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How boys protect their image

The latest reports examined by Reva Klein

Boys who lag behind with their reading are more prone to low self-esteem than girls. While girls will compensate for weak reading skills by reading undemanding fiction, boys are far more self-conscious about how they will appear to others. Being given books by their teachers that mark them out to peers as poor readers can be the last straw for boys, leading them to opt out of reading altogether. Girls, on the other hand, are more amenable to teachers' judgements about their reading abilities.

To avoid judgments being made about their reading proficiency, boys tend to turn to non-fiction, such as magazines and fact-based books on subjects of interest to them. Aided by illustrations and fmiliar content, they're able to maintain their status and save face among peers by appearing to understand what they are reading.

But the author of a research project funded by the Economic and Social Research Council warns that teachers should not be tempted to offer non-fiction to boys who are weak readers in order to make them feel better, as this won't solve their problems. Instead, the culture of boys' achievement in school needs to be addressed. One approach is to raise the status of reading for boys by encouraging them to share books they enjoy with each other.

Report of the Fact and Fiction project led by Dr Gemma Moss, University of Southampton's Research and Graduate School of Education. Tel: 023 8059 5457

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