Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Why Won't Boys Read?

Richard Whitmire has a great post about boys and reading on Why Boys Fail.

Basically, he says video games and peer pressure are not the cause of boys’ poor reading skills. Poor teaching is.

I think he’s onto something.

I don’t mean to imply that teachers are bad, or even that the sole responsibility for educating a boy should lie with schools and teachers. Most teachers are dedicated, compassionate individuals who put a lot of time and energy into helping their students. And clearly, family environment has a lot to do with reading skill. If a boy grows up in a home with books and parents who read, he has a lot better chance of reading later in life than a boy from a house devoid of books.


Too many teachers are unaware of the biological differences between boys and girls, real differences that affect how boys (and girls) process information and learn. Too many teachers are tied to reading lists and lessons that ignore the fact that boys prefer non-fiction books or action adventures. Too many teachers fail to relate reading to boys’ real lives. Most boys I know would rather work their way through a video game manual than The Secret Garden.

Boys, Whitmire says, don’t lack reading skills, "because the power of World of Warcraft sucks away their academic interests. Parents, your boys got lost in school because teachers failed to engage them. Then they turned to World of Warcraft."

What do you think? Are schools, teachers, parents or society to blame for boys’ poor reading skills?


  1. You left a comment on my Mommy Perks VIP Blog so I popped over here and low and behold I see this post :-) I JUST posted the other day about this on my PCS fan page. I have a background in education, nanny work, special needs and...reading/literacy/freelance. I often tell people not to limit what boys read. If they want to read about boogers or worms or pirates or 'save the world' stories - LET THEM. Make it fun and make it personalized and chances are, they will be more inclined to enjoy books and stories. If you make them choose from a list that caters to girls (or even to the 'norm' for that matter), they will resent reading.

    Take your boys to the library (if possible) and allow them to select what they WANT to read. Make it fun for them and give them some of the control and power over what they select. It really does help!

  2. A couple points:

    My boys don't read all that much. But they always score in the upper percentiles in aptitude testing.

    Next: My son, Adam, got in trouble at school with a playground monitor. In the principal's office he said the playground monitor was a "misanthrope". When asked by the principal if he knew what that word meant, he provided the correct definition. The principal was impressed (while suppressing it because she was trying to discipline him.)

    Adam learned the word, "misanthrope", from a "Captian Underpants" book. The Captain Underpants books used teacher names like, Miss Anthrope, and Mister Meaner, etc.

    The point, if there is one, is that I agree with Shara. Let the boys read what they want, what interests them. At least they are reading.

    I don't think that anyone is necessarily "to blame" for boys' poor reading skills. But I do think the parents are ultimately responsible for fostering a love of reading in their children.

    I am an avid reader as is my wife. I was an early reader and I scored high in reading aptitude at a young age. But I did not become an avid reader until I was a teen.

  3. Great comments!

    Nate, I'm laughing at your story. Think of all the boring tests given in school to test reading comprehension and vocabulary -- and your son demonstrated that he's doing just fine out on the playground!

    Question: you said you didn't become an avid reader until you were a teen, and I've heard other boys/men say that as well. How does that work? I was always an avid reader, so I can't imagine going from being not interested to taking to it in my teens.

  4. Actually, I was an early reader as I said. I remember zooming through the reading program we had. After that, I just lost interest for awhile.

    Around 5th grade our teacher, Mrs. Mester, had us read, "The Hobbit". I think that kicked off a streak of reading that lasted awhile. Then I lost interest in reading again.

    I picked up again around 8th or 9th grade. My sister was always reading and I started with Stephen King books and Clive Barker, etc.

    It's really been an on and off thing for me all my life. Now, I'm lucky if I get time to really sit and read a book.

    My daughter, Natalie, was absolutly voracious in her reading last school year. She hasn't picked up a book at all this summer.

    I think finding an author or subject matter that really grabs you plays a large part as well.

  5. Thanks, Nate. I agree that finding books that hook you (or your sons) is absolutely key. Which reminds me...we started reading The Hobbit out loud a year or so ago, and then abandoned it. Time to pick that one up again!

  6. My five-year-old is not indepedently reading, but he loves being read to and asks me and my husband to read to him all the time. He asks how words are spelled and can read several sight words when prompted. Because we homeschool him, there is no pressure for him read independently by a certain age. I think this type of pressure can dampen a child's enthusiam for reading.

  7. Nervous Girl,
    Thanks for visiting my blog. I agree with you, about pressure. I'd much rather have reading be a joyous experience and let each child approach it at his own pace. The minute the enjoyment goes out of it, so too does their desire to read.

  8. I didn't become an avid reader until I was about 30. Not surprisingly, I read non-fiction almost exclusively. And I'm a girl. :-)

  9. Parents and teachers should play a board game called Er-u-di-tion that incorporates both sight words and phonics.

    This award winning game helps children learn to read, spell and understand the most common words in the English language while playing an entertaining board game.

    Cards are categorized so children of all reading levels can play together!