I have suspected for a while now, that many of our boys are not picking up a book as regularly as boys I taught a number of years ago.
Anecdotally, this suspicion has been vindicated, as I observe how boys use the time that is unaccounted for by other organised activities. Whereas it was once common to see boys reading a book while waiting for their parents in the afternoon, or to see boys jump into the car and pull out a book, it is now far more common for them to whip the phone out of their bags, don the headphones and play their latest game.
The effect these practices may be having on our boys’ levels of achievement, not only in literacy but across all disciplines, has concerned me for some time. I came across a study some time ago that, unfortunately, confirmed my long held suspicions. We hear, so regularly, that boys are not as strong in literacy as girls and that boys’ achievement levels cannot be as high as girls’ because they think differently and the nature of literacy learning does not naturally appeal to them. I’ve always believed this to be something akin to ‘poppycock’ and I am now delighted to have some data to back this up!
One of the aspects of the study looked at the relationship between enjoyment of reading and literacy performance. Not surprisingly, a strong correlation emerged between students who enjoy reading and students who perform highly. Another strong correlation was found between the number of hours spent reading, and performance. This shouldn’t really be an ‘aha’ moment! It makes such perfect sense that the more one practises reading, the better one will be at it. It is the ‘10 000 hours to become an expert’ argument, in action! The best pianists are those who tinkle on the ivories extensively; the best soccer players are those who have a ball dribbling between their feet from breakfast til dinner; the best swimmers are those who churn up and down the black line for many more hours than others.
Perhaps the most appealing piece of data, however, was that which demonstrated that the gap between male and female levels of performance narrowed to a statistically insignificant level for students who read frequently, as opposed to those who do not read frequently. Again, this should not surprise us.
Our boys are busy. They are well rounded, involved in a myriad of activities, and so enjoy their downtime. Downtime, however, has become ‘screen time’, often for significant lengths of time. Now, I am not advocating for the complete removal of screens from boys’ lives. What I am suggesting is that screen time be limited and book time be extended, in an effort to improve concentration, articulation, comprehension, vocabulary and writing skills – reading influences every aspect of academic achievement at school.
We cannot mandate reading enjoyment. However, if we expose our boys to as many varied and different genres and experiences from an early age, and if we expect that they will read for significant lengths of time, then we have a far greater possibility of hooking them into reading, helping them to find a genre they enjoy, than if we shrug our shoulders and say that boys just don’t enjoy reading.
Thank you for the work you do in encouraging your sons to read – it is a worthy cause!
Mrs Sue Floro
Head of Knox Prep