Donna Lester Taylor writes in the Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy Jan 2005 about the current gap seen between the achievement of boys and that of girls in the area of literacy. The brief synopsis of the current trends asks some of the key questions about how literacy is defined and whether or not the gap is a function of a narrow definition of literacy. Strangely enough, despite introducing the theme of a broader definition of literacy, Taylor continues to look at addressing the gap. I feel the question remains, “Is there a gap when we change the definition?”
We definitely need to look at expanding the type of literature on our shelves and the type of literature we use to teach reading but is there a reading comprehension gap or not? I don’t have the answer. I know that many of the tests I do for reading comprehension are based on fiction. I use more than one assessment type but is my assessment balanced and fair to boys? I’m not sure.
Taylor makes a number of suggestions for improving our ability to teach boys to read and engage in language arts activities. 1) broaden the definition of what constitutes reading – magazines, Internet, non-fiction, cartoons – all these types count as reading 2) give boys a choice in what they read, scaffold from their interests towards new interests 3) respect the varied learning pace of all students (hmm, standardized tests don’t allow for that particularly, do they?) These broad suggestions are made more detailed through a few specific strategies – boys-only book clubs, male role model book talks, ‘guys’ rack’ book suggestions, and using teaching reading through inquiry.
I have a number of boys who say they ‘never’ read at home. I wonder how they define reading and whether they are ‘counting’ as reading when they are reading for information. Taylor recounts her son’s reading habits as a young man and recalls the hours he spent reading computer manuals and programming code books and Internet articles. He did not consider these practices to be reading. Do the boys in my class read and just discount it or do they really not read anything?
In my classroom, I have an extensive classroom library. I had the good fortune of inheriting a large number of books but few of them are non-fiction. I also inherited a large Scholastic book club coupon. I wanted to spend it on non-fiction. There was relatively little engaging looking non-fiction available. I am going to continue to supplement my classroom library with books from the school library. Given the information in the last few articles, I suspect I will focus on bringing piles of non-fiction into the classroom.
I’m thinking about my next Language Arts unit. I wonder about doing Literature Circles with non-fiction. I’ll have to think that over, what would the roles look like? Hmm. I’m liking the idea.