boys read, boys reading

5 Ways to Get Boys to Read

June 28, 2011 06:00 AM
by Shannon Firth
Nationwide, more boys than girls seem to be struggling with reading. Here are five tips from teachers, librarians, authors and literacy strategists to encourage boys to read.

“The Boy Problem”

Boys aren’t reading as much or as well as girls. “[B]oys have fallen behind in reading in every single state,” Nicholas D. Kristof wrote for The New York Times, citing a report from the Center on Education Policy.

In elementary schools, 72 percent of boys are considered “proficient” readers, compared to 79 percent of girls. “Similar gaps were found in middle school and high school,” according to Kristof. This is all part of a larger problem educators are calling “the boy problem.”

In a 2004 article for School Library Journal, Michael Sullivan, a library director and author, examined the root of the problem. He cited a report from Donald Pottorff, Deborah Phelps-Zientarski and Michelle Skovera, published in the Journal of Research and Development in Education. The report argued that boys don’t read because their fathers or other role models don’t read. “Developmentally, boys view the world as a place filled with rules and tools, and their job is to understand how it works in order to get things done,” Sullivan wrote. As a result, boys seek newspapers and how-to manuals, rather than books.

Most elementary school teachers are women, and children’s reading material is chosen by mothers more often than fathers, Wendy Schwartz wrote in an article for Education Resources Information Center. The concept of a “good book” tends to include books that are emotional rather than physical. “As for the edgier selections that appeal to boys—books with gross humor or scary stories,” Sullivan wrote, “school isn't an institution that encourages challenging what's socially acceptable.”

Parents don’t encourage these books either. “[T]he more books make parents flinch, the more they seem to suck boys in,” according to Kristoff.

Perhaps adults should rethink their concept of what makes a book “good,” because the current “here’s a book you’re going to love” approach, as Sullivan frames it, seems to be failing.

5 Strategies to Get Boys Reading

First, “[e]xpand your definition of reading to include non-fiction, humor, graphic novels, comic books, wordless books, fantasy, science fiction, magazines, online, audio books, [and] comic strips,” children’s author Jon Scieszka told Scieszka is also the founder of the Web site Guys Read.

Second, do more than shelve “boy-friendly” books; actively promote them. Boys know when the books they like are being ignored. “And they'll recognize the implication: books that are funny or action packed or fantasylike aren't any good,” Sullivan wrote.

Third, use reading logs, Kristen Bevilacqua, a literacy volunteer in South Africa, suggests. The log’s purpose is as a “milestone tracker” more than a diary, which might be considered “girly.” The log is a place for boys to record the number of genres or chapter books they have read. “Since reading is an activity that is often too abstract for many boys, the concrete proof of their success will be beneficial to their reading confidence and independence,” according to Bevilacqua.

Fourth, another idea Sullivan suggests to teachers is to have a story hour during students’ lunch hour. In 2005, Greenland Central School, an elementary school in New Hampshire, held a program called “Literary Lunch,” where a teacher or local librarian read to students as they ate. "Each book takes one week to read, and on Fridays, we celebrate it with cupcakes for dessert," school librarian Margaret Kelley told the Portsmouth Herald.

Fifth, enlist help from other male role models. The guide “Me Read? No Way!” highlights a mentor program at St. Thomas University in New Brunswick, Canada, where men in their 20s developed “informal educational relationships” with male students, who they met weekly for two years.

“Male-teacher librarians need to read books—lots of books. Always have a book on hand. Carry it. Know a wide selection of books that boys will read,” Joel Shoemaker is quoted as saying in the guide, published by the Ontario Ministry of Education.

Even younger boys can model good reading habits for their peers. Bevilacqua suggests creating book recommendation boards in school, where boys write a summary of the book of the month or week and explain why they liked it. "A book recommended by a friend, needs no other stamp of approval for boys to want to read it too," Bevilacqua wrote.

More Books for Boys

To find books suited to younger boys, read Keith Schoch’s blog post, “Ten CC’s of Books for Boys.” Categories include “Curious Critters,” “Caped Crusaders” and “Corporeal Crud.”

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