Book reviews for Aussie teachers and their students.

Posts tagged ‘How to get boys to read’

Strategies to Get Boys (and Girls) Reading: Tip 4

its called readingTip 4: Limit Screen Time

A few years ago our family purchased one of those gaming console entertainment systems.  It was only after a great deal of soul searching that I finally agreed to this.  In retrospect, at the time I was probably only swayed by clever marketing which promised that it would make my kids (and I) fitter and smarter (yeah right).  Four years on, and it really goes without saying, but I definitely won’t be upgrading to the latest and greatest version.  Personally, I’d rather toss the whole thing in the trash and return to life as it was pre-gaming console.  However, outnumbered as I am, I’ll need to be somewhat content with placing some serious restrictions on its use.

I’ve always been aware of the potential that technology (gaming systems in particular) has for drawing children away from reading.  My conversations with parents, in my role as a teacher, has alluded me to numerous negative implications of this technology.  More personally, about 20 years ago I had a relationship breakdown, when my then partner decided that he liked his gaming system more than me (well that was the message I got).  In the time that these systems have been around I’ve noticed a couple of important things.  Firstly, I observed boys, rather than girls, are more inclined to an addiction to these things.  I also noticed that boys and girls tend to use the machines differently, with boys gaining enjoyment from the machine when used in a solitary manner (yes even when they are playing online with their real or virtual friends).  Girls, on the other hand, seem to enjoy using the systems most when they are physically with others.  In other words they tend to be more social in their play.  In my mind at least it explains why I’ve noticed boys (although girls can do this too) withdrawing from all other activities with gaming dominating their waking hours in preference to what they really should be doing (reading, doing homework, sleeping and eating).

However, gaming consoles are really just one example of how technology is dragging our children (boys especially) away from books.  My 11 year old daughter recently purchased one of those hand held things which isn’t actually a mobile phone but may as well be since it does everything that a mobile phone does without actually being a phone.  She thinks it’s awesome.  She can chat ‘real time’ with her friends (as long as they have the same device) without the expense of a contract or phone bills.  My husband is more cynical, suggesting that what is really happening here is a major corporation ‘training’ our kids to be the technology consumers (of their brand) in the future.  It doesn’t end here though, there is no limit it seems to the end of technology which is vying for our kid’s attention and ultimately reducing the amount of time they have for reading.  Of course the people who produce this stuff are sensitive to the concerns of parents.  This is the reason why there are so many apps and toys on the market claiming to engage our kids more in the activity of reading.  While some of these things are innovative with some educational merit, a good deal of them only seem to prime our kids for using more technology (and reading less).

I’m not suggesting that as parents we need to go all Steiner, returning to the pre-digital world.  That would be unrealistic and would hardly prepare our children to engage effectively in the world today (or the world of tomorrow).  However, what is needed is an awareness of the issues coupled with parental imposed limitations on the use of these devices.  A parent once complained to me “I can’t seem to get my son to do his homework let alone read.”  When I asked what the child was doing when he should be doing these things her response was simply, “Oh, he’s playing x-box.”  Too many parents assume that their children will be able to self-regulate their use of these devices.  Most of them can’t.  It is simply beyond the cognitive capacity of their developing brains.  For other parents it is too hard to set limits and too easy to placate their children by giving them what they want (rather than what they need).  I’d like to say it’s easy, but is that would be untrue.  However, sometimes as a parent you need to ride the tide of tantrums and confiscate the device or hide the game controller.  In this case the benefits far outweigh the pain.

Tanya Grech Welden

Strategies to Get Boys (and Girls) Reading: Tip 3

reflections-what-shaped-your-reading-habits-L-xl4M8OTip 2: Make Reading a Routine Part of Life

When many people think of habits they tend to think of them as being bad.  I suppose because bad habits, like smoking, drinking too much or biting your nails stand out.  However, habits can also be neutral, having neither a negative or positive impact upon our lives; or they can be positive, in that they add to our lives in a meaningful and enriching way.  However, good or bad, at the end of the day, we tend to go to habits automatically.  Habits are not something we even need to think about.  Often they can be comforting, adding predictability to our lives.

I learned early in my teaching career that human beings, students in my case, love routine.  It became evident that incorporating positive habits in the classroom could be very useful.  Of course, as educators we know this well.  We know that using the same piece of music in the classroom might be used to trigger a response in students to ‘clean up’.  We also know that simple ‘morning routines’, listed on a poster with appropriate visual cues, can assist even the most disorganised of students get ready for the day.  As a mother I extended this wisdom to many aspects of family life.  In the Welden household we have a morning routine, an after school routine and an evening routine.  Perhaps it seems a little militant but it certainly reduces chaos and teaches my children the importance of ‘putting first things first’ (for more on this check out Stephen Covey’s awesome books).  It is important to remember when establishing any routine it will feel unnatural to begin with, however persistence will yield a habit that becomes as natural as breathing.

Part of the night time routine with my children has always been reading.  It is the last thing we do before lights out.  Since they were babies we have followed a simple structure for this.  Dinner, bath, book and bed.  Obviously when the children were very young we shared a story with them.  As they began to read themselves they would quite happily tuck themselves into bed at 7pm with a book and read on their own.  Even our three year old (who is only just learning her letters) likes to spend some quiet time on her own ‘pretending’ to read to herself.  It has become such an ingrained habit that our older kids (now 11 and 9 respectively) tell me that they need a book to wind before they can even consider sleep.  The biggest problem we have is getting then to turn out the lights (they will happily read until midnight if we let them).

Of course you don’t have to use bedtime as your cue.  Each family is different and whatever fits into your family schedule is fine.  The important thing to remember is to do it religiously on a daily basis (until it becomes a habit) and start with a short period, increasing the time gradually as you go.   Of course, while you need to be rigid with it to begin with, once reading has been established as a habit you can usually back off as a parent and nurture your child’s reading in other ways.  Stay tuned for more ideas for doing this in future posts.

Tanya Grech Welden

Strategies to Get Boys (and Girls) Reading: Tip 2

i-love-booksTip 2: Be a Reader Yourself and Talk About Your Reading

I don’t meet a great deal of parents who don’t want their kids to read.  In fact I haven’t met any that I can think of.  Intuitively, we understand that reading is key to academic success.  With reading, like any skill, the more you do it the better at it you become.  It follows then that a child who reads avidly will have a broader vocabulary, general knowledge, will write more effectively and be better able to access information with greater speed and efficiency than a child who is a reluctant reader.  I don’t find many parents willing to disagree with me on these points.  However, I do meet a lot of parents (and adults in general) who don’t read a great deal (or at all).  These same parents wonder why their kids also won’t read.

Of course we want this for our children.  We also want them to be physically active, to eat healthily and a whole bunch of other things that will lead to them living long and enriching lives.  Alas, too often as adults what we say is not supported by our actions.  I live in a house that is filled with books. I have books stacked on shelves in every room and piled on every bedside table.  The situation is not helped much by the fact that, as a reviewer, I have new books arriving on the doorstep weekly (thank goodness the majority of them get donated to some of the schools in my local area).  A good portion of our dinner-time conversation (and the drive home from school) involves sharing our love for books and our latest library find. Of course the happy side effect of living in a house full of books is that it is also a house filled with self-professed book-nerds.

On the flip side it is also why my children sometimes look at me like I am a crazed maniac when I suggest that they go outside and kick a ball around.  My kids read books for the same reason that athletes have sport crazed kids and musicians produce pop stars. We can’t help but be influenced by our surroundings.

While being a reader yourself will not naturally guarantee that you will have offspring who also read, it is a good start.  As a parent or teacher perhaps this is reason enough to discover (or rediscover) the joy that comes from reading…and when you do, don’t forget to talk about it.

Tanya Grech Welden

Strategies to Get Boys (and Girls) Reading: Tip 1

dad-reading-to-sonIn my previous article I explored a few of the reasons why our boys are reluctant to read.  To follow on from this, I plan to compile a series of tips that I share with parents of reluctant readers.  While not foolproof, they are a starting point, and the earlier you get started the more successful they are.  The great news is, that although I have specifically compiled this list with boys in mind, the strategies will work equally well with girls too.

Tip 1 : Read to Them

It sounds obvious but if we want our boys to read we must read to them; the earlier the better.  I read to all my kids in utero (although to be fair as an English Teacher I was doing this anyway).  However, right from birth is the right time to begin spending time with children sharing books.  Initially, choose brightly coloured board books with minimal text and perhaps texture.  At this stage it is all about the quality of the engagement with your child.  Your aim is to establish reading as a pleasant experience.  Don’t forget that you are also teaching your child important skills for all readers, the correct way to hold a book and turn a page!

As boys move into the toddler stage they will become more interested in the story.  Often, this is the time that they will find a favourite book which they will want to read with you every day.  This is great, and by the time they are pre-schoolers they will probably know it by heart.  However, don’t forget to share with boys a range of books; picture books that use rhyme, humour and repetition; along with non-fiction books on topics they are interested in (try dinosaurs, animals, trains).  Don’t forget to read with enthusiasm, play around with the voices and above all make it fun, we need to convey that reading is a pleasurable experience not a chore.

As boys begin to read independently, around the time they start school, they will start reading to you.  This is important, although don’t stop reading to them.  Choose books a little harder than they can manage themselves.  I recommend selecting a novel together and reading it a chapter at a time each night.  My son loved Anna & Barbara Fienberg & Gamble’s Tashi series which had relatively short chapters interspersed with delightful hand drawings.  As they get older so does the sophistication of the stories you choose.  However, always allow children to be involved in the selection process and ensure that what you share together is a little trickier than what they would happily manage on their own.

As children move into adolescence it is still a useful activity to read to them.  I’m serious.  While they probably won’t appreciate you cuddling up with them each night to read, there are times where reading to your teenager aloud can be a useful activity.  At this stage you want to assist your child to develop advanced reading skills.  Imagine that your grade 8 child comes to you with concerns about their homework assignment.  Use the opportunity to read the task to them, aloud, highlighting the key words as your go and breaking the task down into manageable chunks.  Similarly, when your child comes to you with a draft that they need help with, read it back to them, aloud.  When you stumble in your reading ask them “Why do your think I am having trouble reading this?”, or say, “This doesn’t sound right to me.   What do you think you need to do to improve the fluency of this writing?”

Reading to your child is one of the greatest gifts you can give them.  While it is great if both parents can participate in this activity, the best results with boys are yielded when it is Dad (or another male role model) who takes the lead with this.  In our home we made the conscious decision that it would be my husband who would read to the children.  Practically, it would have been easier for me to take control of this, fortunately my husband understood how important it was for our son especially.   Essentially, when children grow up in a home where only Mum reads, we risk a situation where we are conveying the message that reading is a feminine activity.  Children learn what they live. When a father reads to his son, he gives him permission to participate in an activity that for men is not always celebrated in Australian society.

Tanya Grech Welden

Why Our Boys Won’t Read and How We Can Change That

boys and readingAs a middle school English teacher I spend a minimum of one lesson per week with my class in the library.  During this lesson the expectation is that the students will select a book and, on their own, read.

If only it were so simple.

While there is a general reluctance amongst students to use this time effectively, it is most pronounced with my male students, many of whom have developed a creative array of strategies to avoid the task.  For the most part, they do read.   Some of them might even borrow the book, although I suspect only a few of them will read it at home.  My observations suggest that as a whole while many students are not reading, it is boys overall who resist the most.

For a while there, a lack of material appealing to the tastes of boys was one of the key reasons touted to explain a lack of enthusiasm with boys for reading.  While I’m not sure that there ever was a lack of material available, there is definitely an abundance of books (both non-fiction and fiction) specifically written to appeal to boys now.  A good deal of this is what I refer to as ‘toilet reading’.  Not because it is best read on the loo but because it tends towards a content that is largely reliant upon fart and poo jokes.  Of course some of this is really well written and highly entertaining, although I can’t help from thinking that it is pretty limiting to make an assumption that this alone is what boys will read.  Furthermore, I really don’t think it has done much to get many of our boys reading more, let alone selecting books that extend and challenge them.

Don’t get me wrong, some boys read a great deal.  My son, aged 9 is an avid reader.  In fact, my biggest problem as a mother is not getting him to read but convincing him that “no, you do not need to take your book with you while I pop around the corner to get milk!”  I often get asked seriously by other mothers how it is that I have a son, and in fact 3 children, all of whom seem to have an obsession with books.  My response to this is quite often something like, “Well resistance is useless when you have a mother who is both a writer and English teacher?”  Although I am a little tongue in cheek when I say this, it is actually the truth.  I believe that the reading culture at home has a lot to do with it.  Of course there will be exceptions to the rule, but as a whole children who are surrounded with reading will themselves develop a passion for it.  Furthermore, my experience as an educator has taught me that having one parent passionate about books is not necessarily enough, particularly if they are getting mixed messages about reading (and who does it) from within the home or wider society.  Numerous times I have sat in parent-teacher interviews and I have listened to a concerned parent wonder why their child (often a boy) won’t read.  The conversation usually goes something like this:

Mum:    I don’t know.  I can’t get Jimmy to read.  He’s always hated it since he was in primary school.  This is despite me sitting down with him every night with his reader.

Me:     I see.  Tell me, do you read?

Mum: Yes…..not as much as I probably should.

Me:   What about Jimmy’s father, does he read?

Mum:  No, he hates reading.

Quite often children, especially boys, inherit negative attitudes about reading from one (or both) parents.  When negative attitudes come from a male in a position of authority, the implications can be especially powerful.  I had one year 8 boy who actually admitted to me that his father had told him that “Real men don’t read.”  I nearly expired on the spot, astounded that a parent would unwittingly jeopardise their child’s learning in such a blatant manner.  Of course, as I have alluded to already, these kinds of attitudes extend beyond the home, with many of our boys having negative messages about reading reinforced by their peers and the media also.

Whilst it is very difficult for teachers to have any real influence over what happens at home, part of our role is to educate parents as to the impact that their attitudes and personal reading practices has on their children.  This is especially critical in the formative years, when parents (fathers especially) should be reading to their children.  Furthermore, as children grow, families should actively share an interest in reading.  This might include visiting book shops or libraries together, discussing what has been read and enjoyed and reading a good deal of what children themselves read.

Certainly within the school community teachers may lead students in activities that promote reading as an enjoyable activity.  Too often, however, this responsibility is left to teachers from the English or Humanities department.  In fact, greater benefits may be achieved in schools where all teachers and staff communicate positive messages about reading.  Personally I love nothing more than when the PE or Maths teacher gets excited about books.  Imagine what might happen if you extended that to the Tech Studies Teacher or even the Grounds-person……then you can really start to counter cultural norms.

Tanya Grech Welden

What do you do to challenge negative cultural attitudes about reading at your school?  What have you done to encourage boys to read?  We’d love to hear from you.


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