Enjoyment of reading, not mechanics of reading, can improve literacy for boys

March 8, 2018 by Laura Scholes, The Conversation
Even when teachers are supporting specific learning difficulties (such as dyslexia), it’s important to expand boys’ repertoire of positive reading experiences. Credit: Shutterstock

Year 3 reading outcomes of 2017 NAPLAN testing once again demonstrate a gender gap, with boys underachieving compared to girls. A focus on teaching for the test has not closed the gender gap and only reduced student motivation and well-being.

Calls for a review of NAPLAN ten years on are timely. But as well as looking at how high-stakes testing is narrowing the curriculum and causing student stress, we need to consider the testing regime's influence on boys' attitudes towards reading.

Attitudes towards reading

Reports increasingly highlight how towards reading constrain experiences for some boys. In the United Kingdom, a National Literacy Trust survey of 21,000 children aged eight to 16 found boys were more likely than girls to believe someone who reads is boring and a geek.

This attitude is believed to be related to deep-seated cultural issues that lead many boys to believe reading is feminine and "uncool". Reluctance to read then translates into less time reading and lower achievement.

There is now a call in the UK for schools to have a policy of promoting enjoyment of reading rather than just a focus on effective teaching of phonics skills.

We have known for a long time that positive attitudes towards reading influence boys' engagement with reading. Engagement influences practice, resulting in the Matthew Effect as cumulative exposure to print accelerates development of reading processes and knowledge.

Girls outperform boys in Year 3 reading across all states and territories. Credit: ACARA

Attitudes towards reading are not innate; they are learned predispositions in response to favourable or unfavourable experiences. In this way, a boys' attitude towards reading develops over time as the result of beliefs about reading and, importantly, specific reading experiences.

In Australia, the focus on NAPLAN has changed the landscape of teaching and literacy experiences for students.

As part of this change, didactic teaching of reading for NAPLAN can compound negative attitudes about the nature of reading at school. Reading is seen as a passive (feminine) endeavour associated with boring schoolwork (preparing for the test).

While teaching phonics is already embedded in good teaching practice, the introduction of the Year 1 phonics check will potentially further narrow the curriculum as teachers are pressured to teach for yet another test. This initiative could also impact on teaching practices for reading in the early years.

If we are interested in enhancing reading outcomes for underachieving boys, we need to foster towards reading that translate into practice. The change needs to be from a focus on teaching reading to helping boys become successful and satisfied readers.

Enjoyment correlates with NAPLAN outcomes

My recent survey of 320 Year 3 children from 14 schools in Queensland identified their self-reported enjoyment of story books, non-fiction books, magazines and comics, and self-reported reading frequency.

Students coloured in a box to reflect an emotive face on a Likert scale to indicate their level of enjoyment and their frequency of reading. Students' Year 3 NAPLAN reading outcomes were also collected.

Findings from the Pearson test of correlation between survey variables indicated correlation between higher student NAPLAN reading scores and higher levels of enjoyment for reading story books/non-fiction books and higher reading frequency. There was a statistically significant positive correlation between reading scores and reading frequency, and reading scores and reading enjoyment.

Even when teachers are supporting specific learning difficulties (such as dyslexia), it's important to expand boys' repertoire of positive reading experiences. This requires a shift from the exclusive teaching of the mechanics of reading to that contextualise experiences and encourage enjoyment of reading.

Enjoyment of reading, not mechanics of reading, can improve literacy for boys
A Likert scale is a psychometric scale commonly used for research questionnaires to gain a rating

Some strategies for success for boys (and girls):

  1. Expand school reading cultures. Directly challenge beliefs about reading being a feminine pursuit. Teachers can select and use texts that challenge what it means to be male and the power structures that exist in school and society.
  2. Focus on the arts. Include artists-in-residence schemes, poetry weeks, dance sessions run by professional dancers, and drama productions that allocate lead roles to disengaged boys. Boys often enjoy working with "readers' theatre" scripts, which allow them to feel like active participants in a story.
  3. Leave reading choices up to students 50% of the time. Provide a wide range of texts to stimulate interest and build confidence through paired reading schemes and teacher decisions to give students space to talk about and reflect on what was enjoyable.
  4. Promote male mentoring. Include parent-mentors and vertical mentoring with older boys mentoring younger boys in the school.
  5. Let them talk! Boys who are reluctant readers need to have successful reading experiences. Use literature circles with mixed-ability grouping, providing boys with the support they need to focus on the "big ideas" in the story, as well as on the words and structure of the texts.
  6. Include variety. Use interactive classroom activities fit for purpose so that both short, specific focused activities and more sustained, ongoing activities are used, as and when appropriate.
  7. Risk-taking in teacher practice. Bring more creativity and variety. Expose students to new and novel reading experiences.
  8. Implement teaching practices that encourage discussion. Based on Philosophy for Children, enhance reading comprehension as students explore different answers, examine the strengths and weaknesses for each, and critically reflect on assumptions along the way.

When the focus is on teaching for the test, direct instruction and an exclusive focus on phonics, there is a narrowing of curriculum and teaching practice. Strategies can be easily implemented in the classroom. We need to move from teaching reading for NAPLAN testing, to boys to enjoy reading to ensure their success.

Explore further: Research shows the importance of parents reading with children – even after children can read

Related Stories

New research shows that apps, technology and modern teaching skills work for children with reading disabilities

November 28, 2017
New research from Linnaeus University in Sweden shows that apps, technology and modern teaching skills are working for children with reading disabilities. The mental health of these children is affected positively by the ...

Recommended for you

The connection between alcoholism and depression

September 21, 2018
Alcoholism and depression often go hand-in-hand.

Even toddlers weigh risks, rewards when making choices

September 21, 2018
Every day, adults conduct cost-benefit analyses in some form for decisions large and small, economic and personal: Bring a lunch or go out? Buy or rent? Remain single or start a family? All are balances of risk and reward.

Early warning sign of psychosis detected

September 21, 2018
Brains of people at risk of psychosis exhibit a pattern that can help predict whether they will go on to develop full-fledged schizophrenia, a new Yale-led study shows. The findings could help doctors begin early intervention ...

In depression the brain region for stress control is larger

September 20, 2018
Although depression is one of the leading psychiatric disorders in Germany, its cause remains unclear. A recent study at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences (MPI CBS) in Leipzig, Germany, found ...

Quitting junk food produces similar withdrawal-type symptoms as drug addiction

September 20, 2018
If you plan to try and quit junk food, expect to suffer similar withdrawal-type symptoms—at least during the initial week—like addicts experience when they attempt to quit using drugs.

American girls read and write better than boys

September 20, 2018
As early as the fourth grade, girls perform better than boys on standardized tests in reading and writing, and as they get older that achievement gap widens even more, according to research published by the American Psychological ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.