Action Research in Boys' Schools

In February 2005, the IBSC launched Action Research in Boys' Schools to promote the collaboration of educators in member schools worldwide. Since then research teams have completed in-depth projects and reported their unique findings at IBSC Annual Conferences in South Africa, Canada, New Zealand, the United States, and the United Kingdom. More than 300 teachers have participated in the program. Inspired by the experience, many have become instructional leaders for action research in their schools, and have presented at many conferences beyond the IBSC.

IBSC Action Research in Boys' Schools strives to identify and generate informed reflection, discussion, and innovative ideas about best practices in boys' education to inspire educators in the IBSC community. Bringing together teams of educators from around the globe demonstrates the dedication boys' educators share, collaborating and learning from one another to enrich their professional lives and the quality of education for their students.

Whether individually or part of a team, educators who engage in action research identify and ask questions about an area of practice, find out what's known about it, modify or design a strategy, figure out how to measure its impact, and assess how well it has worked and with what results. It is "research" on the frontline of teaching, and "action" that contributes to ongoing improvement in practice for our entire community of educators.

Put just a little more formally by expert Geoffrey Mills in Action Research: A Guide for the Teacher Researcher (2nd edition):

Action research is any systematic inquiry conducted by teacher researchers, principals, school counselors, or other stakeholders in the teaching/learning environment to gather information about how their particular schools operate, how they teach, and how well their students learn. This information is gathered with the goals of gaining insight, developing reflective practice, effecting positive changes in the school environment (and on educational practice in general), and improving student outcomes and the lives of those involved.

Action Research Projects by Year

To review projects from previous IBSC Action Research cycles, tap or click the headings below.

2016–2017: Collaboration and the Power of Learning Groups

IBSC Action Research 2016–2017:
Collaboration and the Power of Learning Groups

For full details please consult the Collaboration and the Power of Learning Groups INFORMATION SHEET .

In February 2016, the members of the 2016–2017 cohort began participating in regular guided online discussions focused on selected readings on both the action research process and the research. These researchers will also attend an orientation and training program in Vancouver, Canada during the two days prior to the conference. They will undertake and complete their research during the year, and present their findings during the 2017 IBSC Annual Conference in Baltimore, MD, USA.

2015–16: Boys as Global Citizens

Action Research 2015–2016:
Boys as Global Citizens

As the forces of information and communication continue to shrink the world economically, socially, and culturally, the imperative to develop in young people the knowledge and skills to become active and articulate global citizens has become a top priority for educators. The 2015-16 Action Research Team conducted cutting-edge research on the topic of Boys as Global Citizens. More than 50 boys' school educators engaged in months of online discussion and research, along with face-to-face meetings in Cape Town, South Africa, and Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, at the 2015 and 2016 IBSC Annual Conferences. For complete information on the 2015–16 Action Research Program, consult the Boys as Global Citizens information sheet .

Team members presented their findings at the 23rd IBSC Annual Conference in Vancouver, Canada, June, 2016.

IBSC Members have free access to the full reports on the IBSC Members-Only Portal

2014–15: Boys as Makers

Action Research 2014–15:
Boys as Makers

The contemporary Maker Movement puts a label on something that humans have always done and will always do; make things to solve problems that are personally meaningful. However, what distinguishes the contemporary Maker Movement from previous notions of making is the potential use of technology that allows traditional making to be extended and reshaped, and new forms of making to be pursued. Technology also enables what has often been considered a private pursuit to become a shared one. Along with its potential to foster creativity, critical thinking, problem-solving, and decision-making, the practical hands-on and technology focus of Making render it a natural fit with the learning styles of many boys. It is for these reasons that Boys as Makers was designated the research topic for the IBSC Action Research Program in 2014-2015.

The Boys as Makers research produced thirty-nine action research projects which offer examples of Maker Learning across a wide range of topics, grade levels and subjects. As well as enhancing the researchers’ own practice, the research findings will make a significant contribution to research into Maker Learning and add to the knowledge base of pedagogy in boys’ schools.

Team members presented at the 22nd IBSC Annual Conference in Cape Town, South Africa, July, 2015.

IBSC Members have free access to the full reports on the IBSC Members-Only Portal.

2013–14: Boys and Character Education

Action Research 2013–14:
Boys and Character Education

We would all undoubtedly agree that “building character” is at the heart of our mission, and is inscribed in the DNA of the tradition shared by boys’ schools everywhere. However diverse our understanding of “character” and however varied our approaches to character education, we share this same conviction.

Over the past years, “character education” has come to span an ever-growing range of school initiatives and activities – inside the curriculum, as in the choice of texts and topics; alongside the traditional curriculum, as in specifically designed “character courses”; outside of the curriculum, as in service learning, sports or outdoor education; in student life programs, as in honour codes or leadership and advisory programs; in the public life and culture of the school, as in awards programs and ceremonies; and even in the physical face of the school – as in boards, displays, banners and special spaces that invite reflection on the content of character.

Even with all of this energetic work, the realities of modern life, especially for contemporary boys, put pressure on us to ask how well we are doing, to do better, and even to do more. The challenge may feel all the greater because perhaps by their very nature character education practices are often resistant to evaluation. And some of us may wonder whether we listen to and involve boys enough: is character education “done to” them, or “done with” them?

Team members reported at the 21st IBSC Annual Conference in Nashville, USA, June, 2014.

IBSC Members have free access to the full reports on the IBSC Members-Only Portal.

2012–13: Creativity through Digital Technologies

Action Research in Boys' Schools, 2012–13:
Boys Learning Creatively Through Digital Technologies

It is broadly acknowledged that the use of digital technologies can foster creativity by enabling users to think and act in ways that have been previously inaccessible or non-existent. These technologies encourage individuals and groups to build and share knowledge in ways that support exploration, play, risk- taking, collaboration and reflection. Research also supports the special role that digital technologies can play in the engagement and motivation of boys in their learning.

So how might teachers utilize digital technologies in the classroom, and how might they evaluate the effect of this use on boys’ learning? Over a 12-month period, the members of this IBSC action research team conducted action research projects within their schools to reflect on, and evaluate, how digital tools can foster boys’ creativity. Boys used iPads to: develop story-telling skills and create innovate art projects with Photoshop and Histamatic; Minecraft to create potential visions of a city; blogging to write for an audience; GoAnimate to produce social issue posters and demonstrate deep understanding of a concept in novels; and Info.gram and Easel.y to develop powerful displays of economic solutions to current world problems. Documentaries were made in iMovie to display science lab reports, whilst in another project boys were given a choice of tools with which to undertake project-based learning. Subjects enhanced by creative moments included reading, writing, science, economics, social studies and art across a variety of grade levels.

Team members presented at the 20th IBSC Annual Conference in Richmond, VA, June, 2013.

IBSC Members have free access to the full reports on the IBSC Members-Only Portal.

2011–12: Mining Key Pedagogical Approaches

Action Research in Boys' Schools, 2011–12:

Teaching Boys at the Coal Face: Mining Key Pedagogical Approaches

The research undertaken by the 2011–12 IBSC Action Research Team is an extension of previous research undertaken on behalf of the IBSC by Michael Reichert and Richard Hawley. In their report to the IBSC, Teaching Boys: A Global Study of Effective Practices (2009), and subsequent publication, Reaching Boys, Teaching Boys: Strategies that Work – and Why (2010), Reichert and Hawley debunk the myth that boys are resistant to schooling. Their large-scale, worldwide study of boys and their teachers emphatically reveals that boys want to succeed at school, and that a significant part of leading them to such success is the forging of positive student-teacher relationships. To complement their findings, Reichert and Hawley provide teachers with a comprehensive toolkit of strategies that work effectively with boys.

The literature and research are overwhelming in their support of pedagogy that is student-centered and which fosters positive relationships between students and their teachers. Also compelling in the literature is the implication that the attitudes and actions of teachers are amongst the strongest influences on their peers’ decision to change their practice. It follows, therefore, that an initiative such as the 2011–2012 IBSC Action Research Project, where these two notions are combined, has the power to significantly influence learning and teaching in boys’ schools.

It is a selection of these strategies that the 2011–2012 IBSC action researchers investigated, implemented and evaluated within their own classrooms, under the research theme, Teaching Boys at the Coal Face: Mining Key Pedagogical Approaches.

Team members reported at the 19th IBSC Annual Conference in Melbourne, July, 2012.

IBSC Members have free access to the full reports on the IBSC Members-Only Portal.

2010–11: Languages, Leadership and Libraries

IBSC Action Research, 2010–11: Languages and Leadership

For the 2010-11 IBSC Action Research Project, there were three research topics:

1. How can boys' engagement and achievement in the study of Foreign Languages be developed and enhanced?

The research literature suggests that in general boys are less likely than girls to enjoy and find success in Foreign Language study. But we know that boys’ schools can give opportunities to capture boys’ interest and motivation, and lead them to success and achievement in the study of languages

This global action research team examined ways in which boys' engagement and achievement in the study of foreign languages might be developed and enhanced. A team of 15 researchers from around the globe worked on a variety of exciting projects teaching foreign languages including French, Spanish, German and Japanese. Several of the projects examined different uses of technology such as using Rosetta Stone, Lingt Language, Bon Patron, Voicethread, and participating in an online classroom. Others examined innovative approaches such as using an outdoor classroom, introducing kinesthetic activities, using a weekly silent reading period, using artworks, culture, role-play and directed dialogues, rhythm and music, and the recording of original songs to teach foreign languages.

2. How can we create and deepen meaningful and authentic leadership opportunities for boys in our schools?

Leadership is a key focus and goal for character education in boys’ schools, and in recent years many schools have revamped or are engaged in re-thinking their leadership programs. “Leadership” is a changing and complex concept. And it can be challenging to measure success and impact on boys’ leadership growth and on the school.

This Action Research team on Boys and Leadership. investigated leadership in several areas of school life: academic, sports, prefect programs, peer mentoring and house systems. The central question all researchers have explored is: How can we create and deepen meaningful and authentic leadership opportunities for boys in our schools? The programs investigated and honed during the action research process aspire to: reflect best practice about boys' learning and development; be developmentally appropriate; offer and support 'authentic' learning activities; be sustainable; be measurable in terms of their success in aligning to the stated objectives; be integrated into the day-to-day fabric of the school; offer some form of recognition of accomplishments; have broad faculty support and 'buy in'; inspire boys to discover and develop their leadership attitudes and skills; involve students in their design and on-going monitoring.

3. How can school library programs and initiatives support and enhance boys' enthusiasm for and success in reading?

School library programs in boys’ schools have a unique potential to transform boys’ enthusiasm for and skills in reading. The participants in this IBSC Action Research project investigated how to engage boys in reading by enhancing school library activities and programs. The research literature is rich on the central role that school libraries and their professional staff play in the enriching of learning and teaching. Evidence, however, that programs/activities initiated by school libraries enrich boys’ engagement and motivation to read, is limited. With this in mind, the action researchers have explored a variety of reading interventions that have led to enhanced reading experiences in boys from Kindergarten through to Year 12.

Team members reported at the 18th IBSC Annual Conference in London. July, 2011.

IBSC Members have free access to the full reports on the IBSC Members-Only Portal.

2009–10: Boys and Writing

IBSC Action Research, 2009–10:

Ready, Willing, and Able: Boys and Writing

The topic of boys’ writing was considered worthy of investigation in light of studies that indicate many boys are often not writing with confidence, nor writing prolifically, and that they do not particularly enjoy the process.

The research also indicates that many factors have contributed to this situation: the so-called “feminization” of writing, the over-emphasis on writing for assessment and achievement rather than for a meaningful audience, limited choice of topics and structure, and so on.

A number of clear themes are evident in the two volumes of Ready, Willing, and Able: Boys and Writing.

  • The first theme focused on the ways in which Web 2.0 applications such as wikis, discussion boards and blogs can change the way boys feel about writing tasks.
  • A second theme of the projects highlighted the importance of audience and feedback for boy writers. Teachers explored a variety of ways to provide an authentic audience and worthwhile feedback to encourage their boys to write. One of these projects evaluated the effect of using anonymity in writing, while another used a process of selective correction to encourage second language writers of English.
  • The third theme relates to the use of a variety of prompts and stimuli to encourage boys to write, whilst the final area of focus examined the value of collaborative projects in engaging boys in the writing process.

Team members reported at the 17th IBSC Annual Conference in Philadelphia, USA, June, 2010.

IBSC Members have free access to the full reports on the IBSC Members-Only Portal.

2008–09: Boys and Masculinity

IBSC Action Research, 2008–09:
Journeys into Masculinity

The fourth action research team focused its work on the research question, How can texts be used to extend boys' understanding of masculinities?

The 2008–09 Action Research team members offer deep insights into the challenges that face boys on their journey into manhood and illustrate the great opportunities that boys’ schools have to assist them in coming to grips with complex and sensitive constructs such as masculinity. The findings also highlight the vital role that boys’ schools can play in providing safe environments in which boys’ voices are recognized and respected. Research also supports the special role that digital technologies can play in the engagement and motivation of boys in their learning.

The findings also highlight the vital role that boys’ schools can play in providing safe environments in which boys’ voices are recognized and respected. As one boy wrote: “Masculinity is not about the occupation someone has or the hobbies they participate in. Masculinity is about the hard decisions one has to make and whether or not they believe what they chose was right.”

Team members reported at the 16th IBSC Annual Conference in Hawke's Bay, New Zealand, July, 2009.

IBSC Members have free access to the full reports on the IBSC Members-Only Portal.

2007–08: Positive Relationships, Positive Learning

IBSC Action Research, 2007–08:
Positive Relationships, Positive Learning

Team members reported at the IBSC 15th IBSC Annual Conference in Toronto, June, 2008.Positive Relationships, Positive Learning is grounded in two principles. Boys learn best in empathy-rich classrooms. And nurturing boys’ social-emotional competency is central to our mission as schools for boys. This collection of reports explores peer leadership and mentoring initiatives, programs that promote healthy relationships, and exercises that “engage the empathy muscle for a workout”, in the words of one contributor. Whether on a small or large scale, the projects described here are intriguing and inspiring. These are also vivid stories of the step-by-step process of action research, a brand of inquiry that remains at the cutting edge of educational practice. For front-line teachers and school leaders alike, the journeys recounted here provide compelling testimony of the power of action research to spark professional growth and school change.

IBSC Members have free access to the full reports on the IBSC Members-Only Portal.

2006–07: Boys and Digital Literacy

IBSC Action Research, 2006–07:
Boys and Digital Literacy

In the second cycle of the IBSC Action Research Program, the team embarked on the investigation of the research question: How can we improve our teaching of boys by identifying and using specific aspects of digital technology to engage boys in learning?

During the year of investigation, team members explored—often with other teachers in their schools —the use of a variety of digital tools and software that have the potential to boost student collaboration, organization, and engagement with learning.

Team members reported at the 14th IBSC Annual IBSC Conference in Boston, June, 2007.

IBSC Members have free access to the full reports on the IBSC Members-Only Portal.

2005–06: Boys and Reading (graphic novels)

IBSC Action Research, 2008–09:
Journeys into Masculinity

The fourth action research team focused its work on the research question, How can texts be used to extend boys' understanding of masculinities?

The 2008–09 Action Research team members offer deep insights into the challenges that face boys on their journey into manhood and illustrate the great opportunities that boys’ schools have to assist them in coming to grips with complex and sensitive constructs such as masculinity. The findings also highlight the vital role that boys’ schools can play in providing safe environments in which boys’ voices are recognized and respected. Research also supports the special role that digital technologies can play in the engagement and motivation of boys in their learning.

The findings also highlight the vital role that boys’ schools can play in providing safe environments in which boys’ voices are recognized and respected. As one boy wrote: “Masculinity is not about the occupation someone has or the hobbies they participate in. Masculinity is about the hard decisions one has to make and whether or not they believe what they chose was right.”

Team members reported at the 16th IBSC Annual Conference in Hawke's Bay, New Zealand, July, 2009.

IBSC Members have free access to the full reports on the IBSC Members-Only Portal.

IBSC Action Research 2005–06:
Boys and Reading—Graphic Novels

The topic of inquiry was chosen for the inaugural project because of the widespread concern that many boys are disengaged from reading, and less competent in mastering the skills of literacy, often with significant consequences for their achievement. Boys' schools are uniquely positioned to focus on curriculum, approaches and pedagogy that promote their engagement with literate tasks and outcomes. The Boys and Reading topic was subdivided into two themes:

  • The Use of Graphic Organisers in Reading Instruction for Boys
  • The Use of Graphic Novels to Engage Boys in Reading

The team reported at the 13th annual conference in South Africa.

The Use of Graphic Organisers in Reading Instruction for Boys

The first team focused on primary level boys, and set as its precise research question: "Does the use of pre-designed graphic organisers in reading instruction increase boys' engagement and level of comprehension?" The team reported that the use of graphic organisers was a powerful tool in helping boys navigate and probe texts, with significant impact on their understanding of these texts.

The Use of Graphic Novels to Engage Boys in Reading

The second team focused on secondary level boys, and set as its research question: "how might graphic novels engage boys in school reading?" The team reported that graphic novels can serve to engage boys in reading, and lead them to greater interest in and understanding of texts.

IBSC Members have free access to the full reports on the IBSC Members-Only Portal.

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