Reading for pleasure – how can we encourage our boys?

My son is a typical boy. He has friends, enjoys playing sport and the xbox and is (most of the time) a normal eleven year old. Oh, and he never reads. I say never when really I mean he never reads for pleasure


I have never been able to get my head around this. I love reading. I’m a teacher and have taught children from 4 to 11 to read. My daughter (his twin sister) likes reading and will often sit down with a book. So what did I do wrong? Why does my son not read for pleasure?

We all know the benefits of reading for pleasure:

  • Reading attainment and writing ability;
  • Text comprehension and grammar;
  • Breadth of vocabulary;
  • Positive reading attitudes;
  • Greater self-confidence as a reader;
  • Pleasure in reading in later life;
  • General knowledge;
  • A better understanding of other cultures;
  • Community participation; and
  • A greater insight into human nature and decision-making

Research evidence based on this has illuminated some trends and statistics which (if I’m honest) are not that enlightening.

  • boys enjoy reading less than girls.
  • Evidence has found that 58% of girls enjoy reading either very much or quite a lot in comparison to 43% of boys (Clark and Douglas 2011).
  • In all countries, boys are not only less likely than girls to say that they read for enjoyment, they also have different reading habits when they do read for pleasure; with girls more likely to read fiction or magazines, and boys more likely to read newspapers or comics (OECD, 2010)

In the US, Anderson, Wilson, and Fielding (1988) investigated a broad array of activities and their relationship to reading achievement and growth in reading. They found that the amount of time children spent in independent reading was the best predictor of reading achievement and also the best predictor of the amount of gain in reading achievement made by children between second grade (aged 7 to 8) and fifth grade (aged 10 to 11).

Other influences of reading for pleasure include

  1. Having access to resources and having books of their own has an impact on children’s attainment. There is a positive relationship between the estimated number of books in the home and attainment (Clark 2011).
  2. Choice; choice and interest are highly related (Schraw et al, 1998; Clark and Phythian- Sence, 2008)
  3. Literacy-targeted rewards, such as books or book vouchers have been found to be more effective in developing reading motivation than rewards that are unrelated to the activity (Clark and Rumbold, 2006).
  4. Parents and the home environment are essential to the early teaching of reading and fostering a love of reading; children are more likely to continue to be readers in homes where books and reading are valued (Clark and Rumbold, 2006).
  5. Reading for pleasure is strongly influenced by relationships between teachers and children, and children and families (Cremin et al, 2009).

You see what I mean? There is nothing new about this. I’ve been involved in education for over 20 years and it hasn’t changed. I thought (foolishly) that I would be the difference in my children’s lives. How lucky they were to have a teacher for a mother!

How wrong I was. I tried everything `I could think of to interest my son but nothing changed (except for my hair colour which is definitely more grey!)

Personally, I have been very interested in how reading online helps as I know my son does like to gather information from the web. According to the UK government, reading for information (regardless of the source) is much less well correlated and those who reported the most frequent reading of information texts, tended to have lower attainment. I would like to see more research carried out in this area. I feel with the amount of readable knowledge available at our fingertips and the ever increasing number of ebooks that this must have a positive effect on the reading attainment of our children and one of the main reasons why my son is actually a good reader.

So was there anything I could do to make a difference?

I didn’t think so and had given up trying but then last week my son brought home a book from school. Not only did it actually make its way out of his school bag but he said he he wanted to go to bed earlier so he could finish reading this book. I nearly cried with joy. What is this magic book I hear you cry? Its “I am Malala – the girl who stood up for education and was shot by the Taliban” by Malala Yousafzai. The irony is not lost on me that this book has changed my son’s reading habit and is about rights for all children to an education.

So why this book?

When I asked my son he said he liked the fact that it was a true story and yes, there is some violence in it and shooting. But how wasn’t I able to offer him this. My son has just begun his secondary education and part of every day is spent reading in class. It happens at a different time every day so the same subject is not affected. He was also offered a choice out of selection of books geared towards children of his age. This book is actually a child version of the adult version.

This way forward in encouraging all children to read for pleasure is backed up by research. Professor Topping (Education and social research at Dundee university) said: “What you need is teachers, classroom assistants, librarians spending time with a child to talk about choices in reading; possible suggestions for more challenging books in the context of what they are interested in. We are not saying to read hundreds of classics and that everything will be all right. They need to read challenging books in a subject in which they are interested.” (Topping research)

Dirk Foch, managing director of Renaissance, which provided the software behind the Accelerated Reader programme in the UK, called for dedicated reading times at school. “We must work to ensure student literacy development continues to be followed and challenged in secondary school,” he said. “This could mean ensuring that students are guided to a more challenging selection of books at school and that dedicated reading time is introduced into the curriculum to give them allocated time to concentrate on reading thoroughly.”

It seems my son’s school was listening and as a result he is beginning to learn about reading for pleasure.

2 thoughts on “Reading for pleasure – how can we encourage our boys?

  1. Reassuring to read (especially from an experienced teacher! ) “Private Peaceful ” Michael Morpurgo (class read also) has just sparked something in my twelve year old , I think boys come to enjoy reading later than the girls but as long as they get there …. staying hopeful !

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