Caught in the Literacy Web (site)
Although the current interest in boys and reading is most probably fuelled by falling test scores, I want to consider the literacy world that my son finds himself in as an adult male, and the world his son and daughter will face in the near future.
When I began researching material in this field, I was amazed at the quantity of available resources for parents, teachers and librarians, especially from the Internet. People are certainly concerned about males and literacy. Dozens of books have emerged in the last few years documenting issues in male culture and in raising and schooling boys. Some emphasize biological differences in males and females; others take a socio-constructivist approach; still others struggle for a culturally elitist model promoting literary wonders. Personally, I need to look at them all, to find directions for supporting parents and youngsters themselves to begin taking control of their literacy lives, aware of their needs and interests as developing readers and writers.
If we believe that all children should have access to the literacy world, how will we ensure that boys, in particular, see themselves as readers who can handle the requirements of a variety of texts? Non-readers tell us stories of punishment and pain, of no care and no touch, where books never metamorphosed into friendly objects, where worksheets and controlled readers dictated their eye movements and caused their reading hearts to beat irregularly. They were drowning in printer's ink.
Changing times do not favour anyone whose reading and writing skills are lacking. Males who leave school early or who have poor literacy skills used to have an edge in the labour market because employers favoured them for heavy manual jobs. However, jobs requiring muscle are disappearing and are unlikely to return. New jobs require an ability to communicate well, and communication includes reading and writing as well as speaking.
In one study, a researcher found that while both boys and girls had read the same adventure novels, they had taken different things from them. The girls responded to the feelings of the characters, how their personalities had been shaped by their pasts; the boys enjoyed the action and found that the reflective potions detracted from the story. Having spent almost every Friday night with my son at the movies when he was growing up, I know that his choices usually involved action "teen" flicks with superheroes and action men. What is normal? However, some boys and girls read and enjoy the same novels. In classrooms and libraries that create a literacy subculture, boys are freed from many of the social expectations that deny them access; they can then respond to more reflective selections, and we can then support all kinds of new literary experiences.
As literacy mentors, could we keep a notice board (on line or on a wall) of news articles that connect literacy and males: from interviews with authors, to book reviews, to features that highlight the content or issues that are relevant to the books boys are reading? Could we list the Web sites of authors who talk about boys and reading and who offer suggestions for book choices? Can we organize an author visit to our school library or classroom? Do we have "new book" and "new e-book" shelves, where boys can readily see and borrow books? Do we take the time for book talks, exposing boys to new titles and excerpts to promote interest?
How do boys and girls feel about computers and information technology in their school and academic lives? What types of activities benefit our children? How many have access to home computers, tablets, or e-readers? How can the school and library redress an unfair situation with respect to technological availability? And finally, can we accept audio books, books on line, blogs, texting, Facebook and other interactive modes as significant literacy texts in the lives of boys?
David Booth is Professor Emeritus and serves as Coordinator of the Pre-Service Elementary program at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE), University of Toronto. His research interests include literacy education, interdisciplinary arts education and teacher education. He has written a number of books, including Even Hockey Players Read, a book about boys, literacy and learning.