Today I have the privilege of speaking to educators at the The Write to Learn Conference in Osage Beach, Missouri. Below are the digital handouts for attendees of my first session, “How to Help Reluctant Learner Boys.”


How to Help Reluctant Learner Boys

© February 2018

Pam Withers,


“Not only do reading rates decline as kids get older, but they’ve also dropped off significantly in the past 30 years. Eighteen percent of boys say they read daily, while 30% of girls do.” – Time Magazine


“Men identify themselves as nonreaders when they really mean they don’t read fiction.” – David Booth, Even Hockey Players Read


“Those who enjoy reading from an early age tend never to give up the habit. There is a close correlation between the amount that a person reads as an adult, and the extent to which they were encouraged to read at home as a child, with heavier readers tending to come from families where at least one parent was also a keen reader.” – Book Marketing Ltd. (2000)



“From the very earliest ages, when it comes time to write or read stories, students are actively discouraged from engaging in stories of aggression. It’s unacceptable to hunt or fish or fight in original stories… If we want men to read, we need to give boys stories worth reading. As it is, I think we’ve lost a generation of boys to video games and television, where they find the creative outlet that they’re hardwired to enjoy.” – author John Gilstrap


“Smartphones are causing real damage to our minds and relationships, measurable in seconds shaved off the average attention span, reduced brain power, declines in work-life balance, and hours less of family time. They have impaired our ability to remember. They make it more difficult to daydream and think creatively. They make parents ignore their children. And they are addictive, if not in the contested clinical sense, then for all intents and purposes… In the course of an average lifetime, most of us will spend about seven years immersed in our portable computers.”

Globe & Mail, January 6, 2018, A8


From a British study

  • 75% of girls read fiction compared to 66% of boys. When they become adults, this gap widens to 77% of women and 45% of men. It is from the age of 25-34 onwards that the gulf between male and female fiction readership widens, though it begins to take effect from as early as the 6-11 age band.
  • Males read fewer fiction books because they are reading fiction in other formats instead (e.g. comic/graphic), or because they are reading non-fiction. However, even taking this into account, males are less likely than females to read books.
  • Women are significantly more likely than men to read for pleasure.
  • Men are far less likely to discuss the books that they read, to recommend them and to act on recommendations. They are less inclined to trust the judgement of their peers when choosing books to read., 2000


Teens, boredom and reading

Teen-agers, attached to screens of one sort or another, read more words than they ever have in the past. But they often read scraps, excerpts, articles, parts of articles, messages, pieces of information from everywhere and from nowhere.

Sherry Turkle, in her recent book Reclaiming Conversation, has written about the loss of self that this avoidance creates and also of the peculiar boredom paradoxically produced by the act of constantly fleeing boredom.

Reading has lost its privileged status; few kids are ashamed that they’re not doing it much.

Reading frustrates their smartphone sense of being everywhere at once. Suddenly, they are stuck on that page, anchored, moored, and many are glum about it. Being unconnected makes them anxious and even angry.

[But] if the rest of us give up on book reading without a fight, we will regret it, even be ashamed as the culture hollows out. – New Yorker,


Girls are easier to read to, but…

Parents of young children born in the millenium in the U.S., the U.K., and Canada spend more time in reading and early literacy activities with their preschool daughters than sons.

This differential investment in girls over boys began in the first year of life, so girls may have received up to 500 extra hours of book-reading than boys by the time they enter school. Because we know from other research that time parents spend with their children reading books and teaching letters and words is strongly linked to children’s later reading achievement, it is likely that this differential parental investment in girls over boys goes a long way toward explaining the reading gap.

There is compelling evidence that girls have higher levels of self-control than boys from a young age, so perhaps it is simply easier for parents to read to them for longer.

Parents are not fully responsible for the gender gap in reading, but parents can go a long way toward narrowing that gap for their sons. It will take extra doses of patience and creativity to share books with a reluctant reader, but the payoff is tremendous in where it could lead your child. — Psychology Today,


“I have two adolescent sons, both of whom are excellent readers.” [One was a natural book lover; the other] “vastly preferred to play with Duplos or action figures or zoom around in his Cozy Coupe than to settle down to a shared book-reading session. Through gentle and consistent shared reading sessions, sometimes on the floor amidst the blocks, with action figures as additional characters, he has become a book lover.” — Elaine Reese Ph.D., Psychology Today,


“Parents are… reading to their kids less than ever. In 1999, children ages 2 to 7 were read to for an average of 45 minutes per day. In 2013, that number had dropped to an average of just over 30 minutes per day. The researchers also found racial disparities: 75% of white children get read to every day, while only 66% of black children do and only 50% of Hispanic children. That disparity can translate into educational differences as well. In 2013, 46% of white fourth graders were reading proficient, while only 18% of black students and 20% of Hispanic students were reading at grade level. Those trends stayed roughly the same through eighth grade.” – Time Magazine


When assessed at ages five and eleven, more boys than girls (between 12% and 6% more) are below reading standards. Two thirds of the gender gap by age 11 is due to boys’ lower levels of language and attention at age 5. Interventions targeting early language and attention have potential for improving outcomes for all children. Boys in particular will benefit. –2016 report,


Good news!

Good news from a recent study! The literacy gender-gap is shrinking, and may close for boys by the time they reach adulthood.

“Both male and female students have made gains in their National Assessment of Educational Progress scores over the years, but recently boys have made bigger gains, the report found. It is unclear whether the gap is a function of biology, cultural influences or school practices.

“The universality of the gap certainly supports the argument that it originates in biological or developmental differences between the two sexes,” the report said. “But some of the data examined above also argue against the developmental explanation… The gap has been shrinking… At age nine, it is less than half of what it was forty years ago. Biology doesn’t change that fast.” — evidence from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, the group that distributes the Programme for International Student Assessment, as reported by The Huffington Post on March 24, 2015


Tips from Michael Gurian and Kathy Stevens on integrating physical activity with reading time, which benefits boys esp.  

  • Offer reading instruction in bursts. Give shorter, highly focused reading instruction and tasks throughout the day, rather than scheduling a large block of reading time.
  • Weave in time for reading for pleasure, and allow students to walk around as they read—as long as they aren’t disturbing other students. Consider letting students talk to each other during reading time, which will give them the opportunity to share things from their reading that interest them, amaze them, or make them laugh.
  • Pair books with activities. For example, ask boys to illustrate scenes from a book as they read, or perform the story with puppets and action figures. Alternatively, follow the reading of a book with an activity based on the story.


  • Only 20 to 30% of boys like reflection as well as action in their reading. Michael Gurian, Boys and Girls Learn Differently
  • Males’ favorite fiction author: Jack London; rates only 9th/10th for women (Novels, Novelists and Readers by Mary F. Rogers)
  • The majority of teachers (75%), librarians (80%), children’s writers (85%) and children’s book editors are female (various sources, including J. Scieszka, Globe & Mail, SCBWI and CWILL member lists)
  • Literary writers & critics are predominantly male; readers overwhelmingly female; NY Times
  • In the 1930s, males & females checked out books at the same rate (Novels, Novelists and Readers by Mary F. Rogers, p. 76)
  • 22% boys, 33% girls spend at least 30 minutes per day reading (U.S. Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development)
  • Each day in the U.S., people spend 4 hours watching TV, 3 hours listening to the radio and 14 minutes reading magazines. (Source: Veronis, Suhler & Associates investment banker)
  • 33% of high school grads never read another book (the late Dan Poynter,, no longer online)
  • 42% of college graduates never read another book after college.
  • 80% of U.S. families did not buy or read a book last year.
  • 70% of U.S. adults have not been in a bookstore in the last five years.

(The last three: Jerold Jenkins,