As educators, we often find ourselves struggling with the same hurdles year after year, despite our greatest efforts to overcome them. One of the things I hear from many teachers—and parents—is that they can’t seem to get their boys interested in reading. Everything is go! go! go! with little desire to slow down and see where a book might take them. And instead of piquing boys’ curiosity with a few choice details intended as carrots, we inevitably end up either dangling what might as well be a stick, or knocking over the whole produce stand in an effort to see some glimmer of intrigue. And then we’re back to the beginning, only now we’ve given away our carrots and are still hungry for signs of interest. So, in lieu of starvation, I propose trying a few ways to promote literacy that may lead boys to a newfound appetite for reading.
- Avoid the speed trap.
When we tell boys that they must read a certain number of pages, we’re BEGGING them to race themselves, beat their old reading records, and be done with it. So instead of saying that they have to complete 10 pages, start with 10 minutes. No matter how fast or slow they read, everyone is done at the same time. This allows speedy readers to make plenty of headway, while keeping slower readers from feeling like they’re losing.
- Make visiting the library a reward in itself.
When we use trips to the library as a reward for completing a task or doing something well, it makes the experience less approachable. Students who don’t finish first, arrive early, or stay on-task for chunks of time ultimately lose out on a great opportunity to encourage literacy. Instead, try library time as a rotation in a schedule, a normal stop during Saturday morning errands, or any other “we do this all the time” activity. The library then becomes a familiar place—one with which young readers have multiple opportunities to build positive memories and associations.
- Expand your definition of reading.
My brother always hated reading. In elementary school, he used to get into world-ending arguments about his book reports—that was until his 4th grade teacher told him that he could read WHATEVER he wanted. He read the manual to the VCR and reported on how to tape recordings while no one was home. It may not have been Anna Karenina but, let’s face it, he did read. It just wasn’t what we’d consider literature. But some kids are going to HATE fiction. Or nonfiction. Or both. They see no point in finding out what is in the Room of Requirement, or what happened when the Gold Rush ended. But what they do find meaning in is setting up the universal remote in the living room. So… tell them to read the manual and then apply what they’ve read and report back on their efforts. When we expand how we see reading, we expand children’s opportunities to be successful in literacy.
- Keep it real.
Kids know when something is irrelevant to them. They know when a lesson doesn’t apply to their lives. So when we search to stock our classroom libraries, personal bookshelves, or even our bathroom magazine racks, we need to determine if a work applies to our kids, and then be able to explain how. If we can do both of those things without stretching the truth to make it applicable, there’s a greater chance of reluctant readers seeing value in what they’re being asked to read.
- Let them HATE a book
Let them bash the characters. The plot. The setting. Let them go bananas with their dislike. And if they’ve truly given it a fair shot, let them abandon it. How many times have you picked up a book, read 20 pages, and realized that it wasn’t for you? So why aren’t we letting kids do that? Explain what a “fair shot” means to you. Ask them to put it in their own words. Then after they’ve given one, let them MOVE ON and use their reasoning to instruct their next choices. Nothing promotes a DISLIKE of something more than being forced to do it.
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Looking for ways to engage boys in reading this fall? Get in the game and register for our Word UP Challenge. It’s a win-win that could earn your school great prizes and will get students reading through our motivating Reading Counts! program.