Snakes, Snails, and Puppy Dog Tails

We all know the nursery rhyme that suggests boys are made from unpleasant things like snakes, snails and puppy dog tails while girls are made from pleasant things like sugar and spice. The nursery rhyme, aside from the teasing, points out that boys and girls are different.

Gender differences, specifically in the context of a learning environment, have always been of interest to me, especially after having one class of eleventh graders where 17 of the 23, or 74%, were male.

A book I wish I’d read prior to teaching these boys is Reading Don’t Fix No Chevy’s: Literacy in the Lives of Young Boys (Smith & Wilheim, 2002). Consider some of the big ideas I pulled from this professional text.

1) Boys like to collect things and tend to like to collect series of books like Goosebumps and Harry Potter. Consider placing series from a variety of genres in your classroom library or having the librarian do a book talk for your students about the available ones in the library.

2) Boys tend to resist reading stories about girls, whereas girls do not tend to resist reading stories about boys. Consider finding a balance between texts about girls, texts about boys, and texts about both sexes.

3) The appearance of a book cover is important to boys. One way to get a boy interested in reading is by carefully selecting a book edition that has a stimulating cover. Consider how you could guide students in making predictions and inferences from book covers.

4) Boys prefer readings that provide immediate and clear feedback. A male student will read informational texts, such as magazines or newspapers, to address an immediate interest or need. A boy will read a video game magazine to learn secret codes, and then immediately use that information in the context of a game. Consider how an interest inventory would help you with text selections.

5) Boys like to read texts with game-like structures. The popular Choose Your Own Adventure series by Bantam Books fits into this genre. Consider what other game-like structured texts are available and make them available in your classroom library.

6) Boys like service projects during a learning experience. Consider having students engage in projects where they are using text to rebuild, repair, construct, or remodel. Next time you have a boxed item like a piece of furniture or toy, bring it in and have your students read the instructions and then assemble it.

7) Boys are influenced by frienships, family, and significant others when selecting text. Consider giving them opportunity to hear what others are reading in a more engaging format from the traditional book review. Consider a Real Men Read campaign where male teachers promote a favorite book.

8 ) Boys become invested in text when they develop relationships with the characters. Consider young males highly interested in sports. They watch the sports and keep track of losses, wins, stats, and also of the athletes on a personal level. They are reading about them in sports magazines, watching stories about them on sports television, trading them in the form of cards, picking them as characters on video games…the list goes on and on. It’s kind of like a soap-opera world for boys as they watch players’ stories unfold. Consider if the texts you are selecting have characters with which the boys will develop relationships.

9) Boys prefer the classroom to look like a lab. Consider having stations in your classroom where students are up and moving every 10-15 minutes and working collaboratively to solve problems.

10) Boys prefer exportable texts. These are texts that boys can easily export into conversation. A boy will read the financial section of a newspaper to gain information about the stock market and translate the information into talking points in conversation with those around him who share this interest. Consider the use of the interest inventory to identify exportable texts and also as insight to engage in conversation with your male students.

This book was insightful to what boys really are made up of as readers. The above list makes up only 10 of the many points I gained. It’s a valuable research based compilation of insight for parents of sons and teachers of boys. Not only does it provide the research to support boys and girls learn differently, it provides suggestions to how to address these differences.

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