Addressing the Gender Gap in Boys' Reading

By Welldon, Christine | Teacher Librarian, April 2005 | Go to article overview

Addressing the Gender Gap in Boys' Reading


Welldon, Christine, Teacher Librarian


Research shows that boys have a tougher time that girls learning to read, and they score lower in reading achievement tests. Our school literacy initiative was to help c the gender gap in reading. To achieve this goal, the Cool Guys Reading Club, promoting reading as a cool activity, was born!

How to hook the guys? A web site about Karate belt levels was a big help. What if every boy who joined the Cool Guys Reading Club was awarded a symbolic white belt? The task would then be to win the yellow, the orange, and so on, up to black-belt status. Lots of testosterone appeal! To achieve each level, the boys would come to the club and discuss one book with the group, then each would answer a question that tested a specific comprehension skill. The questions were easy at the start. For example, the boys were given incorrect titles, such as The Hardy Girls, or One Thousand and One Dalmatians, and they had to then give the correct title.

Another idea that tested their research skills was to ask the boys to find books in the library by authors that they've never read. I was certain they would like the books by these authors if they only knew they existed. So my questions were, "Tell me a book title by Gary Paulsen, or Lemony Snicket," and so on. Most of these boys had never tried to access books on the shelf, so this activity gave them a chance to build valuable research skills. When each found his book, I grabbed the opportunity to tell him a little about it, suggesting, that "maybe you'd like to take that for your next book to share with the group?"

As the boys advanced in their skills, the tasks also became more challenging. As well as discussing a book, they would share the title, author, and a little about the plot of another book by email. The Cool Guys Tele- conference was opened for this purpose.

I chose a few cool guys--boys who were looked up to by other boys--to promote my program during morning school announcements. The message was that members could love or hate reading, it didn't matter, but they had to be a guy. The program was then set to go. On the sign-up day, 37 boys from grades 4, 5, and 6 became members!

Amazing things began to happen. Boys who never voluntarily checked out books were suddenly reading intently in the library. They were having enthusiastic discussions about the books or magazines. Their listeners would then tell them about similar books or articles that they had read. As soon as the boys became used to the format, engaging discussions took place. I watched from the sidelines, out of sight, clipboard in hand, as I checked off names. This club is a boys' club, after all!

The ultimate reward at black-belt level is a pizza party. Each boy works at his own pace, and when there are enough boys to share a pizza, I hold a little party for them at lunchtime. Every boy attains his black-belt level eventually, so no one misses out on having his own party. The hidden reward for teacher-librarians is watching boys reading and sharing in a relaxed environment with minimum performance demands. …

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