Man the hunter? Woman the nest builder? Man, the one who needs to be active and out and about? Woman, the one who can more readily sit and occupy herself? Is this why boys are generally more reluctant to sit and read than girls? It’s worth thinking about!
We are encouraged to treat girls and boys the same, otherwise we are accused of sexual discrimination…but if a proportion of boys are worryingly way behind girls on the learning to read efficiently scale, maybe we had better start treating girls and boys differently, by changing our methods of encouraging reading development in boys. That too is worth thinking about!
So what can we do to accelerate reading progress in boys?
In the classroom: Early reading books are so often about the home, the family, shopping for food, all those nest building themes, which are probably more appealing to girls than boys. I wonder if the reading scheme publishers have thought of this. (Bring back such schemes as The Three Pirates reading scheme of many years ago.)
Teachers need to be aware that it is best if the reading books they are trying to promote are subject suitable to most boys such as: transport………………
……….castles and battles
Classroom reading material not only needs to be displayed in an area where boys can happily and comfortably get lost in the pages of a book, but the materials there need to be more than just story books. Many boys prefer non-fiction..and the teacher who says to a boy, “Why not try a nice story book now!” needs to question whether this comment is encouraging or discouraging his reading! Book Corners need to have magazines and comics, newspapers, tourist brochures, mail order shopping catalogues, companies advertising flyers, anything that will encourage a wide variety of reading material to inspire those readers who prefer non-fiction.
Teachers need to know the content of the reading material available, so they can recommend books that have a good chance of being well received. The teacher would need to match up the characteristics of the boy to the subject and reading level appeal of the book. Teachers can also get other children to recommend books they have read to particular pupils in the class. “Now I have finished this book Miss, I think Joe will really enjoy reading it next!” Joe often likes the attention of being picked out from the rest, and tries the book!
Boys need somewhere to stretch out to read, somewhere where they can forget where they are. And if they fidget whilst reading, as long as they are reading and not distracting others, why worry?
In the School Library.
Head teachers and classroom teachers need to ask themselves a few questions when considering making the School Library more inviting for boys.
- Is the School Library more like a shop? In many Dominican School Libraries the books are spread out in unrelated stacks with no categorisation and with a feel of “don’t touch this pile or it will topple and you will get it back in the wrong order”. The room has nowhere for boys to sit or stretch out comfortably in a nook where they can get lost in their reading. The room seems to say “If you come in don’t stay long and certainly don’t sit down!” Well there is no space for them to do so anyway, as every surface is piled with books….. or piles of this and that!
- Is the School Library like a old, rarely used warehouse? Are the shelves arranged anyhow and with things hidden in long ago opened boxes? Do the teachers dash in to plonk something on the nearest space, piles of half sets of old text books just in case they might be useful one day. Do they add, here and there, their own old, page weary teacher manuals, some standing up, some falling down. In this warehouse style library, it is hard to tell where the children’s books are, if you can see them that is, under the thick dust that has settled over the years.
- Is the School Library like a museum? Are there antique collections of books completely unsuitable for the reading ages of the library users, books that have stood in rows untouched for years, which are quickly becoming less and less appealing in content as well as in condition? They might as well be rows of empty and disguised cornflakes boxes on a stage set! And anyway, too many books do not encourage choosing a book and choosing a book is a difficult enough skill in itself. Too many books in a library gives a feeling that you can’t see the wood for the trees!
- Is the School Library like a supermarket with no one on the check out? Is the borrowing system so arduous and clumsy, it is too bothersome to hang about to try to borrow a book, especially if you are a reluctant reader anyway. Do children have to leave the room to find someone to sign the book out for them? Would you bother to hang about like this in a supermarket, or would you just put down what you had selected and walk out?
- Is the School Library like a no-go area, saying “Hey you, this is an adult place!”…Maybe there is a teacher in the corner working with a group and her body language conveys the unwelcoming feeling, “What are you doing here? This is my space now so don’t invade it! Go away!” Is the School Library saying “This is the Special Needs Group’s place”?
- Is the School Library silent as a morgue? Many children do not like silence. Many live in noisy surroundings and will eventually have jobs in noisy work places. “Is the silent atmosphere in the School Library going to make people there notice that my shoes squeak?”
Help from the community.
Encourage male members of the family to consider reading with boys, or invite men teachers to read with boys who usually have a lady as their class teacher. The male adult acts as an influential role model.