Friday, July 17, 2009

The Challenge of Boys and Reading

We have known for a long time that girls seem to make a faster start in reading. Many have explained this by pointing to the fact that girls are usually faster to speak. They arrive at school more articulate and with more extensive vocabularies than boys. However, in the last 2-3 decades the gap between the literacy achievements of boys and girls has widened in favour of girls. Professor William G. Brozo who is co-author of the book 'Bright beginnings for boys' shared this summary of boys' literacy achievements (primarily American data) at an American Literacy conference in October 2008:

  • By grade 4 an average boy is two years behind an average girl in reading and writing
  • Boys make up 70% of special education classes
  • Boys are four times more likely to have ADHD
  • Boys are 50% more likely to repeat a grade than girls
  • Boys are three times more likely to be placed in a reading disability or learning class
So we know we have a problem, but what do we do about it?

Helping boys to become readers

I have shared some of these ideas in a previous post (here) but I've developed them a little further here. Before sharing a list of specific hints, let me share what I see as four fundamental things about boys and literacy:

1. Boys are more likely to be attracted to books and reading when the books and the reading event (whether at school, or reading with mum and dad) offer opportunities to discover, experiment, explore, learn new things, make them laugh, consider the curious or unusual, help them to play, see how things work, share trivia tricks and facts with other boys, explore the unknown, and generally do interesting things.

2. Boys need to understand the value of story and storytelling from an early age. This can be acquired through early books, the stories you share with them (anecdotes, memories, tall tales etc), traditional stories and fantasy. Until boys value story, they will struggle to cope with reading.

3. Fathers and mothers need to learn how to listen to and read with your sons. Reading to and with you should be enjoyable, not boring or a chore. See my previous post on this topic (here).

4. Fathers have a key role to play in boys literacy and learning development (see my post on research in this area here).

At a more basic level:
  • Boys need a lot of help choosing books that they will not only like, but which they will be able to read. Take the time to help your sons choose books, if they pick up a book with an exciting cover and find that they can't read it this will be a disincentive.
  • Fathers have a special role to play in encouraging boys to see reading as a worthwhile pursuit. Fathers who read will have sons who read. Fathers need to read to and with their sons. A good way to do this with older boys who struggle is to read the first few pages aloud and then ask your son to read on. In this way you'll find that your son can read for longer and cope with harder books.
  • Don't forget the importance of non-fiction - boys want to learn and non-fiction is often a good way in - try books about sea creatures, space, sport, transport, technology of any kind.
  • There is also a place for riddles, joke books, cartoons, poetry and silly rhymes.
  • Comics and magazines are also a good place to start - get them reading. But don’t forget that it is the quality of the story that will ultimately motivate boys to want to read and so quality literature is important to develop long-term readers.
  • Online reading and research is also a good source of reading challenge for boys.
I hope I haven't given the impression above that only fathers can motivate boys to read. Let's face it, more often than not it is mothers who read more stories to their younger children. But there is an important place for men reading books to and with boys, and research evidence shows that fathers have a key role to play with boys' literacy and learning (see my previous post on this here).

Some sure fire starters for young boys

If you can't get your 3-5 year old boy to listen to a story try one of these ideas to turn around:

Read a book dramatically that lends itself to lots of action, loud noises and maybe a rumble half way through (when the wolf eats Grandma, or the boy gets falls out of the tree). Be dramatic, get their attention!

Read a story that they've heard before but mess up the story line as you go along. This is probably how writers invented fractured fairy tales. The first little pig built his house from straw, but he wasn't stupid, so he used super glue to hold the straw together. The wolf knocked at the door and said, "Little pig, little pig, let me come in." The pig replied, "No, no, no, I've used super glue, get lost." "Then I'll huff and I'll puff and I'll blow you're house down," roared the wolf. "Two chances wolfey, get lost" and so on. It doesn't matter if the story logic breaks down, they will still love it anyway.

Get out some dress-up clothes and get them involved in acting out the story. Try to involve all members of the family and have lots of fun. You can sacrifice the accuracy of the story in favour of having a great time.

Some books about Boys and reading

Some of the following books offer good general advice about boys and reading

'Bright beginnings for boys: Engaging young boys in active literacy', Debby Zambo and William G. Brozo, International Literacy Association
'The trouble with boys', Peg Tyre
'Best books for boys: A resource for educators', Matthew D. Zbaracki
'Raising bookworms: Getting kids reading for pleasure and empowerment', Emma Hamilton
'The Reading Bug', Paul Jennings

Other Web Resources

'Guys Read Website' - I don't like the design of this site but it has a great set of links to authors who write books that boys might like. Here is the link.

The UK Literacy Trust has a great list of resource links dealing with boys and literacy (here).

The Hamilton Public Library in Canada has a useful site with some good booklists and advice (here)

Max Elliot Anderson's blog 'Books for Boys' has some very useful material and links (here)

You can read all of my posts on boys (here) and boys education (here) using these links.

Family Action Centre at Newcastle University has an Excellent Fatherhood Network and many programs (here)


PlanningQueen said...

Fantastic post! So much great information in it - thanks for sharing.

Melitsa of Play Activities said...

Great site. Found you via twitter and Planning Queen :) I have 3 boys and the oldest is just starting this journey of reading print. He loves Dav Pilkey, who doesn't at his age. Are there any other authors or chapter books you'd recommend for 6 yr old boys to hear? We read plenty of other books too. Thanks for the advice and information

SquiggleMum said...

Thanks for this excellent post and the great links included. A reader asked me today if I would post on my blog about boys and books. Hope it's ok if I link to you.

Trevor Cairney said...

I appreciate your comments everyone - it's always nice to hear when people find posts helpful. Thanks for mentioning it on Twitter Planning Queen and for your link SquiggleMum. Glad your boy likes Dave Pike Melitsa, I'll do a post on books for young boys soon. I'm making this comment on my Blackberry so will offer suggestions then. Trevor

Deirdre said...

Thank you for your excellent blog. My son taught himself to read before his third birthday. He is now four and a very good reader. However he has some significant social/emotional delays that are of concern. Is it common that these positive and negative attributes come hand in hand?

Trevor Cairney said...

Hi Deidre, thanks for your comment. It's fairly common for children's intellectual and emotional development not to necessarily follow each other. Very intelligent and creative children will also commonly experience some challenges in social situations. Depending on the issues it might be wise to speak with a good child psychologist if you are concerned. Best wishes, Trevor

SquiggleMum said...

Hi Trevor - my post on Book Loving Boys is up, and links to yours in the opening paragraph. I have added suggestions for reading with boys aged 0-3. Blessings, Cath/SquiggleMum.

SquiggleMum said...

Oops. Here is the link:

Prue said...

My son who has started school this year has really taken to reading and absolutely loves it. He's a bit shy reading out loud to us though, so we have solved this problem by having lots of books in the car (he loves to read in the car) and often reads the story out loud. It is such a wonderful development seeing it all fall into place. I'm so excited for him that he can finally read all his books about trucks and planes and learn it all for himself now!

Trevor Cairney said...

Thanks for the link SquiggleMum and it's nice to hear from you again Prue. It's very exciting to hear how your little boy is doing. Great strategy to get him reading in the car. When he's a bit older a great thing to do is use plays for oral reading where various family members can take different roles. It's lots of fun and children will sustain oral reading for much longer. Thanks everyone for your comments on this post. I haven't forgotten your request Deidre. Trevor

Megan said...

I have heard that boy engage better with computers. Ebooks might be a way to go.

Trevor Cairney said...

Hi Megan,

Sorry to be so slow in putting this comment up. Yes, some boys do respond well to literacy via computers. The example you give is an interesting one. As long as they produce good literature it might be helpful. Ultimately the novelty of stories presented via the computer may pass, it's the quality of the language and story that will matter most if he is to sustain his interest.

Best wishes,


Ashley Owings said...

Fantastic post! As a teacher, I have never thought to research weather there was statistics between the boys in my class being surpassed in reading by the girls. I think that some of these ideas you gave can easily be formatted to include those with daughters that they feel are falling behind as well. I think one of the most important concepts you identified was reading with your child. Family involvement is a crucial part in the literacy process of a child. When a child sees their family getting involved with their own literacy success as well as taking initiative to read on their own, the child then is able to see the importance themselves. I also like that you mentioned reading books that the child is interested in. This can be a great way to introduce the child to the concept that reading does not have to be boring. I think this should also be a concept that the school districts steal from you, we end up giving the students so much material that is not relevant to them in any aspect which is fostering a type of hatred of distain for reading in schools. I think that your ideas are great and I hope they are able to help some of the parents reading!