Inspiring Our Boys to Read

“I can’t get my son to read.” This is a lament English teachers sometimes hear from exasperated parents, worried that their sons are not developing the literacy they need to succeed. 
Sometimes this is accompanied by reflections that their boys were avid readers at a younger age and requests that we make their sons read more: “Can’t you make them do a book report? If it’s for marks, they’ll do it, right?”
 
While many boys who develop a love of reading from a young age do continue to read for pleasure, the transition from junior or middle school to high school, especially in a laptop environment, does mean that many boys who were avid readers at a younger age spend less time on personal reading. As they enter the Senior School, boys begin negotiating the new competing demands: more homework in a university-preparatory programme, including more curricular reading in many of their classes; more time on their laptop and devices, which can mean more reading of non-fiction, but can also mean more time on YouTube, social media and gaming; and developing new friendships, social lives and identities. Many boys reflect that they do, in fact, read a lot online, but they tend to read shorter forms that require less focus than the longer, sustained attention required for a book. While senior boys may do less personal reading because of their work load and social lives, they will often read during holidays when they have more time.
 
A wealth of research reveals what does and does not work to inspire a genuine love of reading in adolescents, much of it summarized by educator and author Alfie Kohn in his article “How to Create Non-readers: Reflections on Motivation, Learning, and Sharing Power.” The freedom to choose books that interest the individual reader and the companionship of fellow readers are critical. Competitions that offer incentives and rewards (or marks) and assignments like reports that require students to spend more time proving they’ve read than reading don’t cultivate genuine love of reading:

        You may succeed in getting students to read a book by dangling a reward in front of
        them for doing so, but their interest in reading, per se, is likely to evaporate – or, in
        the case of kids who have little interest to begin with, is unlikely to take root —
        because you’ve sent the message that reading is something one wouldn’t want to do.
        (Duh. If it was fun, why would they be bribing me to do it?) (Kohn “How to Create
        Non-readers”) 

Reading because it’s good for us is not a compelling reason to read for most 14- and 15-year olds, or most adults. We read because we’re curious about the subject matter, and we read to connect with others who share our interests or the desire to experience a book’s ideas or story with others. As Kohn puts it, “Children grow to love reading when it’s about making meaning, when they’re confronted directly by provocative ideas, compelling characters, delicious prose” (“How to Create Non-readers”).

With the demands of a university preparatory curriculum in the Senior School, there is little time available for independent personal reading in the classroom, but Grade 9 English teachers Ashleigh Gledhill and Alison Hart encouraged their students to read a book of their choice over the December holiday and to share their reading experiences with their classmates, in hopes of inspiring their peers to read more. The project was a success. When the boys returned from the break, they did short presentations for their classmates, persuading their peers that their books were worth reading. 

“It was great to see boys in the role of the expert in the room presenting on their selected books,” said Ms. Hart. 

Both teachers loved seeing a reading culture emerge, as boys were excited to recommend books and to consider their next choice. You can find the list of some of the more popular selections below.
 
So how can you encourage your son to read? Model it. Reading in front of your son and talking about your reading experience conveys the value of reading. With March Break on the horizon, discuss what you might read, individually or together. Take a trip together to a book store or the library to select something. Esi Edugyan’s Giller Prize winner Washington Black and Frederik Backman’s Beartown and sequel Us Against You are novels getting lots of praise. They may appeal to your son. Spending a lot of time in the car together? How about listening to an audiobook? There are lots of non-fiction works with chapters that can be experienced as stand-alone chapters. Try Gladwell’s Outliers: The Story of Success, or Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything. Don’t have time to read a whole book together? Start with journalism, maybe a review of a film you’ve seen together, an article about the new Gillette ad and the backlash, game reviews of your favourite teams, or an editorial. You can also visit the library portal page to review the catalogue holdings.
 
 
 
 
Popular Books in Grade 9
  • The Tatooist of Aushwitz (Heather Morris)
  • Shooter (Caroline Pignat)
  • The Hate U Give (Angie Thomas)
  • Throwing Strikes: My Quest for the Truth and the Perfect Knuckle Ball (R.A. Dickey)
  • How I Invented Everything (Ryan North)
  • The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy (Douglas Adams)
  • Unwind (Neal Shusterman)
  • Fallout (Todd Strasser)
  • Bird Box (Josh Malerman)
  • Casino Royale (Ian Fleming)
  • A Newfoundlander in Canada: Always Going Somewhere, Always Coming Home (Alan Doyle)
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