by interviewing 1,105 sets of parents and teens from November 2007 to February 2008. The findings won't likely surprise parents: 99 percent of teen boys and 94 percent of teen girls play video games regularly--whether it's a casual online game, a video game console like the Wii, or a massively multiplayer game on the Xbox."

The reason teachers and Disney alike struggle to market and reach teen boys and girls is because some adults have a tendency to contextualize the teen world into being one without many digital tools and all the rippling effects that come from having them. Girls do play sports. Girls do play video games. Both genders are online, and lots. Not all girls talk about their feelings, while some boys only do that.

To educators and Disney alike: What teenagers and even younger children like is the Internet and other tools that give them a more personalized, hands-on experience. They like using tools that engage them, rather than sitting passively and soaking up what the person at the front of the room or in the television is telling them to think and do. Bad news for traditional educators and Disney!

Take note that lots of high school social communication takes place through digital means now, regardless of gender, such as through texting or emailing or social networking, bypassing many traditional methods, and by way of that, traditional gender roles. Traditional "we went down to the local pizzeria" with "the captain of the football team"--har har--is still how I find many adults view young people's lives. (I'm saying this as a 22-year-old, so I haven't long been out of high school, really.) While the local pizzeria may still exist, as does the captain of the football team, I'd argue that the means in which teens interact with both are quite different now than in the past, and this is an important thing to understand when it comes to young adults' lives. The dynamics have changed, because the channels of communication have multiplied and advanced.

To keep up, educators and businesses must understand this. Until the majority of people over 30 "get" this, there will be a huge communication gap between generations.

Boys like history books, even (gasp!) military and diplomatic history books, but those books are not allowed in many school these days, while there are plenty of vampire love books for the girls.

Boys are definitely not being reached like they should but the key is not necessarily only intersts... though reaching them through their interests is important too... more it is how we are teaching. Boys learn better by doing... if you have things that they can learn by doing, involving their whole body and mind in the activities they are going to learn better and retain that knowledge longer. I object to the above statement that most boys need history books and military stuff... Boys have varied interests the same as girls to but boys are more suited to active learning where they can touch and engage in the activity versus sitting in a desk quietly listening to a teacher teaching them.

Comments are now closed for this post.


Most Viewed on Education Week



Recent Comments