Parents can suggest the following to their son’s teacher, or encourage their son to do so:
1) Read aloud to the class more; assign less silent reading.
2) Let boys dramatize their reading and writing more.
3) Give them more breaks to physically move around.
4) Do less nagging about squirming and talking.
5) Set up more buddy projects such as reading or writing with a partner, even though this may require more supervision.
6) Allow alternatives to book reports and journaling—for example, dramatization, drawing and crafts.
7) Stock the school library with more boy-friendly books*; give boys greater choice in book selection.
8) Appeal to boys’ love of competition.
9) Learn how to encourage their self-esteem: Give positive feedback on character qualities (for example, honesty, respect and enthusiasm) rather than merely on performance.
10) Avoid voice tones that don’t work with boys. For example, instead of barking, “Sit down, be quiet, get to work,” use “I’ll be glad to listen to your questions when you are sitting down and using a calm voice.”
11) Role model reading. How can teachers instil a love of reading if they aren’t reading themselves? (Sadly, teachers on average read no more than the general population. In one study, 51.5 percent of pre-service teachers were unenthusiastic about reading.)
12) Use more humor and tolerate more humor.
13) Consider getting involved in the “Drop Everything and Read” program (dropeverythingandread.com), a special reading celebration to remind and encourage schools and families to make reading together on a daily basis a priority.
Sommers in The War Against Boys tells of a mother who was shocked to learn that one of her sons had been punished for running during recess and later almost suspended after jumping over a bench. The principal told her, “He knows that jumping over benches is against the rules, so this constitutes defiance.”
Is “normal youthful male exuberance becoming unacceptable in more and more schools?” Sommers wonders.
Then there’s what’s happening in the classroom. “As long as education involves the teacher talking and the student listening, then school is set up for girls, who find it easier to listen than boys,” say Liz Knowles and Martha Smith in Boys and Literacy.
Can we as parents explain this respectfully to our son’s teacher, requesting more breaks and more variety in activities?
Unfortunately, parents have little control over what textbooks their kids’ teachers are using. They might be surprised to know that teachers don’t have much control either; it’s dictated by school boards. This is despite the fact that by some estimates, eighty-five percent of students can’t read their textbooks independently and teachers often know it. That puts the onus on parents to encourage their kids, help them with their homework (without actually doing it for them) or hire tutors. One tip: help kids find easier books on the same topic in the library to supplement assigned textbooks. There is also the option of becoming an activist at the school board on a state or federal level to ensure more appropriate textbooks, and speaking out against curricula overly driven by test scores.
Of course, the best school support is mom or dad. Yes, you are the best positioned to empower your child to learn to love reading, especially by ensuring reading choice. You more than teachers can give your kids permission to choose their own books.
*such as those by me! 🙂 Pam Withers
Excerpted from Jump-Starting Boys: Help Your Reluctant Learner Find Success in School and Life, by Pam Withers and Cynthia Gill (Viva Editions). All references (footnotes) contained in the book.