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Reading matter for the boys

There has recently been an upsurge of interest in the poor performance of boys at secondary level, especially in English. Are boys really less literate and what do we understand by "literacy"? Do we mean the reading of narrative fiction as a pleasurable pastime or the ability to read, understand and analyse a variety of texts across the curriculum?

The reader-centred method of handling literature which is most frequently adopted by English teachers today lays emphasis on a personal, autobiographical response. Boys tend to find talking about their emotions the antithesis of being "cool". One way of encouraging boys to take a more active part in lessons on English literature would be to present it in a more challenging way, by placing more value on the importance of actual language, genre analysis and the intentions of the author and less on personal response.

Conversations held with boys in my own class (a city comprehensive, Year 10) have shown that boys do read, although they often do not regard their reading as such. Many of them spend a considerable time reading computer manuals, sports magazines, car and motorbike magazines, newspapers and even financial magazines. It is possible that although educationists and parents, especially literate mothers, have a negative attitude towards their reading, boys are, in fact, with respect to getting on in the world, still at an advantage. Their reading preferences tend to prepare them for a high-powered, technological and marketing economy in which they will continue to play the leading role. Therefore, at the same time as encouraging boys to become more interested in literature, girls should be motivated to read more technological, political and factual material.


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