Monday, January 20, 2014

Boys & Books. . . Lots of Books

On January 18th, Duncan McDougall (Children's Literacy Foundation - CLiF), Dan Greene (U-32 Librarian) and Derek Cote (U-32 Sophomore) joined a lively crowd in the Children's Room at Bear Pond Books to talk about strategies for encouraging boys who are reluctant readers to give books another chance. The discussion covered reading for all grades (pre-K through 12).

Think about how the average school reading list is different from the sort of pleasure reading grown ups enjoy. We get to choose whatever book we want, we get to stop reading that book if it's boring, we can bring home a stack of books from the library (or bookstore) and try each of them until we find the one that suits our mood, and no one nags us about if we're reading up to our grade level (how many grown ups enjoyed Harry Potter or the Hunger Games?).

Well, kids want those things, too.

That's why Duncan McDougall says his #1 recommendation for getting reluctant readers interested in reading is to let them choose. Even if they choose a comic book, that's still reading and it's still erasing the idea that reading is a boring chore used to make children miserable.

Duncan's organization, the Children's Literacy Foundation, works with kids from birth to age 12 to inspire them to read. Boys age 9 - 12 are his toughest customers. National studies (some are linked in our earlier posts) agree. But when CLiF sets out tables covered in books and lets kids choose, some books get snapped up immediately even by that "tough customer" demographic. Hunting books, a giant book of sharks (with a promised life size poster), motorcycle racing and Choose Your Own Adventure, are all popular choices.

Duncan admits that he started his work as a "book snob," insisting on high quality reading vetted by various experts. Now, he simply focuses on encouraging any sort of reading, which includes "snacking" on short little sections of books that can be as purely fun as Calvin & Hobbes. When his own son was slow to get interested in reading, Duncan says he set reading material out around the house and "I felt like I was fishing, getting as many lures out as possible and seeing when he'd bite." Which, eventually, his son did.

Dan Greene, U-32 Librarian, follows the same philosophy, offering as much choice as possible to high school readers. He has a limited budget so not everything that's requested gets on the 'to purchase' list. Still, he is okay with buying something like a sports book about an athlete who is popular today but won't be in a few years, because for the time that the book is relevant, it will be flying off his shelves.

Another reason to bring in popular books is to support reading as a social activity. Kids will read books all their friends are talking about. Plus, they'll read together. Duncan emphasizes parents reading with kids at home, and that reading out loud can continue in the school. Educators in the room on Saturday confirmed that even high school students enjoy opportunities to read out loud, either sharing a book together (particularly a humorous book) or agreeing on a class book for the teacher to read.

Being able to discuss a story with friends is what got Derek Cote into reading. He'd never been an enthusiastic reader, but when the 5th Harry Potter movie came out and his parents wouldn't let him go see it, he asked his brother to lend him the book instead. His brother agreed - on the condition that Derek begin with reading the first four books in the series. 

Derek was in fourth grade when he started Harry Potter. That year, something clicked that hadn't with all the previous school-assigned reading - reading tells a story, just like a movie does. And, just like a movie, Derek has trouble stopping partway through. In fact, he has so much trouble setting down a book that one day in elementary school the school spent hours searching for him while he was tucked away in a corner of the library, finishing a book with no idea of how much time had passed.

Once Derek figured out that reading can be fun, he began to branch out in his reading material. He also began to think of himself as one of the smart kids. He'd always linked reading with being smart, and when he became a serious reader, he had the confidence to succeed in all his classes.

Duncan and Dan both see this pattern repeating itself. Kids find things to read that they enjoy. They branch out to reading more things and reading becomes part of their daily life. They feel more confident in their ability to understand all sorts of text, from history to science, and to succeed in the classroom. Their overall school performance improves dramatically. Sometimes, it all starts with a comic book. Or Harry Potter. Or a book of giant shark attacks.

Duncan, Dan, Derek and the audience shared a lot of great ideas at Saturday's talk. You can find out more at the following links:
Do you want to receive occasional e-mails with events and resources for educators from Bear Pond Books? E-mail helen.labun.jordan @ with SUBSCRIBE in the subject line. 

List of Tips, Strategies & Resources from Boys & Books Talk

Some ideas from Duncan McDougall (Children's Literacy Foundation - CLiF), Dan Greene (U-32 Librarian) and Derek Cote (U-32 Sophomore) for inspiring boys to love reading:

Follow the reader's interests, not what they "should" read
  • Let kids choose the books they want to read - and know that it's okay to put down a book if it just isn't working for them.
  • Link books to other interests - someone might not like "reading" but they have other interests that books are written about. Popular examples include hunting, sports, racing (cars, motorcycles, etc.), games and the book versions of popular movies or T.V. shows.
  • Following reader's interests may also mean reading that isn't in traditional book form - graphic novels, comics, and books on CD all introduce kids to the engaging ideas found in books.  
  • Don't get stuck on reading up to a certain grade level. It's important to stretch as a reader's confidence grows, but not too far. 
Make reading a social activity
  • Read with your kids, read with your teenagers, read with your students, read with your friends. Reading out loud and reading as a social activity is important. 
  • Even if you aren't a strong reader, you can still share reading. CLiF offers workshops on how parents can engage in reading with their children even if they aren't strong readers themselves.
Make it easy to find books
  • Make books easily available at home, in the car, in the classroom, everywhere a kid goes. 
  • Get a library card and use it (shopping at your local independent bookstore is nice too).
  • Look for books in series, if the first one works there will be many more to follow it up with.
  • Encourage kids to get book recommendations from parents, librarians and (perhaps most importantly) their friends. 
Think about the purpose of a book
  • Does everyone in the class have to read the same book? Sometimes they do, sometimes reading can be tailored to ability and interest.
  • Is a book assigned because it has a pivotal story students need to learn, or is it assigned to build vocabulary, skills and reading confidence? 
  • Does the book need to have plot development, character development, a long story arc? Or is it okay to read something like nonfiction that's broken into discrete chunks, where a reader can learn a new fact or interesting idea in a single, short reading session?
A few other thoughts. . .
  • Although we're not supposed to judge a book by its cover, covers do matter. Books that look cool have a better chance.
  • Tailoring to an individual reader is ideal, but there are also clear trends you can follow. Right now, for example, many boys are interested in zombies and "the various blood sucking creatures of the night".  Librarians know what's popular.
  • See the links at the end of our Boys & Books post for even more resources.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Boys & Books - January 18th, 11 am

Teaching reading isn't just about the words on the page, but also the pleasure of books. Authors speaking at Bear Pond have all talked about the link between love of reading and love of learning - starting with the earliest picture books.

But what happens when that spark doesn't take? Or when interest in reading wanes over time - sometimes dramatically? The number of hours spent on pleasure reading declines generally as kids grow older and declines significantly more for boys than girls (see our 2014 Preview post for articles on this trend).

Pleasure reading isn't simply a nice idea. New studies are showing its importance, including one this fall that found pleasure reading to be a significant predictor of school performance, even more so than parents' level of education, as reported in the CLiF blog. As we've heard from earlier Bear Pond speakers, the curiosity to explore the books and stories around us is the same sort of curiosity to research history or experiment with science or play with numbers in math.

Our guests on January 18th will lead a discussion about how to engage boys who are reluctant readers in trying more books, and expanding the range and complexity of their reading. Dan Greene is the U-32 high school librarian and Duncan McDougall is the Executive Director of the Children's Literacy Foundation (CLiF). Their ideas and strategies come from years of working directly with children and teens in Vermont. 

There are lots of possibilities to connect kids with reading for enjoyment. There's the art of choosing the right books for a particular reader's interest. There's putting stories in a larger context beyond the book and giving readers hands-on experiences to tie to what's on the page, as described in this CliF post on Reptiles, Mushers and a Gecko Named Lizzie. There's also the question of how adults talk about reading - for great insight on that topic from a younger reader, check out the CLiF column Close to the Source by Nina Cavender (particularly her post "How To Keep Pleasure Reading From Feeling Like Homework")

On January 18th we'll share lots of other tips, book recommendations, and lessons learned - so come out to the store at 11:00 am to hear what others have to say and add your own recommendations. This discussion will be useful to educators and parents. As always, it's free, open to the public and comes with a snack. There will be a 20% discount on books purchased at the event.

For more articles on this subject, check out our 2014 Preview post.

This talk is part of a yearlong series of author-educator talks at Bear Pond Books - see the full schedule here. Certificates are available for educators who can use these workshops as part of continuing education credits. 

JANUARY 16TH EVENT: It's not part of our educators series specifically, but it's still exciting - young adult author A.S. King is coming to the store at 6:00 pm on January 16th. Read more about it under the Bear Pond Books events page