Grade 2 boys respond to boy-friendly books, but male readers have little impact on attitudes

Kindergarten teacher helping student with reading skillsOne reason some boys lack the motivation to read, researchers have speculated, is that they perceive reading to be a feminine activity. At home, it is often mothers who read to children and when children begin school their teachers are predominantly female. One Canadian study found that 24% of grade 2 boys view reading as feminine.

A new study of 69 grade 2 boys from four elementary schools in a Canadian metropolitan area concludes that boy-friendly reading materials can have an impact on boys’ attitudes towards reading. The study looked at the “complex” relationship between boys, genre of reading material and sex of the reading
model.

“Boys who listened to boy-friendly books, whether read by a male or a female research assistant, viewed reading as a less feminine activity after the treatment than before,” the study concludes, noting that “the lack of main effect of the sex of the reading model was a surprise.”

While the use of boy-friendly materials had an effect for boys who did not like reading, there was no effect for boys who view reading as a feminine activity. This resilience may mean gender knowledge is intact by age 7, the researchers conclude. Interventions might be more effective earlier in their development.

Many libraries do not provide comics, scary stories and magazines and boys are often offered books by parents, teachers and librarians that reinforce a feminized view of reading, the researchers say. While girls tend to choose books recommended by friends, family and teachers, boys are more likely to mention genre, according to a previous study.

Boy-friendly books used in the study included stories about animals, adventure stories with male protagonists, stories about natural events (volcanoes) and sports, and series such as Captain Underpants which is popular with boys.

Boy-friendly books

Researchers conducted a 10-week reading program in which boys were randomly selected into one of four reading interventions: (a) female research assistants (RAs) reading typical books; (b) male RAs reading boy-friendly books; (c) female RAs reading boy-friendly books and (d) male RAs reading typical books. Grade 2 was selected because it has been shown that gender knowledge is established by this age, the researchers say. Readers were instructed not to ask the children questions and to respond to their comments neutrally. A modified version of the Children’s Academic Intrinsic Motivation Instrument (CAIMI) was administered before and after the reading program.

Researchers looked at the impact both on the boys’ view of reading as a feminine or masculine activity and on their interest and motivation to read. The sample was divided into four subgroups of the sample based on the results of the CAIMI: (a) boys who liked reading; (b) boys who did not like reading; (c) boys who did not view reading as feminine; and (d) boys who viewed reading as feminine.

The positive news, researchers said, in light of many alarming reports of the reading crisis among boys, is that 54 of 69 boys in the study had positive intrinsic motivation towards reading. In the small group of boys who did not like reading (15), those who were exposed to boy-friendly books showed gains in interest in reading while boys who were read more typical books actually had a reduced interest in reading.

“Clearly the complexity of the relationship between boys’ views of reading, the sex of the reading model, and the genre of books is illustrated,” the researchers said.

“Boys will be Boys: Variability in Boys’ Experiences of Literacy” The Alberta Journal of Educational Research Volume 51 Number 3 Fall 2005 Pps. 216-230.

Published in ERN March 2006 Volume 19 Number 3

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