Howard Falshaw and Jean Birch bridge the gender gap
This is great. I'm going to bring my mum here on Saturday," exclaimed a Year 6 boy visiting Borders Bookshop as part of the Boys' Book Bonanza. Organised by Leeds School Effectiveness Service last year and funded by the National Year of Reading, the event was to encourage boys in key stages 2 and 3 to read more. It was part of a larger project on male literacy across all ages organised by Leeds Literacy Partnership.
Twenty-one schools participated (many more wanted to) by finding out in school what kind of books boys wanted to read. A teacher accompanied two boys from each school on a visit to Borders Bookshop in Leeds, where they had pound;220 to spend on a balanced mix of fiction and non-fiction. The books were presented to the schools at a special event at the shop, which was attended by parents, pupils and staff, and featured popular children's author Michael Hardcastle and players from Leeds United football club. The books will shortly be available for loan to all Leeds schools.
A number of schools in the project carried out detailed surveys of boys' (and girls') reading preferences before the visit, and produced reports, graphs and tables, providing pupils with a valuable opportunity to develop numeracy and ICT skills. In one school a special area was established in the library for boys' books and reading. Follow-up activities included reading incentive schemes, with certificates for pupils who reached certain targets, which were designed to encourage pupils to read a range of different types of text.
Schols can adapt some aspects of the project to encourage reluctant boy readers. The bookshop visit can be replaced by a visit to the local public library, where you do not have to spend money. Reading surveys can be carried out before a library visit, or as part of the school's process of book purchasing. Reading incentive schemes can be adapted to suit the resources of the school, and the abilities and interests of the pupils.
The boys involved in the visits welcomed the opportunity to buy non-fiction texts for school, which reflects research findings on boys' reading preferences and supports the National Literacy Strategy's emphasis on non-fiction text types. It has encouraged some schools to consider purchasing appropriate magazines on a regular basis as a way of encouraging and establishing the habit of reading, particularly among boys. Better an enthusiastic reader of non-fiction than a reluctant reader with well-developed strategies for avoiding fiction.
In many cases schools were motivated to examine the gender balance of their fiction and non-fiction resources and were sometimes surprised at what they discovered. Correcting imbalances takes time and money, but the Boys' Book Bonanza has generated an extensive list of books that appeal to boys at KS2 and early KS3.
A parting shot from one participating teacher: "Our girls want to know when there's going to be a Girls' Book Bonanza."
Jean Birch is an adviser for Leeds. Howard Falshaw, formerly an adviser, is now English and literacy co-ordinator at Normanton Freeston high school in Wakefield