Researchers and educators blame the gap between books and boys on everything from a built-in fidgetiness to low expectations to a lifelong association of reading with their mothers, teachers, librarians — all female role models.
But now more are suggesting that the problem may not lie entirely within the boys themselves. Some educators believe that the way schools teach reading tends to favor girls, both in terms of teaching style and reading materials chosen. It’s a concern that has pushed teachers to work harder to both find materials that boys like to read, and to find more “boy-friendly” ways to present that material.
“Boys have a more tactile, ‘hands-on’ learning style,” and they favor subject matter which reflects that, says Linda Milliken, reading specialist at Chester County Intermediate Unit near Philadelphia. “They like lots of nature topics — bugs, dinosaurs, how things work,” she explains. “They like to identify with a character who has his life in control.”
What they may not like is the problem-focused reading popular with many teachers today — stories about divorce, abuse, single-parenthood, addiction, and such.
Girl readers are generally drawn to narratives that focus on relationships between people, while boys tend to prefer adventure, science fiction, war stories, history, and, of course, sports. —Mary Beth McCauley —How to Get Boys to Sit Down with a Book (ABC News)
My son (age seven) recently selected a series of books on the elements (Oxygen, Carbon, Nitrogen… we even tracked down Magnesium) for me to read to him at bedtime. We’re working our way through another series of books on Energy of the Future (we finished Biofuel of the Future the other day, and we’re on Solar Power of the Future now.
The men in my American Lit course generally liked The Great Gatsby and James McBride’s Miracle at St. Anna, though one student who has called herself a literary snob spoke out against both works. But some of the female students who didn’t get into the heavier literary works also liked McBride, so clearly gender is only one factor in a complex equation.
As for gender differences in literary styles, see this great spoof of a tandem writing assignment, an e-mail that has been passed around for years.