Book reviews for Aussie teachers and their students.

Posts tagged ‘Strategies to get boys reading’

Strategies to Get Boys (and Girls) Reading: Tip 5

graphic-novels-melbourne-482x298Tip 5: Think outside the box when selecting reading materials

As an English teacher, what I really want my students to read is fiction.  In fact, I’d love them all to read quality fiction.  I’m talking Thomas Hardy, William Shakespeare, Charlotte Bronte or Charles Dickens.  Actually, never mind literary Canon, I’m ecstatic when a kid pulls out something by John Green or Suzanne Collins.  Heck, even Stephanie Meyer is great from where I sit.  I often go back to my own memory, as a year 8 student, when my beloved English teacher informed us that “we must read fiction with literary merit.”  She liked to follow this up with “and that means none of that Virginia Andrews rubbish!”

Somehow, I don’t think I don’t think the average grade 9 class would accept this too readily.  Most would put up a fight to the death.

Kids have changed.  Where reading used to be a popular leisure pursuit, today it’s competing with so many other forms of entertainment.  Too often, children and young adults think of reading as a chore.  Of course as educators and parents we know too well the benefits of reading, and the limitations it has for a child’s learning, if they are reading below appropriate standards.  Where teachers of the past could be picky about the kinds of fiction their students read, today’s teachers are happy if kids are reading regularly.

Do not be mistaken, I firmly believe that students still need to be challenged.  I don’t count reading facebook, for example, as reading.  I am simply suggesting that if we want kids to read then we need to meet them where they are at.  We need to have a broader range of appropriate material at our disposal for our students.

I have a 9 year old son who is an avid reader.  He will read some fiction.  I’d like him to read more.  However, what he really loves is non-fiction.  He devours it.  As a parent, my strategy is to provide him with lots of what he really loves (non-fiction) in the best quality that I can find.  However, I am always on the hunt for fiction which will draw him in, often taking my cue from stories he has enjoyed previously.  In fact, there are tremendous benefits for students reading non-fiction, as this often engages a broader range of reading skills that includes the interpretation of tables, graphs and annotated diagrams.

Of course, some of our students are more resistant than he is.  For these students I bring out my new friend, the graphic novel.  Increasingly it seems, I have large numbers of students (mostly boys but not exclusively) who tell me that they struggle to follow a novel.  They tell me that by the time they get to the bottom of the page they can’t remember what happened at the top.  For these students graphic novels allow engagement with a story that is broken up with images.  There is an ever-increasing range of these novels available, with graphic novel translations of popular fiction books and even Canon fiction becoming readily available.  The latter has the added bonus of making excellent companion books for students studying challenging texts (especially Shakespeare).

A few students seem to struggle when it comes to reading anything.  For these students I like to negotiate (often in communication with parents) reading of alternative materials.  I usually start with the student’s interests and from here we settle on reading material on a topic of interest in a magazine or newspaper.  I like the students to summarise what has been read at the end of each reading session.  As an educator, my aim is to establish a habit for reading (see tip 3).  Once a habit is established you can extend the student into other text types.

As English teachers, an important role is to extend our students beyond where they currently are.  Firstly, this requires that we listen to our students about their positive and negative reading experiences.  It also requires that we are widely-read ourselves, especially if we are to offer appropriate suggestions to entice even the most reluctant of readers in our care.

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

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