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Research Shows Boys Are Falling Behind in Reading by the Fourth Grade
According to new research by the American Psychological Association, American boys lag behind girls in reading and writing by the time they reach the fourth grade with the gap in achievement widening further by the start of high school.
What Do Researchers Think is the Cause of Boys Lacking in Literacy?
The researchers of the study argue that despite changes in teaching models, boys are still lagging, thus other factors are involved in American boys’ lack of literacy.
A few hypotheses include:
- Boys are more likely to have learning disabilities than girls especially in terms of attention disorders.
- The expectation of ‘boys to be boys’ and the accepted norm that boys are more hands-on cause boy to deprioritize reading.
- Boys may not use both sides of their brains when reading whereas evidence shows that girls use the entire brain when engaging in reading and writing.
While there isn’t much information on how to fix the current gap in literacy acquisition between boys and girls, there are many reading strategies that parents and educators can employ help young boys get better at reading.
Boys Do Find Joy in Reading
Reading Strategy #1: Build a Reading Partner System
According to Gary Wilson, a former educator and current expert on boys’ achievement, one of the smartest ways to get boys reading is to build a partner system. This ‘buddy system’ helps boys stay on track with their own reading requirements and encourages them to help other boys get an edge on reading.
Simply put, an older boy is partnered with a younger boy, and they get together routinely to read together and talk about what they’ve read. The system build in male role models and shows boys that reading can be a ‘boy thing’ just as much as it can be a ‘girl thing.’
In addition to establishing an older-younger partner system, teachers can use this strategy to partner up boys in the same classroom. Two boys can be reading partners and rely on one another to keep each other on track with their reading obligations as well as have somebody to work with on language arts assignments.
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Reading Strategy #2: The Boys-Only Book Club
Boys may be intimidated by book discussions that include all 30+ peers. Why? Well, young boys feel the pressure of having to perform well. And for the boys who aren’t the best readers, they worry they will fumble if they are asked to read a selection of the book. Teachers and parents can establish boys-only book clubs where boys meet once a week to talk about the assigned reading. Be sure that the book is something very engaging; in fact, it should be a book that isn’t necessarily academic in nature.The small groups help to make the boys more comfortable and it encourages them to have deeper conversations about the reading. Not to mention, with less people in the discussion, the boys feel more obligated to contribute to the discussion.
The boys-only book clubs should be organized by an adult and supervised during the first meeting, but after that, the boys should be left to discuss the books without supervision. It may be wise for the organizer to provide a list of topics for discussion for each week so the boys come to the discussion ready to talk.
Boys Should Read Together for Support
Books Boys Love to Read
According to the Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research, boys prefer to read informational texts -- nonfiction books, magazines, newspapers, reference books, etc. They also prefer graphic novels and comic books to traditional fiction books.
Here are some popular books for boys:
- The Dangerous Book for Boys
- The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics
- 5,000 Awesome Facts (About Everything!) (National Geographic Kids)
- Diary of a Wimpy Kid #13: Meltdown
Reading Strategy #3: Create a Reading Space and Stock It Wisely
Enlist the boys in the class to come up with a design for a reading space that everybody can use. Work together as a class to make that design come to life. Be sure to have a bookshelf that is stocked with reading material that boys gravitate toward: magazines, comic books, informational texts, and newspaper articles. Time and time again, research shows boys prefer these types of texts to fiction. Of course, fiction is a necessary part of a comprehensive language arts program, so it’s best to choose fiction titles that have boy protagonists of all types.
Reading Strategy #4: Bring Generations of Men Together
This strategy is one of the most important because it teaches young boys from the very beginning that reading is an activity, and that’s important because many boys do not look at reading as an actual ‘thing to do’.
Parents and teachers should encourage the men in their boys’ lives to make a daily habit of reading together. Dad, grandpas, brothers, and any other men in the family should read together. The best way to do this is to select a book together and choose to read from it every day for 30 minutes to an hour. For boys who aren’t reading yet, the man should read the book to the boy. For boys who are reading, the pair should alternate.
Men Need to Read to Boys to Establish Reading as a Worthwhile Activity
- David Reilly, David L. Neumann, Glenda Andrews. Gender differences in reading and writing achievement: Evidence from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).. American Psychologist, 2018; DOI: 10.1037/amp0000356