Guys read

This is the second post in a series to be shared over the next couple of weeks. Today’s topic: why boys don’t read. Before I give the background, make sure you read the first post, and then keep in mind that these comments are about the average boy (not the exceptions you know) and they ARE backed by research. I will post a bibliography in a concluding post.

So, why don’t boys read like we wish they would?

Simple: they’re wired differently.

Boys’ brains work differently than girls because they are hardwired differently. They react differently to stimuli than girls (think of this simple example: a desk chair is in a classroom. Who is making it come off the floor?). And maybe most importantly, boys are taught very different lessons about reading than girls are. When they’re young, reading is fun. They get story time, which allows them to be active and stimulated. The other time they’re read to they’re getting ready for bed. Reading is an activity that energizes and relaxes boys.

But when they get into school, reading is work. You can’t get up and dance and you can’t fall asleep. The way the boy brain works just doesn’t “get” this like a girl brain. So now reading is a chore – but it’s moreso when the boy is nestled between two girls in a classroom, both of the girls reading well and beyond. The boy? He’s struggling because reading is not fun now and he’s struggling because he thinks he’s dumb since Suzy and Sally are reading just fine.

Boys think in a manner we can call “rules and tools” — they want something to do and they want a way to do it (or a way to figure out how to do it). Women think in a manner that seeks information to communicate and connect. Sullivan gave the great example of a man and a woman driving and getting lost. The woman suggests asking for directions while the man pulls out the map and insists the road was supposed to be there. He doesn’t want to ask because he should be able to figure out the solution.

So when the boy sees that Suzy and Sally are reading well and he is not, he’s discouraged. He has no rules nor tools to do it here. And since the majority of teachers are female, particularly in those developmentally important years for reading, boys are taught to read in the same way girls are, but since they don’t learn that way, well, they’re stuck. Boys are trying to read for information, but they’re being taught how to read for communication.

This does not make on type of thinking better than another. It means they are different. This is what we are missing with boys and reading. We are teaching them the way we’ve learned as women — people who have always been catered to in learning reading — and we’re missing that boys learn it in just a different way.

Just to note: a girl’s brain is fully developed at 11 1/2. Boys? 14 1/2. There’s even further disadvantage for them because they’re already starting out behind, but because they aren’t being taught in a manner most advantageous to them, they’re further and further behind.

Now to complicate this information a bit more, here are some scary statistics:

  • Over the last 30 years of standardized testing, girls always outscore boys on reading
  • Boys get 1.5 years behind in reading ability and level (makes sense when you know about their brain development, right?)
  • By 11th grade, the average boy is 3 years behind in reading
  • The Sophomore Study in the U.S. found that boys read 10% less than girls…being 2.3 hours a week on average (that also doesn’t say much for girls).
  • Boys can drag girls down
  • A Kaiser Family study found that boys spend 6.5 hours in front of electronic screen … per day.
  • 35% of the entering males in the freshman class at UCLA said they don’t read
  • 23% of females in that study said they don’t read

Scary stuff, right. Well, it gets scarier:

  • 70% of the Ds and Fs earned in school are from boys
  • 80% of high school dropouts are boys
  • 80% of convicted felons are high school drop outs
  • 85% of special education students are male
  • 85-90% of those diagnosed as ADHD are male
  • 14% of all boys are coded as ADHD
  • 1 out of every 3 boys is in remedial reading by 3rd grade (recall the statistic about boys being 1.5 years behind in reading than girls)

Besides being scary, what do these things all mean?

Being a boy is a disability.

Did you see that part about 35% of UCLA freshman males say they don’t read? This is something important — remember the structured thinking aspect of boy’s brains? Well, for them, admitting failure isn’t okay. Rather, admitting they don’t do something fits with their rules and tools mindset. It’s easier for boys to say they DON’T do something vs. they CAN’T do something. Boys do read. We just need to reach out to them to get them understand they they can.

Thoughts? Comments? Share them. I promise this is my only scary post on this topic. Next installment I will discuss about where and what boys are reading, and then in a final post, I’ll give some of the links to resources from Sullivan’s fantastic program.

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  1. says

    "Boys can drag girls down" is not a statistic.

    interested in knowing more about the questions asked where boys self-reported the amount of hours they read. often times the reading boys do (think Guinness Book of World Records, Ripley's for an extreme example) doesn't add up to sustained reading and can be overlooked by survey participants or administrators. looking forward to the next post to see what boys read; my instinct tells me its non-fiction (infotainment).

  2. says

    yeah, yeah, it's not a statistic. I was copying that from my notes and didn't take it out because it fit the theme.

    The information about the boys self-reporting is from the Sophomore Study, which I believe was done in 2000 or 2002.

    And you're dead on about the non-fiction. Boys love that type of reading. I'll go into it in the next post, but boys do read as much as girls do, but they do it in short spurts vs. more sustained sessions.

  3. says

    This issue is one that teachers should seriously look into. Elementary teachers can be proactive about the issue; secondary (English) teachers can be reactive, and, perhaps, improve the situation from the back end. I've maintained that, no matter what your reading level, you will improve in your reading skill the more you do it. That's where secondary teachers can help–not by assigning more reading, but by encouraging students to read more recreationally (e.g. attending library programs–maybe for extra credit… :)). Of course, the greater potential for solving the problem lies with the elementary teachers.

    In the spring, I'm going to be taking a "Reading and Writing in the Middle and High School" course in addition to the "Adolescent Literature" one. It will be interesting to see what the class presents.

  4. says

    Amy, you'll like the next post, too. It'll address that and it'll address what parents can do that is SO SIMPLE to encourage it.
    And it'll play into my awesome program come March.

    You're dead on about extra credit, too……though that's not always a good motivator. I've noticed a trend in attendance of students in public schools vs. homeschoolers. I know you can guess who comes a lot more to programs, even though our outreach to them isn't as strong. I am curious how reading is in those families…particularly the boy/girl divide.

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