@eduwells recently published a list of cultivating boys interest in reading.
Yes books can be short and funny. Non-fiction facts are interesting. He is right – my boys love those reads.
But why should we assume that boys have no interest in long, scary, sad, exciting, infuriating, desperate, exhilarating reads?
The power of fiction is that there’s a whole spectrum of human emotions to explore in action, adventures, sci-fi, historical fiction, fantasy, realistic fiction, mystery, thrillers and even, gasp, poetry.
There’s a big of a meme going around in education circles that boys couldn’t possibly sit down and focus on something for long periods of time I have two words: video games. I could also add in lego, board games, remote-controlled cars, watching sports on TV.
We could quibble about the reasons that these activities are more pleasurable than reading. My point is that boys are more than capable of sitting down and focusing on activity if it is one that interests him – so how can we interest boys in books?
Be a reader yourself
Kids can smell hypocrisy. The books or authors I recommend to children are ones I’ve personally read and enjoyed. Passion is infectious and not something that can easily be faked.
Know your kids
One of my students asked me for a reading list. But here’s the thing, I can write a reading list for him based on my knowledge of his interests and overall reading ability but that list might be inappropriate for his friend.
Read aloud to your students
Carve out some time every day to read to your students – after snack or lunch is a great way to get the class calm and helps build a routine of reading. The power of a good read aloud is that can suck in kids who might otherwise struggle with decoding into the world of fiction. Modelling mistake making, thinking aloud, making connections between the text the real world, other texts, and movies helps the child to see books as windows into another world but also reflections of themselves. Reading aloud to students who are struggling to build up fluency lets them know the struggle will be worth it. The books I read aloud in class always find their ways into the hands of students, sometimes years after I’ve read the book.
Let ’em doodle
My class (which is boy-dominated) will sit listening to a story for 45 minutes and beg for more. Most of what keeps the kids engaged is a great story. But another part is that they draw while I’m reading to them – the kids in my class get an exercise book that is just there for them to doodle. Sometimes its guns and sharks filling up their sketchbook, other times its drawings related to the book further helping him understand the plot.
For kids who struggle with decoding, the ability to follow along a story helps keep them engaged in the world of fiction.
Reading is a social activity
Sometimes the best way to reach a disengaged reader is through his friends. One of my new parents was impressed that her previously disengaged reader had polished off a number of books since arriving. The books were ones his friend had enjoyed reading in class. Likewise, having several copies of a book that are available to share with friends helps encourage struggling readers to keep at a book long after they might have given up.
Choice – but with an interest
The kids in my class choose the books they want to read. But at library time, I’m with my kids watching what they get out. If there’s a lot of ‘Where’s Wally?’ showing up, I’m going to spend time with the child and figure out what’s going on in his reading. Kids sometimes don’t realise that bad fit book is just a bad fit book and is not about them as a reader. He might need guidance to get his reading back on track. I always stress to my dormant readers we just haven’t found the right fit book for him… yet.
Getting a child to read one book is an important step on the journey. Figuring out what to read next is the challenge. I’ve got a bunch of books that I consider ‘gateway books.’ Hatchet by Gary Paulsen is part of a large series of adventure books. Likewise, Michael Morpurgo is a prolific writer of fiction. I’m also not a literary snob to deny the pleasure Geronimo Stilton and Diary of a Wimpy Kid if that’s what keeps a reader engaged in reading.
There’s no such thing as ‘boy books’
Sports, butt jokes, and non-fiction tend to feature on boys reading lists but as the cliche reminds us – never judge a book by its cover. One year of my hulking Year 7 rugby-mad boys loved the Princess Diaries series. The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane is a firm class favourite even though the central character in the story is a porcelain bunny rabbit owned by a girl. Let’s stop giving boys narrow choices based on outdated stereotypes and assume that boys couldn’t possibly be interested in books that feature girls and female-dominated stories.
The magic of books is that they enable all of us to learn more about the world as it is and how it could be. Our boys just like girls need exposure to all sorts of texts as they grow. My advice here is actually non-gender specific for good reason. Reading shouldn’t be a gendered activity – we should expanding not narrowing boys’ reading world.