As studies continue to find boys falling behind in fundamental skills, new approaches may narrow the gap by making reading fun
There is growing data showing a difference in academic motivation and achievement between school-age boys and girls. Gender appears to matter. Dr. Leonard Sax in his book, Boys Adrift, hypothesizes that boys lack motivation for several reasons including a decline in experiential learning at school and a focus on learning from books. He also talks about how schools today discourage competition between students in order to protect self-esteem. For boys, competition and hands-on learning help motivate their learning.
When it comes to literacy in Ontario, Canada, results from EQAO testing (literacy testing completed with all grade 3 and 6 students in Ontario) show that boys do not perform as well as girls. Similarly, an international literacy study completed in 2001 called the PIRLS showed that grade 4 girls scored higher than boys in all 34 countries where the assessment was completed (see here for more details).
Being male, I can definitely relate to a lack of motivation when it comes to reading. As a child, I recall making my mother read to me so that I wouldn’t have to slug through my school reading material alone. As she read I’d look out the window to see if any of my friends were playing. I’d day-dream about getting outside as quickly as possible to join them for a game of baseball, cops and robbers, war, or any other number of games we’d play together. Reading was so boring. How much fun could it possibly be to hold a book in front of you and restrict your physical movement to the movement of your eyes?
Left to right.
Left to right.
I rarely found the content of what I was reading engaging. These books would be put to great use as knee pads and elbow pads, I thought to myself, as I pictured myself in book-armor dropping elbows on my pals.
What Can We Do To Motivate Boys To Read?
The Ministry of Education in Ontario has put together a wonderful FREE resource called, “Me Read. No Way!” which includes information about gender differences as well as ideas on motivating boys to read. This resource provides information on choosing appropriate reading material, understanding boys’ learning styles, influencing boys attitudes through role models, and much more. If you are a parent, an educator, or both this document is a must read.
What I Decided To Do:
Being a Speech-Language Pathologist in the education setting I have a unique opportunity to work with students with reading, writing, and oral communication needs. When it comes to reading, my language assessment helps pinpoint needs with receptive or expressive language skills that may impact on a student’s ability to understand what they read as well as impact on their ability to tell stories in a cohesive way. Additionally, I look at “building-block” skills like rhyming, ability to clap out syllables, ability to break words apart into sounds, and ability to blend sounds back together as these skills are important for decoding and spelling success.
While my assessments are useful to program for students with oral language and literacy needs, I felt like I wanted to do something different – something that could reach boys that don’t come up on my caseload – something to reach the whole class.
I decided to write a story called “The Green Man” that I hoped would engage boys the way I was engaged when I saw Robert Munsch perform his story Mortimer for the first time. My story is about a boy’s quest to go to a winter carnival with his parents. Unfortunately, a cold and a stretchy green man stand in his way. You might say it’s a bit of a boy-vs-snot-monster romantic comedy (without the romance).
I recently had the chance to read my story for the first time to a group of grade one students most of whom were boys. It was truly an awesome experience.
How It Went:
Before I read my story, 4 boys in class challenged me with some heart-felt questions:
As funny as the questions were, they showed me that the students were definitely engaged before I started reading. When it came to the story itself, the ”mucus-man” character kept the boys laughing and listening. As I read I also performed some of the repetitive actions from the story. There was a small girl in class who kept scrunching up her face in disgust. Success!
After I told the story we reviewed the characters, setting, beginning, middle, and end of the story. Then, by request, I read the story again. Before I left I was told that I need to write a second story about a red man. I thought this was a nice connection. The working title will be “Mucus-Man vs. Nose-Bleed Man: The Chronicles Of An Everyday Nose”.
My Challenge To Men On Motivating Boys To Read:
As a male in the school setting, I find that sometimes all you need to do to harness attention is to show up. If you are male, I definitely encourage you to volunteer at your local school. See if you can talk to the librarian or your child’s teacher about potential reading opportunities. Children need male role-models and they need to see men modelling an enjoyment for reading. Motivating boys to read sometimes means motivating yourself to read to them, with them, or in front of them.
—Originally published on ModernHouseDad
Editor’s note: more articles on why boys are falling behind in school and what we can do about it: