Comic heroes could deliver knock-out blow to the boys who shun books

13th August 2010 at 01:00

Spiderman, spiderman, he can teach boys how to scan.

Teachers should call on the masked blue-and-red superhero and other comic-book characters to help solve one of the mysteries of literacy, why boys lag behind girls, new educational research has concluded.

Comics have "untapped potential" when it comes to addressing the gender gap, and have been overlooked by some teachers who fear that boys engrossed in them are wasting their time, it says.

The study - a meta-analysis of a series of research projects from around the world for the Canadian Council on Learning (CCL) - found that boys who read comic books regularly also tend to read more text-based material and report higher levels of overall enjoyment in reading. It adds that the pictures can also help readers develop visual literacy.

The report, More Than Just Funny Books, also concludes that comics act as a "gateway" to other genres and help young people make the transition between the way they chat to each other, and writing formal English.

It cites a 2002 study which found comics are the second most popular reading choice for boys - after newspapers and magazines - with 75 per cent of boys reading them.

"Yet despite their popularity with young male readers, comic books are still considered unsuitable reading material by many educators and are often associated with poor quality, cheapness and disposability," states the study.

Dr Paul Cappon, president and chief executive of the CCL, said: "Considering the evidence, it is time that educators and parents embraced comics as a positive teaching and learning tool."

Test results for 11-year-olds out this week found that while 85 per cent of girls reached the expected level in English, only 76 per cent of boys did.

Ian McNeilly, director of the National Association for the Teaching of English, said: "Comics are an incredibly rich, valuable genre in their own right. I used to absolutely devour them.

"They are probably the reason why I do this job, because as a boy I went to the library and read all the Asterix and Tintin books. Thanks to my dad I had a subscription to The Beano, The Dandy and Whizzer and Chips. They did me an untold amount of good. For boys, comics are accessible and entertaining.

"Reading 'pow' and 'kapow', you could argue it prepares boys for onomatopoeia in GCSE poetry. But reading is about enjoyment. For that, comics are incredibly valuable."

Anthony Browne, children's laureate, has been using his laureateship to campaign for picture books of all sorts to be valued, rather than seen as something to grow out of.

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