Outreach for Reluctant Readers – Final Project LSC531

Dr. Renee Hobbs

University of Rhode Island

 

“Reading is not a duty, and has consequently no business to be made disagreeable” – Augustine Birrell

Boys, especially underprivileged boys, are slipping through the cracks in our schools, and this is a statement from almost every book and article regarding boys and reading.  Every research article, book, and periodical discussing the reading gap among boys vs. girls discusses reading as important, and how becoming a good reader will propel boys to high school graduation, a college degree, vocation, and to being a competent citizen.   Yet, this discussion based on the literature has been going on for twenty plus years (since 1961 according to William Brozo, a researcher of pre-teen and teen boys (Brozo, 2002)).   Even with small numbers of researchers, educators, parents, school and public librarians working to highlight theses issues, and making changes in the web of education, there is not much research or data showing long term improvement in this growing problem.  Rather, the data is showing that things are actually staying about the same or getting worse; and adolescent boys are losing ground every day in our schools.  “The trouble is, boys are slipping in reading ability at a time when reading ability has skyrocketed in importance for long term success in life” (Withers & Gill, 2013, p. 4)   Research shows boys require an understanding of who they are, require different teaching methods, male role models, and different approaches to reading materials.  Some researchers, librarians and educators also point to the differences between boys and girls; and it may be time to consider helping boys the way this country has helped girls gain better footing.

The Statistics

According to Penny Kittle  (2012), author of Book Love: Developing Depth, Stamina, and Passion in Adolescent Readers, students entering college today need to read upwards of 400-600 pages a week.  Her belief is that students are not ready for this amount of reading; not for the reading stamina they need to read this amount when they enter college (Kittle, 2012).   This is referring to both boys and girls, but for the purposes of this paper, the focus will be on boys and reading.  “The number of high school seniors who read at or above “Proficient” has been declining since 1992, according to the NAEP reading test; and twenty-six percent of 8th grade public school students performed at or below the “Basic” level on the NAEP reading test (Sullivan, 2009).   Additionally, “according to the U.S. Department of Education reading tests, girls scored higher than boys in reading in every year in every age category for the past thirty years” (Sullivan, 2009, p. 14).  Likewise, “across the school-age years, boys are on average of one and a half grades behind girls in reading” (Sullivan, 2009, p. 14).   Withers & Gill (2013), authors of Jump Starting Boys: Helping Your Reluctant Learner Find Success in School and Life, also point out that “the writing chasm is three times the size (of the reading gap). In fact, for all the attention that the math gap between boys and girls has received for decades (girls at a disadvantage and therefore needing special resources), the reading gap (boys at a disadvantage) is twice the math gap, and the writing gap (boys at a disadvantage) is six times the math gap” (p, 166).  These are frightening statistics to say the least.

Are boys really that different from girls?  Why is that some boys are seen as lazy and uninterested in reading and school?  Sullivan (2009) looks at different research based on nature vs. nurture.  He rejects some of the research saying that yes boys and girls can act like they are expected to act.  Sullivan (2009), discusses this issue and asks, “which factors are shaped predominantly by biology and which factors by socialization, and how can our understanding of these factors help us improve the lot of boys, and for that matter girls?” (p. 10).  In fact, helping boys will also help girls in the end.  He says educators need to look at both sides of the coin in order to gain an understanding on how both influence boys and their reading problems.   Sullivan (2009) discusses the nature side of being a boy and on research that reflects the emotional issues, that “being a man” is what gets in the way for boys when it comes to reading.  What he is stressing though, is when one looks at the “reading life” of a boy, issues with reading can have an effect on their overall life. (p. 11)  Withers & Gill (2013) also discuss, “reading problems can be a major obstacle to boys enjoying rich emotional lives” (p. 22).  “If boys have trouble expressing themselves, that is at least partly because they lack the needed communication skills; boys who read are more likely to have at their disposal the words to express themselves” (Sullivan, 2009, p. 11).

The issue of poverty and race can also affect a boy’s reading, and the statistics reflect that reality.  “In 2004, the National Assessment of Educational Progress found that the reading gender gap spans every racial and ethnic group, and boys trail girls reading regardless of income, disability, or English-speaking ability.  Twenty three percent of white high school seniors with college-educated parents scored ‘below basic’ in reading, as did 34 percent of Hispanic males and 44 percent of black males.  In comparison, 7 percent of white females, 19 percent of Hispanic females, and 33 percent of black females scored ‘below basic’” (Sullivan, 2009, p. 12).  As noted by Kelly Gallagher (2009) in Readicide, “the achievement gap in this country, most notably for low-income students and students of color (often, these are the same students), is no secret” (p. 14). Gallagher also notes that low-income students “one in seven meets grade-level expectations in reading” (2009, p. 21).  “Reading odds are stacked heavily against our students with the most severe needs” (Gallagher, 2009, p. 21).

Brain Development

To state the obvious, girls grow faster than boys, but it is not just physically.  Physiological and psychological differences play into why boys are behind in reading.   Look at any elementary and middle school in America and you can see the physical differences between boys and girls (obviously this is a generalization because the spectrum is wide), but for the most part, one can see that girls are taller than boys by second or third grade, and much further along in puberty by sixth and seventh grade.  What is know from research is “girls brains develop faster than boys, especially when it comes to reading, speaking, and writing.  The gap shows up at around age three, and closes about the time boys hit seventeen” (Withers & Gill, 2013, p. 75).  Sullivan (2009) discusses brain development in boys and girls stating that “the reading gap can be explained largely in terms of brain development lag” (p. 25).  “Girls brains reach their peak size at age eleven and a half, a full three years ahead of the average boy.  We honor that difference in brain development among three-year olds, patiently telling parents that children will develop at their own pace and making allowances for the fact that boys often begin speaking a little later than girls.  For some reason we are hesitant to acknowledge this brain development lag among ten-year olds, despite the fact that the difference in brain development between the genders is still widening at that point in their lives” (Sullivan, 2009, p. 25).   Sullivan (2009) also states that although boys brains will eventually catch up, which is later on in high school, by then there is no time left to make up for the reading deficit before they graduate.

Jon Scieszka, author and boys literacy advocate, describes the brain differences. We are not accommodating boys.

Withers & Gill (2013) discuss these differences as well, discussing how some boys hit a “kindergarten slump”, “fourth grade slump”, and “high school slump”; mostly due to brain development but also a build up of frustration and low self-confidence.  In Kindergarten, children are learning sounds of letters to prepare them for reading, and because children might not be gaining the listening skills they need to make the connections to words and letter sounds, possibly due to a hearing deficit not diagnosed yet, not being read to at home, not being ready to begin reading, or having bad situations in the home, some boys get behind in their literacy by this age. (Withers & Gill, 2013).  As Sullivan (2009) says, “kindergarten is the first grade of thirty years ago” (p. 37).  In a Newsweek (January 30, 2006) article, The Trouble with Boys, author Peg Muir states “the trouble starts as young as 5, when they bring to kindergarten a set of physical and mental abilities very different from girls’. As almost any parent knows, most 5-year-old girls are more fluent than boys and can sight-read more words. Boys tend to have better hand-eye coordination, but their fine motor skills are less developed, making it a struggle for some to control a pencil or a paintbrush” (para.9).  Some of these differences are simply hard-wired into their brains.  Trying to get boys to start reading in Kindergarten can actually backfire because of these brain differences.  A five-year old boy whose brain is a three-year old developmentally, cannot possibly be ready for reading that a five-year old could handle.  This pressure begins the downward spiral.

In this video, William Brozo discusses pre-teen boys and literacy.  He has been doing research for 25 years.  He raises concerns regarding motivation and a decline — a slump – the fourth grade slump.  He says it hits boys more severely and they have a harder time overcoming it.  He also says high stakes testing has not been helping boys and the type of teaching going on in schools turns boys off to reading even more.   Teachers have had success bridging this slump by looking to their outside-of school interests and bringing that into the classroom.

Withers and Gill (2013), define the fourth grade slump is due to the fact that there is a transition in school from “learning to read” to “reading to learn” and some boys brains are not ready to make this leap (Withers & Gill, 2013, p. 31). Many reading formats that work better for boys, more pictures for example, begin to be abandoned for denser text at this point in their schooling, and boys do better with visuals.  Sullivan (2009) calls this the “tipping point” for boys (p.38).  “Forty percent of kids between the ages of five and eight read every day, but by fourth grade, that drops to twenty-nine percent” (Withers & Gill, 2013, p. 31).  Fourth grade begins the downward slope for boys to begin not liking reading and developing a bad attitude toward reading and school – becoming known as reluctant readers.  The “high school slump”, which Withers & Gill (2013) define as beginning as early as seventh or eighth grade, “teens abandon reading for pleasure” (p. 27).  Likewise, “among seventeen year olds the percentage of non-readers has more than doubled over a twenty-year period, from 9 percent in 1984 to 19 percent in 2004” (Gallagher, 2009, p. 41).  Catching boys in late elementary and middle school and finding ways to grow their reading skills is a goal of many educators, but high stakes testing is also affecting the amount of time boys (and girls) have to read while in school. (Gallagher, 2009).

Kittle interviews three adolescent boys about why they don’t read.

Sullivan (2009) also makes a point about reading levels “children do not read to their reading level. Children read to their interest level” (p. 41)  By giving boys, and girls, books appropriate to their interest level, they will become better readers. Penny Kittle, (2012) author of Book Love: Developing Depth, Stamina, and Passion in Adolescent Readers, states “rigorous independent reading will not only build background knowledge and vocabulary but also provide fundamental necessity: regular practice” (p. XV).  Her premise is that students will read if allowed to read, and will read if allowed to read what they want.  They will become stronger and better readers simply by reading a lot.  William Brozo (2010) would agree with this as well, stating “teachers and schools do not have to take extraordinary measures, but can employ feasible and effective practices to entice boys to read and to keep reading” (p.305).   Brozo (2002) emphasizes this “linking boys’ out of school literacies with academic literacy is a practice that honors who they are in all their diversity and demonstrates the value we place on youths’ lifeworlds beyond the classroom walls” (309).

20 mins reading graphic

Boys Think Differently than Girls

Boys think differently than girls, and this relates to how they read.  “Girls tend to internalize and boys tend to externalize.  Girls look for the universal in themselves; boys look for themselves in the universe” (Sullivan, 2009, p.27).   Thus why they do not relate to many books and novels.  Boys are more physical (again a generalization because not all boys are constantly physical) however, this is one of the differences for boys. In order to learn, they need to have some form of movement to stimulate their brains for learning.  “There are structural differences between the average girl’s brain and the average boy’s brain, the most significant of which is the relative size of the part called the corpus callosum, a structure analogous to a bridge between the two hemispheres of the brain” (Sullivan,2009, p. 25).   This part of the brain “is, on average, ten percent larger in girls than it is in boys. This means that boys are more likely to work with half of their brains” (Sullivan, 2009, p. 25).  Reading requires both sides of the brain, and girls are at more of an advantage than boys. (Sullivan, 2009). Additionally, Sullivan also points out that by adding stimulation to a boy’s environment can help him “overcome this brain difference by stimulating the corpus callosum and increase the energy level in his brain” (Sullivan, 2009, p.26).  Many teachers try to do this by using stress balls for boys to squeeze or allowing for pacing around their desks in order to get their brains stimulated enough to listen, and make it easier for them to use their language skills. (Sullivan, 2009).

Likewise, the ways our schools and classrooms are structured and by whom they are taught is also a disadvantage for boys.   Our classrooms, libraries, and homework spaces are designed to exclude outside stimuli which boys need to keep their brains awake (Sullivan, 2009).  Students are forced to sit and endure chunks of time and concentrate without interruptions, all of which are difficult for boys who have a smaller corpus callosum and need stimulation to get their brains to take in what they are being taught (Sullivan, 2009).  And what happens when boys do not sit still and listen attentively – they get into trouble and are disciplined; which leads into another point made by Sullivan about ADHD.  “A smaller corpus callosum has been identified as a difference between those people diagnosed with ADHD and those who are not, and that this difference may account for the behaviors associated with the disorder. If boys’ behavioral issues seem to mirror the symptoms of ADHD, remember that up to ninety-five percent of those diagnosed with ADHD are male” (Sullivan, 2009, p. 26).   High stakes testing over the past twenty years has also caused classrooms to clamp down even more and some schools in the U.S. are “cutting back on unstructured time for children”; which is what boys need – additional stimulation to “wake up the brain with movement” (Sullivan, 2009, p. 26).  Impulsiveness, another trait of boys, has been looked at as a problem and because gym, drama, and recess have been cut back in some school districts, boys are being prescribed drugs to “calm them down” (Withers & Gill, 2013, p. 76).   We should be giving boys more physical learning spaces and opportunities to move around during the school day.  Withers & Gill (2013) urge parents of boys to “(let them be antsy, handle materials, illustrate or act out stories), give them frequent breaks, and do whatever it takes to keep them supported and motivated until the gender gap starts to close so they won’t label themselves stupid or lazy and give up” (p. 77).

 Learning Disabilities

ADHD has also caused a rise in special education for boys.  “One out of every three boys in the U.S. schools is in a remedial reading program by the time he is in third grade” (Sullivan, 2009, p. 19).  (The beginning of the “fourth grade slump”).  Sullivan (2009) goes on to discuss how ADHD is the special education “issue of the day” (p. 19); and depending on which study you cite, “between eighty to ninety-five percent of the children diagnosed with ADHD in the first through third grades are male”(p. 19).  These are staggering  numbers states Sullivan (2009).  And they are because it is affecting them more than just psychologically; it also affects them physically due to the drugs used to treat ADHD.  Sullivan (2009) adds, “we have made being a boy a learning disability” (p. 19).   Boys and their behavior are being pegged into a hole that is simply what being a boy is all about and many educators seem to have overlooked these traits.  What Withers & Gill (2013) and Sullivan (2009) also point out regarding the issues around ADHD and ADD, or even the use of discipline with boys causes boys to feel the “heavy weight of disapproval” which eats away at their self-confidence and view of themselves. (p. 76-77).   This contributes to adolescent boys beginning to tune out at school.   Some of this is partially due the fact that boys are taught by females and who tell boys the are not “reading the right thing” or “not settling in for writing exercises” (Withers & Gill, 2013, p. 76).   There is also a lack of role models for boys in the educational system.  The majority of the teachers, administrators, and librarians are women.

Role Models

For most boys, who is the first person to read to them, their mother or female care-giver.  Sullivan, a children’s librarian, conducted a simple exercise and had his preschoolers draw a picture of the library for National Library Week.  He states, “I never had a child draw a male librarian” (Sullivan, 2009, p.29).  From K-12 in the U.S., “Seventy-five percent of teachers are women.  Ninety percent of elementary school teachers are also women” (Sullivan, 2009, p. 30).  Boys need male role models when it comes to reading.  “Too many parents believe that teaching their kids to read is the school’s job, and too many a dad leaves at-home reading to his wife” (Withers & Gill, 2013, p. 88)  So many boys do not have male role models when it comes to reading.  “We must convince boys that reading is a social activity, and that begins with convincing them that men, too, read” (Sullivan, 2009, p.31)  Jon Scieszka, the creator of Guys Read, is a proponent of male role models and is a great one himself.  He is the creator of the Guys Read website; and has spawned some changes for libraries to incorporate more books for boys.  “Male youth often find themselves in a handicapping cycle that begins with peer pressure that urges them to avoid reading because it is ‘not cool'”(Brozo, 2010, p. 160).  More men need to be more open to getting involved with schools and libraries and show boys that reading is a fun outlet and that men do it too.  Withers & Gill (2013) also touch upon this issue, “gender role modeling is crucial to a boy becoming a reader” (p.87)  “More than twenty-percent of U.S. children are raised with a mother but no father in the home, while only four percent are raised with a father but no mother. Zoom in on black communities, however, and those statistics tilt dramatically. More than half of all black children under the age of eighteen in the U.S. have just one parent” (Withers & Gill, 2013, p. 90).  “A boy that has grown up in a household with both male and female influences, has a better chance of being much more empathetic and emotionally stable” (Withers & Gill,2013).  “Boys yearn for relationships with caring adults who can serve as mentors; such relationships can often help them make the connection between their personal experiences and their literary development” (Brozo, 2006, p. 72).   Withers & Gill encourage their readers (parents) to look for book mentors for their sons.  A role model is someone a boy can look up to and want to emulate.  “Male role modeling works and in a variety of ways: helping boys become more confident in school work performance, able to get along better with their families, forty-six percent less likely to use illegal drugs, twenty-seven percent less likely to begin using alcohol, and fifty-two percent less likely to skip school” (Withers & Gill, 2013, p.127).  Brozo  (2010) suggests fathers start bookclubs with their sons and allow the men to be role models for the boys.  “Teachers (librarians too) of adolescents should be advocates of these positive interactions between boys, books, and adults” (p. 160).  Sullivan and Brozo also discuss buddy reading programs where an older student reads to a younger student.  “When students become teachers, they generate learning for themselves and others”  (Brozo, 2010, p.165).  When boys are reading to boys it becomes cool.

Mental Health

An additional point made by Sullivan (2009) is the fact that because boys do not feel good about themselves and have persistent reading problems, “they are at an increased risk for depressed mood” (p. 20).  “Boys are not reading well, and that is putting their mental health at risk” (Sullivan, 2009, p. 21).  “Although girls are four times more likely than boys to attempt suicide, boys commit suicide at a rate four times higher than girls. Girls are far more likely to attempt suicide; boys are far more likely to succeed.  Even worse, the rates of depression and suicide among boys are rising (Sullivan, 2009, p. 21).   Sullivan (2009) quotes, William Pollack, author of Real Boys, “Pollack approaches the problem psychologically, but consider the idea that boys not only lack the opportunity to express themselves but also lack the ability. Some of the differences may be language. Girls have a much greater degree of language skill than boys do, and any good psychologist knows that the first step to recovery is communication” (p.21).  Sullivan (2009) concludes by saying that although things look bleak and sound pretty bad, “most boys do not drop out of school, go to prison, or kill themselves, and for those who do, reading problems cannot be entirely to blame” (p. 21).  But the problems laid out in Sullivan’s book, as well as Withers & Gill, point to a problem in our society that boys are still fighting against some of the stereotypes and practices in our schools.  Withers & Gill (2013) point out that by not addressing the reading issue at an early age, “a less-than-keen reader will suffer academically, which impacts his self-confidence (even if he hides it well) and potentially puts him at a disadvantage for life” (p.32).   Many researchers state, and Sullivan (2009) states this as well, “reading ability is a major predictor of academic achievement” (p. 18).  “Sixty percent of A grades in the U.S. schools go to girls….This in itself is not overly distressing….What is distressing is the other end of the spectrum: seventy percent of the Ds and Fs go to boys” (Sullivan, 2009, p. 18).

There is also much research and thought about a number of ways to make changes for boys to help them overcome their weaker reading skills.  Sullivan (2009) discusses some of these initiatives.  One is separating girls from boys in school only for major subjects like English, Math and Science.   Another is to keep boys back a year before they start Kindergarten.   Some of these are at work in schools across the country already.  But again, as William Brozo (2002) states, and many of the other researchers and authors quoted in this paper state as well, “inviting boys to find connections between their lifeworlds and school-based literacy may be the key to helping them find entry points to lifelong reading while reducing achievement disparities with their female peers” (306).  What Sullivan and Brozo (as well as Kittle and Miller) stress is allowing boys to read what they want to read and to consider items that are “not literature”.   Reading takes place in many places all day long for boys.  Brozo (2002) truly espouses this  “tolerance of students’ discourses even though their desires for celebratory narratives of popular culture and stereotypical gender behavior may leave some educators uncomfortable…it’s important to bear in mind that we all begin modestly down our own literate paths. So it’s not where we begin, but what we develop along the way on our literate journeys that’s important” (p. 307).  Isn’t that it in a nutshell?  Penny Kittle (2012) stresses this in her book as well.  Find one book to get the student started and give them time to keep reading; eventually they will find more they will want to read and grow into a lifelong reader.

What is a Reluctant Reader?

So why are boys still being considered reluctant readers, if we know all of these things about them?  Withers and Gill (2013) describe reluctant readers, and use the definitions used by Donalyn Miller, author of The Book Whisperer :  ‘developing readers are those readers who are not reading at grade level either due to lack of reading experience or learning disabilities; dormant readers, are those readers who are uninterested, unmotivated, ‘good enough’ readers who do not engage with reading due to a lack of support or role models, and underground readers are those readers who are gifted or beyond the average student’s level, individuals simply uninterested in what school requires them to read” (p. 29.).   In Donalyn Miller’s book (2009), The Book Whisperer and Penny Kittle’s (2012) book, Book Love: Developing Depth, Stamina, and Passion in Adolescent Readers, one can see that given the opportunity and with some cajoling, students will read what they want, and for a sustained amount of time everyday.   High stakes testing is not creating strong readers, “the tragedy of NCLB (No Child Left Behind Act) is that is designed to ensure children get left behind” (Sullivan, 2009, p. 92).  William Brozo alludes to this in the video provided above as well.  Reluctant reader is another stereotype that can be overcome.

Author, Jon Scieszka and creator of the Guys Read website.  He discusses in this video what boys like to read.

There are many anecdotal articles about helping boys read and having access to the materials they want to read. As one school librarian stated,  “not blinded by the ongoing problems surrounding males and their reading habits and test results, school librarians and teachers are proactive in connecting males with a good reading experience” (Buddy, 2011, p. 12).  And obviously many teachers, like Kelly Gallagher, Donalyn Miller and Penny Kittle are trying new ways of engaging reading and writing.  They are using different teaching methods, trying to incorporate more SSR (sustained silent reading) time to get kids to read more, and just letting kids read for pleasure.  They are using inquiry based learning, digital learning, and bringing current events into the classroom to spark discussions, debates, and further reading and writing.  But one thing that is not happening, is an overall change in the system that is suppose to be helping our children and young adults to become proficient readers, critical thinkers, and writers.  As Donalyn Miller (2009) states,”while Washington policymakers, state and district boards of education, and administrators scramble to figure out what is best practice for getting children to read…these children are graduating”  and heading out into the world” (p.2).   If those students are heading to college, they are not ready for the demands ahead of them.  Thus why there is so much remedial teaching going on at Universities and Colleges across the country.  This in itself is a red flag.  If students make it through high school, shouldn’t they be already prepared for college?  This is entirely another discussion to have, one which Kittle (2012) touches upon, but it also relates to why some boys are not going to college in the first place.

The take away from this discussion regarding the research around boys, a.k.a. reluctant readers, is that teaching reading is everyone’s job – schools, libraries, and parents.  There needs to be some overhaul on the high stakes testing going on in our schools, but until that happens, communities of teachers, parents, librarians, and school administrators need to find more ways to engage boys and get them reading.

Earlier this year, YALSA introduced a report about how libraries can meet the 21st century needs of teens. “It provides recommendations on how libraries must address challenges and re-envision their teen services in order to meet the needs of their individual communities and to collectively ensure that the nation’s 40+ million teens develop the skills they need to be productive citizens” (ALA, 2014, para. 4).  Now is the time when public libraries have an opportunity, YA Librarians in particular, to get into this conversation and help schools and parents engage adolescent boys.  In the book, The Atlas of New Librarianship, author David Lankes (2011) promotes this “participatory librarianship” (p. 3).  His view is that librarians should become facilitators of conversation.  What is most prevalent in Lankes’ book (2011) is the discussion around building relationships, “be of the community in both concept and action” (p.115), working to make things better in the community.  YA Librarians have an opportunity to forge such relationships with schools, school librarians and adolescent boys, as well as men in their communities.  It is not that these partnerships do not exist in some communities already, but there is still work to be done in many communities.  In Overcoming the Obstacle Course: Teenage Boys and Reading, Jones & Fiorelli (2003) discuss a survey done by SmartGirl and ALA in 2001 during Teen Read Week.  By looking at the obstacles boys see in reading such as Figure 1 below, as well as other research and anecdotal evidence from other librarians, YA Librarians can work towards overcoming some of these obstacles boys face with reading.  What has worked for boys at other libraries?
Figure 1.

boys reading obstacles table
(Smartgirl and ALA Survey, 2001)

 

Here is a link to the original survey:  http://www.smartgirl.org/speakout/archives/trw/trw2001.html
This is a survey taken during Teen Read Week in 2001.  The table above reflects the culmination of boys’ answers.  As expected, what boys think of reading is nothing new – boring/not fun.  How can a public library entice boys to come into the library and check out what is available for them to read?  There are many great ideas and examples out there, from book clubs in libraries, to read-a-louds, to growing and showcasing collections for boys through booktalks and social media promotion, as well as  getting men from the community to join library book discussions and book clubs and act as role models.  Most importantly though, doing all of these things with boys in mind.  Sullivan (2009) recommends several ideas in his book, after all he is a Children’s Librarian.  He promotes booktalking (mini-commercials) at the local schools, a.k.a. selling the books available at the public library.  YA librarians have an opportunity to reach out to the school librarians or Principals and show up in the schools several times a year to promote books, especially stories that boys will enjoy (powerpoint or prezi presentations with fun visuals and other boys video’d talking up books), and to promote the library website as a great resource for book lists, etc.  Set up a Guys Read section or shelf and put out what will interest them.

In addition, YA Librarians in conjunction with the school librarians can create Reader’s Advisory lists for students – individual lists that will help students find books of interest to them, particularly boys.   “One community in N.H. had the public library and school create a non-curriculum reading time program called the ‘Great Stone Face Award’” (Sullivan, 2009, p. 49).  The program became a literary lunch program.  The premise was to have students read seven books (fiction) in a year and then vote on the top book of the year in the spring.  However, some of the books were not of interest to the boys, and some were too difficult.  What the public librarians did to help the boys, was go into the schools and read the books out loud.  Students had to sign up for the literary lunch they were interested in and were allowed to cut to the front of the lunch line.  Up to twenty-five students would sit in a classroom and eat their lunch while an adult read them a book.  The reader would read until the bell rang, bookmark it, and pick up the next day where they left off.  The books would be finished within a week’s time.  Sullivan (2009) stated that the school could not keep up with the demand (these were upper elementary students); “we could never seem to create enough spots for any child to have any more than three literary lunches in a year” (p. 51).   YA Librarians could consider this idea as well and try to work with schools, school administrators and community members (particularly men) to create such a program.  There was no money involved and students benefited from the read out loud program.  Other libraries and schools have implemented such a program and taken it a step further by including projected images from stories to add visual stimulation for the boys while the stories are being read.  Sullivan (2009) himself implemented bookclubs for boys but made them interactive or involving movement.  He created themes around books boys enjoyed, and instead of sitting around in a circle, took all the chairs out of the room and had a table with an activity on it (putting together a model boat, for example) for the boys to do while they discussed the book. Or they simply went for a walk to discuss the book.

The possibilities are endless and ideas abound, and all of these should be shared by the public YA and school librarians.  Networking is one of the best ways to gather information and build relationships with librarians in surrounding communities or similar communities.  Building those networks can help YA librarians build up their own ideas and thoughts for outreach to boys.  YA librarians need support, and to support each other; networking and partnerships can provide some of that.  David Lankes (2012 ) states, “great librarians experiment with new services and are not afraid to fail rapidly. There is a difference between failure and a mistake.  A mistake is when you do something wrong and don’t learn from it (so you often repeat it).  A failure is something you try that is a little bit beyond your reach, but you can figure out how to do it better next time.” (p. 106)  Reluctant readers need additional support and encouragement.   There is opportunity for YA librarians to create outreach to these boys; these reluctant readers.   If the boys will not come into the library, they can reach out and find them where they are.  They may just start stopping by the library (school and public) to see what new books for boys are on the shelf.

 

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