The Quest Continues

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.



Filed under boys, curriculum, education, literacy

11 responses to “The Quest Continues

  1. Pingback: Borderland » Blog Archive » Teaching Reading in the Contact Zone

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  3. Susan, you are not alone in your wonderings. The questions you pose are critical ones and, as a teacher that has been striving to create a community of readers since the beginning of the year, I can tell you that they are not easily answered. I will say that the one thing I have going for me is that the entire staff of our school is working to create this kind of community, so when students get to me at fifth grade they already have a sense of what it means to be a part of a reading community. Never the less, I do see my boys losing focus and I will tell you that I didn’t notice until I started kidwatching during Independent Reading. I identified several boys who I had thought were engaged for the full reading period, but weren’t. I say set aside the running records and sit back and watch your readers. A weeks worth of notes and some non-threatening questions can be an eye opener!

  4. I’ve been trying to interest my son in reading for years, and he’s fought me the whole way. The only things he really gets into are Sports Illustrated for Kids (magazine), Ripley’s Believe It or Not (big illustrated book), and Guinness Book of World Records (also big illustrated book). I’ve tried audio books (boring, boring, boring, according to him) and fantasy (Harry Potter – thanks, but he prefers the movie version). As a 6th grader, he’s receiving more reading assignments all the time, so it’s definitely an issue around our house. I checked with the librarians at his school and they recommended a couple of series (Scrapbooks of America and I Am an American). Historical fiction, very realistic. The first series has lots of pics. The second, none. He reads aloud 20 minutes a night, and I’d have to say he enjoyed the titles he read in both sets, which is sort of a miracle.

  5. Katie, what non-threatening questions did you ask them? I’m game to try them. Unfortunately as a part time teacher I do not have my kids during silent reading right now, I moved it to a sustained writing time. I won’t say it’s silent and I don’t think it should be. My partner has kept the reading. I don’t know what she is seeing. I agree that quiet and in their desks does not translate into reading necessarily.

    Do the Scrapbooks and I am an American series have female or male protagonists? I have seen some good Canadian historical fiction but it typically has a female in the protagonist role, not very appealing to the guys. I’m fortunate in so far as my son is a reader and is currently reading anything which has a mystery or adventure in it. AtoZ Mysteries, Junie B Jones, Cam Jansen and it doesn’t seem to phase him that Junie B and Cam are girls. He’s in grade one and boy/girl issues are a little less pronounced.

  6. As far as non-threatening I try a couple of things. First, I approach the child on their physical level and ask how things are going. “How’s your book so far? What’s happening right now?” Just questions to open up. In writing I ask “How’s it going? What are you working on today?” Then I move on to stating what I observed and ask them with genuine curiosity about what’s going on. “Why do you think you’re not into this book/reading today/writing right now? What other things might you do that fall into appropriate activities for this workshop period? ” It’s more about the WAY you ask it, I think. (I’m still working on this one.)

    The biggest obstacle I’ve faced is establishing clear expectations that students know will be enforced without being a tyrant. I try to be understanding and think about how I read as an adult. Tuned out one day isn’t an issue, but tuned out every day is. I’m working on observing more and asking questions to get information BEFORE I make assumptions. But, again I’m still working on that one.

  7. I think you hit the nail on the head with the ‘clear expectations without being a tyrant’ thought. My wish to have a classroom with open borders and multiple authorities conflicts with my wish to have order and purposefulness. I think it is a constant struggle for the right balance. It is particularly hard with students who have not a lot of experience with positive limitations on behaviour. I’m working on my assumption that quiet is on-task and noisy is off-task but my students need to work at noisy on-task too.

  8. As a kid-lit blogger and the mom of a third-grade boy, I will be following your blog with interest. My son likes to read but largely steers around chapter books, unlike many of the girls in his class. He’s not a reluctant reader but prefers graphic novels, picture books, and books like Ripley’s Believe It or Not. On my blog I recently published a list of exciting nonfiction easy readers for first and second graders, which was given to me by a local librarian, and my son still enjoys a number of books on that list.

    I’m enjoying hearing your thoughts on education here! Several of the children’s literature bloggers are teachers, too: Educating Alice, A Year of Reading, Wild Rose Reader, and The Miss Rumphius Effect, among others. All highly recommended!

  9. Your son sounds a lot like the boys in my room, no surprises there. I think the book publishers need to start to respond to this need for boys in early reading. I think schools, at least the ones I’m around have started to emphasize non-fiction in a new way. The difficulty I sometimes have with my students is their beginnings of a bias against the picture book. I believe that we are ‘people of story’. We learn to relate to each other and contextualize our own experiences through the stories of others and of our fore-bearers. I hope we don’t lose our memory of using good stories to teach by focusing on using good fact books to teach. There can be good stories in those fact books too, I don’t discount that. Thanks for the recommendations. I’ll be dropping by.

  10. ann

    Reading is an abstract skill requiring more mental energy to visualize, to use the phonics to locate new words from one’s social vocabulary (necessary for independent reading); to organize and relate information other material; and to enjoy the reading process. The nineteenth century belief boys should be strong allows increasing aggression toward Males to to make boys tough; they are not given kind, stable, mental/emotional/social/”verbal” support, knowledge and interaction for fear of coddling; also boys are not given love, honor, respect unless they are creating some measure of achievement, status, or image. All of these things create higher average stress and drains mental/emotional energy needed to read and enjoy the process. The lower the socioeconomic brack (including African Males) the greater this differential treatment and so we have more Males in those areas falling much farther behind.

    Boys are not developmentally delayed but due to differential treatment are taken out of the game a very early age that continues in hurt over time.

    Since girls are not required to be tough, girls and later, women are given more kind stabilizing treatment that enables much mental/emotional/social growth and skill development for the information age. Unless society begins to take note of this great differential treatment and its adverse effects upon Male students, we can expect an even greater downturn in Male achievement.

    • I am hopeful, as a society, we will learn to teach boys ways of loving and being loved which will support them in their emotional stability. It will certainly require effort and the participation of mothers’ and fathers’ in child rearing. Modeling from important adults in boys’ lives can make a huge different.

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