Boosting the boys

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By Sue TaylorFormer primary school teacher and senior lecturer in primary education, now freelance writer

Boys are lagging behind girls in literacy – and the gap is widening. It’s time to redress the balance

Evidence from national tests shows that boys do not achieve as highly as girls in literacy. The gap is wider for writing than for reading – and gets wider as children get older. Although many boys do enjoy all aspects of literacy, more boys than girls find reading and writing difficult. And many boys who can read and write effectively do not enjoy using these activities or choose to do them. So what can we do to turn this trend around?

Young boys sharing a book

Research has suggested numerous factors that may contribute to the gap in literacy achievement. Much current interest is highlighting the significance of boys’ views of themselves as readers and writers. It seems boys are more likely to see literacy as an activity for girls, with little importance in their own lives. They also believe that their friends view proficient, enthusiastic readers and writers as boring and ‘uncool’.

Nevertheless, research indicates that boys do read extensively out of school, but perhaps not the kinds of thing that are available and valued in school. Redressing the balance is not about trying to make boys more like girls, nor is it enough to just provide ‘books for boys’. It means acknowledging that boys and girls are different (without simply reinforcing stereotypes), and finding both resources and approaches that generate a literacy culture that boys want to be part of.

Reading

An essential ingredient in getting boys reading is provision of the materials that they want to read. Boys are more likely than girls to choose non-fiction, as they enjoy finding out and sharing their knowledge. Non-fiction also requires less reading stamina than fiction, with graphics and text integrated and inviting the reader to ‘dip in’. Boys, perhaps for some of the same reasons, also show a preference for newspapers, comics, manuals and web-based materials, including emails and blogs.

Many boys nevertheless indicate that the right kinds of stories are their preferred reading. They tend to enjoy fiction with plenty of action and pace, rather than character development. They like humour, adventure, fantasy and horror, graphic novels (presented in comic style) and interactive books. Contrary to much popular belief, many boys also find poetry, particularly humorous rhymes, very accessible, being short and self-contained.

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