Shayne on You: Teaching the joys of reading

Dear Maggie,

Iím a fifth grade teacher, and I was hoping you could help me think of a way to get my male students more interested in reading. It seems to me that most girls have a natural affinity for stories, but most boys either never have it at all, or have it and then lose it by the fourth or fifth grade. What can I do to encourage my male students to enjoy stories and maybe even substitute a book every now and then for those videogames theyíre always playing?


The Teach

Dear Teach,

I once gave a talk to a group of fifth graders whose teacher had assigned them the task of reading one book per week. R.L. Stine didnít count, she said. What reason did she have for making that rule? The only one I could see was that the kids wanted to read him. They enjoyed reading Stine. It wasnít work to them. To me, that means Stine is a gifted storyteller. The kind who can convince kids that they love to read!

So first, if you ever had it, now is the time to get rid of the notion that ďmakingĒ kids read, has to mean making them read stuff they donít enjoy. Thatís the quickest way to make them hate reading.

OK, now letís take the issue of gender. Our genetics play a role in this. In the distant past, the male of the species had to be active, physical, energized. He had to hunt and fight to protect his family. He was not designed to sit passively and read a story. He was designed for action. Itís a little boyís job to be antsy and itchy and wiggly and busy. What some label ďhyper.Ē Itís normal.

So forcing a child to go against his own nature, not to mention his own genetic history, is asking a lot. Maybe too much. So keep the reading for boys to short, fast paced stories, including manga, comics, and graphic novels, which are making huge headway with young males, above and beyond anything Iíve seen in awhile. And make it as interactive as possible.

Finally, I want to get to the very good news. Have you really looked at todayís videogames? If you do, youíll be as delighted as I was to discover that at the heart of the best ones, (and the most popular ones) are fantastically told stories, with depth and layers and the Heroís Journey epitomized within their chapters. Todayís games contain some brilliant storytelling.

So in all of that somewhere is your answer. Donít expect boys to be what they are not. Do encourage them to read what they want to read, and praise it, and read it yourself. And donít disregard the excellent fiction our boys are exposed to through their game consoles and through the comics, manga and graphic novels they are buying in droves. Stories that are interactive, action oriented, short and exciting are exactly what boys love best.

Hope this has been some help!



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