Let the Boys Write!

 
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So, I’m deeping involved in reading a wonderful book called Boy Writers: Reclaiming Their Voices,  by Ralph Fletcher, which in moving toward closing the gender gap that exists between boys and girls in literacy and writing, examines ways in which we can “create writing classrooms that are friendlier to boys.”  And, I just spent all day Saturday at a Yugioh Card Sneak peek where about forty or fifty tween and teenage boys (this time, not a single girl ) competed in duels and tournaments and trades.  Finally, I am pretty well steeped in the world of boy’s literacy.  And what I’ve come to believe that there isn’t really a boys literacy crisis as opposed to a girls literacy success (there may be a literacy crisis in general, but that is another topic for another day, or year, or lifetime)–if one is willing to change one’s definition of what constitutes literate behavior.  Literacy for (many) boys =

Text heavy Video Games and Card Games:

  Just look at a Yugioh Card. 
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Pretty text heavy for a playing card.  Check out the volumes of text heavy gaming guides which my kids literally memorize, like this one:
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Finally, consider the games themselves, with words and dialogue constantly flashing across the screen.
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Manga  (or, Comics for the 21st Century)
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According to Fletcher, to boys, drawing and writing go hand in hand.  Statistically, they are much more likely to want to illustrate something they’ve written and spend a lot of time on those illustrations (creating detail, etc.) than girls.  Hence their love of manga, graphic novels and comics.  So, I say, let them read comics.  Let them love reading comics.  I read unevenly at that age: Betty and Veronica, Valerie Sherwood (!), and so on.  Just let them love reading.  If they want to write comics, let them write comics.

FanFiction
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Boys, just like girls, have their obsessions.  Fanfictions, fan written stories that continue the lives of their favorite characters, feed those obsessions, in relatively healthy ways.  My son literally consumes fanfiction.  He even follows day to day installments from particular writers.  There are some he likes better than others.  He’s learning what makes engaging writing and what doesn’t.  It’s only a matter of time before he starts wanting to write some of his own. 

These Yugioh sneak peek events are quite a sight.  You’d think they’d be total geek fests (and I use that term lovingly, as only a mother could), but they aren’t.  There’s quite a range of kids here, and while I don’t see a lot of athletes (who are probably out playing a game somewhere) I see all kinds of others–from the geeks that do hold down the fort, to preps, hipsters.  It’s actually pretty encouraging, because let me tell you–I may not know much about the finer points of Yugioh, but I know it really exercises the gray matter.  Nothing like a room full of people strategizing, doing mental math at lightning speed, to prove that learning doesn’t always happen in a classroom.

What I’m trying to say, I suppose, here, in echoing a lot of what Fletcher argues,  is that in order to encourage boys (and all children whose literacy interests diverge from the classroom norm) to stay engaged in the world of words, we need to expand our definition of literacy and the ways that we, as teachers, recognize it.  Let boys read and write out of some of their obsessions, whether that means sports stories or Pokemon escapades, even if they don’t fit our “traditional” ideas of text.  No learner who is deeply engaged in his subject is ever lost.  But a disengaged learner is.

 

Bye y’all,

SV

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “Let the Boys Write!

  1. Exactly. I remember a long time ago giving a 10th grade class of unruly country boys stacks of hunting and fishing magazines chock full of adventurous stories, then moving on to some of Hemingway’s stories. They couldn’t wait to write their own pieces and they had a lot to say. The boys just didn’t think any of this was REAL reading or writing. A few teachers down the hall didn’t think it was, either.

    But it was.

    I think when we’re talking about boys or girls and literacy, we’re really talking subject matter. Everyone has a story to tell.

  2. Ralph Fletcher

    Stephanie,

    Thanks for your wise posting, and your mention of my book. It’s a fascinating subject! I keep learning more and more… Anyway, I appreciate your reaching out to “the other” and appreciating boys’ sensibility. They do bring lots of passion and intelligence to the table but, alas, that often does not get recognized or appreciated in school.
    I’ve got an instructional video on this topic coming out in the fall–Dude, Listen To This! (Stenhouse)
    Thanks again!
    Ralph

  3. Cindi

    Hello! It is like the girls with Science and Math. Thanks for the informative article. Cindi

  4. Benjamin

    All this was known decades ago. Boys like adventure stuff. It has been with the advent of the girl friendly classroom where the reading material is less adventuristic and more social minded that things have turned on boys. I remember reading a piece maybe twenty years ago about how boys like to read adventure stories ans such and how girls just like to read. Are we really surprised with the result that we see now. Isn’t it just tiring seeing the most obvious restated. Stuff that was known decades ago had to be rediscovered. Makes you think that the last thirty years have been a type of “Dark Age” — well at least for boys.

  5. Benjamin

    Another interesting point in your article above. You mention that in order to encourage boys (and others whose interest diverge from the classroom norm)….

    Since when should the classroom norm be determined by only 50% of the class (girls) ?

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