Last night I had the opportunity to see Michael Sullivan give a talk at our town library entitled “Raising Boy Readers”. Michael is an expert on this topic, and I soaked up a lot of useful information that any parent of a boy may find helpful.
We started out with some simply frightening statistics highlighting how the deck is stacked against boys from the outset in school. Consider that girls have outscored boys on reading tests for over thirty years. On average, boys are reading 1.5 years behind girls. By eleventh grade, the average boy is reading three years behind girls. Adolescent boys reported in studies to read 2.3 hours a week and girls claimed to read approximately 4.5 hours a week. Even worse, if you ask ninth grade boys how much they read, half of them will tell you that they don’t read.
Other startling statistics:
–85% of special education students are boys
–95% of children with ADHD are boys
–1/3 of boys are in remedial reading by the third grade
–Girls brains are fully grown by 11.5 years old, yet boys not until 14.5
–On standardized tests (right through SAT’s), boys typically test 16-20% below girls on reading
One of the first things we covered was the importance of giving boys control of their reading. Letting them choose their own books is key. Don’t focus on the fact that they have picked something up that is below their grade level, focus on the fact that they are actually reading. Many boys love to read non-fiction and comic books, yet school focuses on fiction as required by the curriculum. Sometimes as parents we may try to direct our boys to high-level fiction. We want them to be challenging themselves, and get ahead because we believe it is key to a brighter future for them. Yet multiple studies show that reading harder books does not affect your ability to become a wonderful reader as an adult. What matters is that you read often, over and over. Don’t hone in on Harry Potter as the next best thing for your son if he shows no interest. Consider adults who would describe themselves as well-read yet spend their time on authors like Tom Clancy and John Grisham. While both have been wildly successful, Sullivan candidly informed us that their books are written at a 5th grade reading level!
One idea to create an environment of choice would be to put a book basket in your son’s room with 5-6 books of different levels and genres and let him select those that interest him.
Read to your son and never stop. I found this point extremely interesting. Reading out loud to your son actually becomes the most critical before third grade and beyond. Third grade introduces most children to the idea of reading to learn, and early testing involving reading comprehension begins. Sullivan indicated that this is where many boys are lost to reading. Suddenly, they are being tested for comprehension and might score poorly. The truth is, they may just love to read, and want to be left alone to enjoy it. We know that boys brains develop more slowly, so they aren’t even ready for many of the tests we throw at them. Then, they perform badly on the tests and start to believe they aren’t good at reading or that reading now feels like a chore. This can lead to a downward spiral for many of them. Sullivan proposed leveling with kids about the bureaucracy of the tests, and really not taking the results too seriously if your son loves to read.
If you can get them to twelve, the outlook is very good. If you can help your son develop a love of reading that continues until age twelve, chances are high that he will become a life-long independent reader. Don’t be afraid to branch out and find what he is passionate about! I have a friend whose son is very bright, is in the fourth grade, and is currently reading a non-fiction title about the atomic bomb. Celebrate their interest in reading and don’t micromanage their book choices. Your son is not your project, he is himself, and needs your support to develop a love of reading that molds to his personality.
For more information on Michael, visit his web site: http://www.talestoldtall.com/index.html. You will also find lots of book suggestions and a list of his upcoming appearances. If he is coming to speak near you, I really think you would enjoy hearing his ideas firsthand.