Boys, Books and Your Library.The comparatively poor literacy levels among boys is the fashionable issue in education at this moment. Your public library is a very good source of information for parents, but perhaps more importantly, once you have the information we are also your number one source of things for boys to read. So what will get boys away from the playstation and into reading? How about a magazine or an Internet site full of tips, tricks and cheats for that playstation? After all, reading about something you understand and enjoy is always easier. For this reason it is a beneficial idea to work with a theme. A big fan of the new Spiderman movie may like a novelisation of the movie, or perhaps the graphic novel. So what is a graphic novel? It is what we in the library call a comic book. Well, not quite but it is something along those lines, lots of graphics to build the storyline.
When looking at things like graphic novels, be aware that many people grade literacy on a scale. This goes from comics at the bottom of the scale through Harry Potter at midpoint and up to Charles Dickens or some other ‘dead white male’ as the top of the scale. Don’t lead boys into this trap, not everyone is going to read Dickens, encourage boys to read what they want to read and make sure that there is lots of that type of book available for them. Reading comics is reading, regardless of what you might prefer.
Literacy comes in a range of formats and if you can theme it then you are onto a good thing. Tie in books exist for TV shows, video games and movies. Don’t be a literacy snob, grab these resources and use them, sure you’re making the wiggles rich but you are utilising the appropriate tools. Popular culture is a great motivator for boys and in so many cases it is motivation rather than ability that is the main problem. For example, while boys often fall behind in written literacy they perform well in spoken literacy, so get them the motivation and their ability will be given a chance. Sport is a great thing for your child to be involved in, be it little athletics (796.43) or rugby. Whatever sport your son plays, try finding books on the sport. A boy who is enjoying rugby may like some basic playing tips from a famous player (796.3332) or if you think they’re up to it, try a biography of a favourite sporting hero.
Another key in getting boys to read is the involvement of fathers and other male role models. A boy is more likely to come into the library to research a hobby if it isn’t seen as a ‘girly’ thing to do. Look for the range of non-fiction that they already favour, collecting pokemon cards, and football stickers from the Sunday Papers. For boys who are into non-fiction the Dorling Graded Readers are a great starting point. These image rich non-fiction books are a springboard into selected subjects and the number of images means that weak or strong readers are equally interested. Boys who see parents involved in aspects of literacy are more likely going to get involved. This doesn’t mean forcing dad to read War and Peace, it means letting him see you doing things with a purpose. This could be doing the business accounts, preparing the rego papers for the car or doing work reports. The key is that it should have a clear purpose, this then illustrates real benefits of literacy rather than pie in the sky school stuff. Mothers are more likely to be supporting school based literacy programs such as homework but fathers tend to come into their own with computers and the Internet. Don’t wait until it is a last minute urgent school assignment to get online. Try to get in early and give the boy a chance to play and do it himself, let him fly off on hyperlink tangents and enjoy the experience (and don’t mention literacy).
Changing boys’ attitude means knowing what your own attitudes are. So if you haven’t been in a library recently stroll in and be surprised by the noise, the chip machines and the wall to wall technology. Primary schools have few male teachers, many libraries suffer a similar lack of male librarians so like it or not whatever male role models a boy already has will colour his perceptions of reading. Try and work out where these role models are, sporting coaches, uncles or older brothers and don’t be afraid to approach them and ask about their reading. Perhaps some role models may not seem like readers at first glance. Finding out more about people, may give you a chance to enlist some help. For those of you who aren’t on the slippery slope of adolescence, try to get your son involved early. Storytime at the library involves videos, crafts, puppets and the occasional book just to get them interested. By introducing them to the library early they have a much better chance of associating the library (and books) with fun, rather than with homework and algebraic long division.
Of course there is an unexpected bonus that occurs when working to increase literacy levels for boys. It would seem that all of the techniques being touted by educational professionals to improve the literacy of boys, will also improve the literacy level of girls (perhaps to an even greater degree).