I’ve continued some of my background reading in the area of boys and literacy. I must admit it starts to sound like a broken record after awhile. Boys like reading for information. Boys develop their literacy skills later than girls. There are fewer male role models for reading behaviour. More boys consider themselves non-readers. Boys aren’t as keen on poetry. More boys prefer fantasy and science fiction. Boys in my class seem to prefer humour (of the bathroom variety particularly). Boys are less free to take on female roles than girls are to take on male roles.
The role thing is interesting to me as I have a son who loves to dance. In the last edition of Chatelaine, a women reflected on her experience of enrolling her son in ballet classes (at three years of age). It’s a pretty pink world folks. Girls can play hockey, soccer, run marathons… Boys dancing is still on the subversive side.
So my reaction is now what? What is to be done with the gender specificity of reading? or dance for that matter.
In Booth’s Even Hockey Players Read, he highlights some of the possible solutions. This list too seems familiar to me now. Use popular culture texts, use a wide variety of texts (diaries, biographies, encyclopedias, atlases, memoirs, mysteries, fantasies, adventures, picture books, legends). I would add to this list graphic novels, comic books, magazines.
I have the great privilege of having a fairly large classroom library and a well-stocked school library. Choice of materials is not a huge issue, although having enough magazines and comics is sometimes a challenge. I was able to purchase a set of Bone books and a set of Captain Underpants for my classroom this year. It is a challenge to find quality non-fiction titles for my age level. They are beyond simple reading and prior to encyclopedia reading. Hitting the right level and having them attractive and interesting and not hugely expensive seems to be difficult.
Knowing these things about reading and reading engagement doesn’t seem to giving me the magic bullet to help the boys in my room. Once they have finished Bone and Captain Underpants (which they did in about two months of DEAR time), how do I keep them going. Re-reading only engages them for a time. I need to know which titles might keep them going and take them from classroom reading to at-home reading. Being engaged in reading during DEAR time at school doesn’t seem to necessarily translate into reading time at home. Is that important? I think there is need for practice of reading skill and school can’t provide all of the practice time. Or should it? I wonder how much reading was done at home by the boys in my classroom in 1977? I wonder how that has effected their ability to find their way in the world. How did it effect their ability to navigate high school?
I know reading is important and I know that doesn’t necessarily translate that only reading books and literature is important. I know reading a variety of texts is important. I know that the boys in my class would be interested in reading and creating texts which relate to their video gaming experiences. I know they play games which I think are inappropriate to their age level (Halo and World of Warcraft are popular). If I set up the situation where they could read and write with these kinds of texts, would that be positive or negative for them? for their reading? for the school?
I’m not sure where I would like to go here. I know if I wanted to I could do a doctoral thesis on these questions. But I’m not going there right now. Right now I’m doing personal professional development which I have to squeeze in between my planning for the week’s activities, an interest in improving my students’ writing as well as their reading, an interest in improving my students’ critical and creative thinking as well as their reading. I know these should hang together but I’m not sure how to weave the threads.
I think I have the background in the reading realm scanned. I think I might benefit from some reading in the psychology realm. I think I need to look at my running record information again, although this tells me more about their reading skill and not their reading engagement. I teach grade four and five. My students are generally reading at and above grade level. (So you ask what’s the problem?) It’s not that they can’t read. It’s that they don’t choose to read. Here is a couple of “I wonders” which I think might be a practical thing to try. I wonder if I can improve at-home reading and sustained at-school reading if I look at social reading skills. Social skills are a challenge in my room. I wonder if reading discussion time might facilitate reading engagement. I wonder if the missing piece is not reading choices but a reading community. I wonder how you create a reading culture which extends beyond the classroom.
I know this is a strange and rambling post. I’m going to post it anyway as evidence of my thinking.