When I moved to my current school, I was given an all-boys Yr 10 class. They were the disinterested, naughty, often hostile students that had been a bit of a nightmare in Yr 9, plus a few quiet lads who'd flown under the radar for three years. I was the only male teacher in the English department, and so it was believed that I may have half-a-chance of getting these students on track, and maybe even wring a few grades out of them.
A year and a half on, and these boys are in the middle of year 11. They are benign, funny, talkative, opinionated and often hard-working, and I wouldn't swap this group with any other. It seems to have worked. They are mostly on course for their targets, or above; their behaviour is generally very good indeed, and their attitude to learning is incredibly positive. I think biting the bullet, and including gender in your differentiation to this quite extreme extent is a good thing, and not to be shied away from. So, what are the benefits of this segregation?
1. No distractions. This is the obvious one, and its been debated to death in the larger debate about segregated schools. But within a mixed school, taking the boys away from the 'charms' of the female students seems to have a positive impact on their attention span and their learning. They have no one to show off too, and as boys are usually pretty intolerant of idiotic bravado when women aren't around, this can become a positive cycle. It helps if the teacher leads the way on this, highlighting foolish behaviour by labelling it using the student's lingo ('weak', describing poor quality humour, has gone down a treat!). They latch onto this pretty quickly and the class benefits immensely from it.
2. Toilet humour. There is no better way to get a gaggle of malcontented boys on side than making jokes about (and sometimes actually demonstrating) farting. With no girls in the room to temper such grotesque behaviour, the potty-based 'banter' can reach disturbing new highs, with the level of trust within the room increasing with every foul joke. Soon, every student feels comfortable in the classroom, knowing that banter is redirected from personal attack, to general 'blokish' silliness. The teacher has to set boundaries, of course, and they will be stretched; persevere, though, and you can end up with the class wrapped around your little finger.
3. Similar interests. I'm not going to say that all boys share the same interests, but it is reasonable to suggest that many discontented young men, around year 10/11, do have some interests in common. In a group such as this, these interests can be made full advantage of. Video games, films, football - these can all be used as starting points into modules, or even assessments themselves. Recently, my Yr 11s completed a GCSE S&L discussion based around the future of video games, and it was fantastic! Wonderful debates abounded, and lots of marks were awarded, as they actually wanted to listen to each others' ideas. We have a 5-minute chat at the start of every lesson, before the starter, where we share our experiences - films we've watched over the weekend, Saturdays' football scores, video game highlights. This leads to bonding and a sense of community, and before long, everyone's pushing in the same direction.
4. Camaraderie. My group have really achieved this - they are 'all in this together', and are very happy to help each other out and offer new ideas to the lesson. This could happen in any group, of course, but I feel that it has happened more quickly, and more strongly than in mixed groups, as the boys feel special. They know they are in a boys only group, and a low one at that, and this has brought them together.
So, get those troubled boys together, add a dollop of poo-humour, chat about Grand Theft Auto, and then sneak in a bit of learning every now and then. The results can be very good indeed.