How do we encourage boys to enjoy reading?

2 Jul

The Boys’ Reading Commission has found that the reading gap between boys and girls in England is widening but there is no official strategy to address it.

The Commission's report says that action needs to be taken in homes, schools and communities to tackle the widening "reading gender gap". The Commission found that some boys find reading “nerdish” and receive less parental encouragement than girls.

The report concludes that:

"no single approach will turn into readers those boys who currently don't think it's for them. There is no silver bullet. We believe that in order to motivate and engage more boys in reading, a sustained approach is required. As Michael Morpurgo commented: 'The problem is cultural and deep-seated, therefore unlikely to be resolved quickly. The effort to turn things round has to be multi-faceted and has to be sustained over decades.'"

Its recommendations to Government include:

  • schools should have access to an evidence framework to inform effective practice in supporting boys' reading;
  • every child should be supported by their school in developing as a reader;
  • every teacher should have an up-to-date knowledge of reading materials that will appeal to disengaged boys;
  • parents need to able to access information on how successful schools are in supporting boys' literacy;
  • libraries should target children (particularly boys) who are least likely to be supported in their reading at home;
  • social marketing and behavioural insight need to be deployed to encourage parents to support the literacy of their children especially boys;
  • every boy should have weekly support from a male reading role model;
  • parenting initiatives must specifically support literacy and fathers; and
  • a cross-Government approach to literacy needs to be developed and coordinated.

Writing on The Guardian website, Michael Morpurgo suggests:

  • "a dedicated half hour at the end of every school day in every primary school devoted to the simple enjoyment of reading and writing";
  • "regular visits from storytellers, theatre groups, poets, writers of fiction and non-fiction, and librarians from the local library";
  • inviting fathers and grandfathers, mothers and grandmothers into school;
  • "ensuring that the enjoyment of literature takes precedence, particularly in the early years, over the learning of the rules of literacy children have to be motivated to want to learn to read; reading must not be taught simply as a school exercise";
  • teacher training should include modules dedicated to developing teachers' appreciation of literature; and
  • the school library in any school should have a dedicated librarian or teacher/librarian.

How we encourage a love of reading in the face of so many other distractions is something that must be addressed.

However, as we have pointed out, there is a danger that the Department for Education in England could make matters worse with its emphasis on phonics, books that support the teaching of phonics and reading tests, making reading a chore not something to be enjoyed "decoding" rather than reading for meaning or for pleasure.

As Michael Morpurgo says: "Children have to be motivated to want to learn to read. Reading must not be taught simply as a school exercise."

However, with the pressure of SATs, league tables and inspection outcomes, schools are increasingly being pressurised to use texts which have been artificially constructed to teach the rules of phonics rather than real books which can be read for pleasure and used to promote a more creative and imaginative approach to reading.

Also, with up to 800 public libraries facing closure as a result of budget cuts, and school libraries being squeezed by spending cuts, children are likely to have less access to good quality reading material.

In the 1970s, a children's TV programme was launched that urged children "Why Don’t You Just Switch Off Your Television Set and Go and Do Something Less Boring Instead?" Are there too may gadgets to distract boys' attention or is an issue that has been with us for a long time? As the report points out:

“there is evidence of the literacy gender gap has been around for some time, with girls outperforming boys for perhaps as long as 60 years.”

Do let us know your thoughts

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One Response to “How do we encourage boys to enjoy reading?”

  1. Richard Fraser 04. Jul, 2012 at 9:50 am #

    One idea: [www.telegraph.co.uk/lifestyle/9372554/Dogs-in-the-classroom-reading-with-a-fluffy-friend.html]

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