Thursday, September 18, 2008

Book cascade

We got Peg Tyre's book "The Trouble with Boys" last week and have been reading it.

It's full of the statistics of boys' academic failure. According to the book, the only universities that can keep relatively close equality between the sexes in incoming freshman are the heavy sports schools and the engineering schools. Everyone else is way out of whack--with some school having trouble recruiting even two boys to every three girls.

From that book, we found reference to Ralph Fletcher's "Boy Writers: Reclaiming Their Voices". The book hits similar themes as "The Trouble with Boys" (and, in fact, that is the title of its first chapter,) but it is far more of a practical book. It is about how boys write, why they often have trouble writing, and what teachers can do to encourage boys' writing. I'm about half way through, but here are some general tips:
  1. Give boys the freedom to choose the subject or the type of writing they want to do. If they want to do a comic book, or have a "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" style to it, that's okay ("Wimpy Kid" is a series of books written in journal-style, with little sketches and thought bubbles along the way. It's a cute book and they're all the rage right now.) Give them the freedom to explore writing.

  2. If you have to do "writing to the prompt", then set aside some time to have free writing, as well.

  3. Allow boys to get away from their desks. If they want to take a notebook down to the floor or over to the corner, let them. Let them find their "room of their own."

  4. Boys love to write about violence and low humor (i.e. fart jokes.) LET THEM DO IT! According to Fletcher, many of the so-called violent stories are actually stories about boys exploring their masculinity and its unique issues: bravery, fellowship, strength, determination, honor, etc. And boys often use humor that teachers, particularly women-teachers, can't stand; but that doesn't make their work automatically bad.

  5. Pay less attention to penmanship. Boys tend to develop fine-motor-skills later than girls. When Fletcher interviewed boys to see what they hated most about writing, these were their responses:
    "For me, the hardest part of writing is that my hand hurts." (Our six-year-old boy says that one after a few lines.)

    "My hand gets sore."

    "My fingers burn."

    Teachers should judge the content and the attempt at subject and writing separately from the technically-messy handwriting. If a student is able to, get them using a keyboard.

I think my next book purchase in this book cascade will be "Misreading Masculinity: Boys, Literacy, and Popular Culture".

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