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Boys and Reading (or Not Reading)

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Susan Ens Funk grapples with the perennial question of how to get her 4th and 5th grade boys more interested in reading. Doug Noon, referencing a literacy text, responds that part of the problem may derive from literacy teachers' traditional emphasis on "literature to the exclusion of critical approaches to non-narrative texts. Boys tend to like informational texts more than literature." A greater emphasis on informational texts, he adds, might also make more sense in the present cultural context:

And I’m not thinking about the boys’ problems with reading here, especially, as much as I’m reconsidering the how and the why of teaching reading using informational texts vs. narrative texts. Since just about everyone seems to think we’re living in The Information Age now, maybe it’s time we put literature on a back burner, and begin to focus more on teaching strategies for content area reading. That’s where I’m heading now.

But then, I think you could also argue that it is precisely because we live in an information-saturated age that educators need to keep in mind the counter-balancing importance of reflective literature.

11 Comments

I have a little brother and for Christmas he asked for a book we were totally shocked, because he never really likes to read. His 8th grade teacher allowed them to get into reading circles/ groups and pick a book they wanted to read together and the boys in his group chose Artemis Foul, which is a series and he wanted the 2nd book. I think if teachers and parents could come together to have an agreement on what the students could be allowed to read that is age appropriate then students will be more eager to read books and articles that relates or interest them, but if we are constantly as teachers wanting to do things our way then we are going to keep getting the same results of uninterested students in reading class.

There are a few things that I think are useful in getting boys to read. My step-son is in 7th grade, and as the trend suggests, balks at reading anything "fictional" (he claims "it's not *real*"). Yet I now have him hooked on Sherman Alexie, because a) "Diary of a Part-Time Indian" is so good, b) he saw me reading it, c) a (male) teacher (and Alexie fan) commended him on it, and d) I ask him questions about what he's learning -- that is, I treat it the same way as if he's reading non-fiction. Of these, I think b and c are the most important -- he's had two male readers model reading for him. In a society where reading is being increasingly cast as a feminine activity, I think that matters. I think the fact that we have a strongly gendered teaching force, where male teachers are more likely to be teaching social studies and especially science (and thus teaching non-fiction reading) and female teachers are more likely to be teaching literature (and thus fiction reading), strongly colors the kinds of expectations about gender and reading that kids internalize. Perhaps we need to consider spreading fiction and non-fiction reading more evenly through the curriculum, so that those associations are broken up?

I am a first year teacher of 7th grade English. My biggest goal this year is for all 120 of my students to become readers. I must say that I'm not as daunted by the task as I was prior to the beginning of the school year, even if I know a handful of those students may never really enjoy reading.
Throughout grad school, I heard about the difficulty in getting boys to read. As a result,I entered the classroom expecting much more reading resistance from my male students than from my female students. I have not found this to be the case at all. Resistance to reading is almost equal among the girls and boys that I work with. I have discovered that resistance to reading has less to do with gender and more to do with a lack of ability to find good books.
1) Many of my students simply don't know how to sort through the 1000s of books in a library to find one that they like. In the beginning of the year, I was incredibly frustrated by their lack of ability to pick up a book that interested them. After all, I had never had a problem doing it! I began to agree with other educators who complained that students "just won't read."
Then I began reading and talking to people. Now I read at least one YA book a week and talk about it to the class. Students who would have passed by one of these books now have a good idea of what to read. The books I talk about never sit on the shelf. I also taught them how to look at books, how to determine which are of interest to them, and then I grabbed all kinds of books from the library and we had a book passing. When they are able to sit quietly with a book for a few minutes, they get a feel for the book; they can't just look at the cover and the thickness of it. Both of these strategies have been met with very positive responses from the students.
Lastly, the most important job I can do is to get to know my students. Because they have writer's notebooks, I get to know each student individually. I know what they're interested in, what they do in their free time. And then I suggest books that match their interests. They appreciate my effort, and I am rewarded by watching them devour books.
Ultimately, teachers have to relinquish some control over what students are reading. Kids need a chance to pick up books that interest them, whether those books are fiction or nonfiction, and they need teachers who are willing and able to help them do so.

I don't know if this is particularly appropriate for boys (I suspect so), but when I taught adult learners (GED classes) who had either been conditioned to believe that they didn't read well, or had just never discovered any joy in it, I had some success with reading to them. I had been given some paper backs, and I would read chapter one as a teaser and offer the book to any who wanted to see what happened next.

In my own family, my son has always enjoyed picture books (always!) and being read to. He has only lately (as a teenager) taken to reading books that deal with topics that he is passionate about. He recently spent $25 in a book store on a book that dealt with something he couldn't talk to mom about.

It seems that this question has been reduced to a fatal either-or proposition - either boys read literature/narratives or they read factual information. As an old professor at a community college and seeing daily the results of your successes and failures, I think that it is important to encourage a variety of types of text for reading. Later in school - in high school and college/university - all students are required to read a variety of literature . So start them now even if you encourage them to read by getting comfortable reading their favorite type of literature. Let them know how you, as a scholar, read both narrative and informative texts.

A lot of the required reading in school seems more geared towards girls. I have had sixth grade boys groan when new novels were introduced. My grandson loves to read anything having to do with Star Wars. He memorizes a new list of spelling words weekly but doesn't always retain them. I feel that the words and reading have to be meaningful for kids.

My guess, teachers might not appreciate what many fifth grade boys will choose to read voluntarily, and therein rests a predicament yet unresolved in education. Fifth grade boy will read what teachers assign, but will not necessarily rank it among top activities they will choose. As a fifth grade teacher, students saw me read, knew I assigned them to read, and knew their grades depended on that reading and memorizing some of what they read in order to recite it back. Old fashioned, yes, but it still works.

I find the middle school boys I teach thoroughly enjoy books about sports. Any sport,doesn't matter, they seem to like better than any other genre I give them. One series, in particular, are the Hank Zipzer books. Although the reading level is elementary (around 4th) the interest level is high.

This is a great discussion. My two kids are polar opposites when it comes to reading, and they entirely fit the stereotypes. My son is clearly more interested in non-fiction titles. But my reading chapter books aloud to him did uncover one fiction interest -- dogs. So now he's reading Winn Dixie, Shiloh, Chance, Riley , and any other bookswith dogs as main characters.

Hi,

I grew up as a reluctant reader. Now I write action-adventures & mysteries, especially for boys 8 and up, that kids hate to put down. My web site is at http://www.maxbooks.9k.com and my Books for Boys blog is at http://booksandboys.blogspot.com
Ranked by Accelerated Reader

Max Elliot Anderson

I recently began book groups for 5th and 6th grade boys and girls. The groups meet alternaltely once a month.
The boys who came to the meeting were so noisy and hard for me to get them to focus on the task of picking a book to read. They were interested in the snacks! It will be interesting to see if they read or have begun to read the book..a challenge but know each of them will get a good experience being in the group. The girls want to meet twice a month, also interested in the snacks.
This girls are going to learn how to knit also as a knitter I was thrilled.
One girl said her hands were free during the meeting so why not!!!
I do have some interest with 2 of the girls to do a short story and articles for the newspaper. I will also have the boys do a article. Anyone else have experience with these type of groups?

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  • karen seghers: I recently began book groups for 5th and 6th grade read more
  • Max Elliot Anderson: Hi, I grew up as a reluctant reader. Now I read more
  • Kelly @ Pass the Torch: This is a great discussion. My two kids are polar read more
  • Kelly: I find the middle school boys I teach thoroughly enjoy read more
  • Bob: My guess, teachers might not appreciate what many fifth grade read more

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