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Boys and Reading: The Constant Struggle

The results of a recent survey found that boys don’t enjoy reading and fail to get past 100 pages of a classroom text.  Should we be surprised?  Boys have been disconnected from reading for years, and the question has to be asked – what have we done about it.

The findings are an indictment on how inflexible we are at altering the way we teach:

Many secondary school boys do not have the stamina to read beyond the 100th page of a book, research suggests.

Teachers also revealed that classics of English literature, such as those by Jane Austen, are putting boys off reading.

Some 70% of the 500 teachers surveyed for publishers Pearson said boys had switched off by the 100 page mark.

This is leading many teachers to ditch longer novels in favour of shorter books, it adds.

Teachers were asked to identify points where boys would switch off in class when novels were being read.

A quarter said that the interest cut-off point happened within the first few pages of a book.

A further 22% said interest waned within the first 50 pages, while a further quarter identified the 100 page mark.

Nearly a third of the teachers questioned said boys were put off before the book had even been opened, if they saw it had more than 200 pages.

According to the research, Shakespeare plays including The Tempest, Macbeth and A Midsummer’s Night Dream were particularly unpopular, as was Steinbeck’s 1930s classic, Of Mice and Men.

The reluctance to read could partly explain the achievement gap between boys and girls.

Last year 85% of 11-year-old girls reached the expected level in English for their age compared to 76% of boys. In reading, the gender gap was even more stark at 79% for girls and 64% for boys.

According to children’s organisation Unesco, the biggest single indicator of a child’s future success at school is whether they read for pleasure.

The research is timed to coincide with the launch of a new series of books called Heroes aimed at secondary school pupils which aims to switch boys back on to reading and get them past the crucial 100-page mark.

Best-selling author Frank Cottrell Boyce, consultant editor on the series, said: “Pleasure can’t be taught. Pleasure can only be shared.”

He added that boys should be started on shorter books.

Jonathan Douglas, director of the National Literacy Trust, said its research showed that boys lag behind girls not just in literacy skills, but in the amount they read and in the extent to which they enjoy reading.

“This gets worse as children get older. This is a vital issue and one the National Literacy Trust is working hard to address. More needs to be done to engage boys’ and building on their own interests.”

He added that publishers had a crucial role to play in this.

On the subject of publishers, an author who recently read my yet to be published manuscript, commented that had I made my main character a girl instead of a boy, I would have an easier time convincing publishers to publish the book.  She said that since boys don’t read, a girl would have been a more appropriate choice. The comment shocked me.  At no stage did I ever envisage the book to be strictly a book for boys.  I always thought it would be of universal appeal.  But apparently publishing companies don’t see it that way.

Shakespeare and Steinbeck are wonderful, but were never intended to be ones first foray into literature.  Is it so wrong to choose something of lesser literary acclaim for something more contemporary?  The sad reality is, teachers tend not to gravitate to Steinbeck and Shakespeare for their own leisure reading and don’t have strong connection to the texts the curriculum requires them to teach.  For a teacher to effectively inspire their students to love reading, they must love reading.  For students to read beyond page 100, the teacher needs to do more than set reading homework – they need to show the class how enjoyable and meaningful the book is to them.

When I read my manuscript to kids, I am overwhelmed by how much they enjoy the characters and situations.  I love how they connect with the main character and his issues and are able to relate to what he is going through.  Somebody once asked whether the kids enjoy it, not so much for the quality of the writing, but because the author, who has such a deep connection to the material, reads it out with such enthusiasm and joy.

Maybe so.  But isn’t that the key?  For boys to enjoy reading, they must see that their teacher enjoying it too.  If that means dispense with the classics and let the teacher decide what texts to introduce to the classroom – so be it.

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6 Responses to “Boys and Reading: The Constant Struggle”

  1. Grace Says:

    It’s not just boys but kids in general. The books that kids initially learn to read in have no plot (who cares whether sam sees the ball?). Textbooks focus on classics, but not anything that is of interest to readers.

    I think that every high school should teach “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” in lit classes. That might get kids to actually read the books. If a curriculum were more flexible, you might be able to adapt it based on what the class is interested in. The point should be to get kids to read, not to scare them away from it.

    • Michael G. Says:

      I think “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” is a great choice, especially if the teacher enjoys it enough to do justice to it. It’s key that the teacher is able to deisplay genuine enthusiasm for what they are teaching.

      • Grace Says:

        Very true. Teachers who aren’t enthusiastic about the books they teach tend to ruin those books for kids, or build the book up so much that when kids actually read it they are disappointed.

  2. Kristi Bernard Says:

    I was so fortunate to raise a boy who loved to read. We read all of the time together and it has carried with him even now at the age of 24. My hope is that he will pass this same trait on to his children. Reading should be incorporated as a family tradition. This is one cycle you’ll want to keep going.

  3. Boys and Reading: The Constant Struggle (via Sharing a Love of Teaching) « Get Kids To Read Says:

    […] The results of a recent survey found that boys don't enjoy reading and fail to get past 100 pages of a classroom text.  Should we be surprised?  Boys have been disconnected from reading for years, and the question has to be asked – what have we done about it. The findings are an indictment on how inflexible we are at altering the way we teach: Many secondary school boys do not have the stamina to read beyond the 100th page of a book, research sug … Read More […]

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