June 18, 2011

Book Review: Pam Allyn's Best Books for Boys

School is out, but the learning never stops for teachers!  I have several professional development books on my radar for summer, but was excited to have the opportunity to read and review this excellent new book by Pam Allyn:

I am ALWAYS looking for ways to grow in my literacy instruction, and Pam Allyn's Best Books for Boys: How to Engage Boys in Reading in Ways That Will Change Their Lives did not disappoint.  Allyn begins the book by drawing attention to a glaring problem in our nation; this being that, more than ever, boys are both dropping out of school and ending up in prison at significantly higher rates than girls.  Could these problems be traced back to reading and literacy?  It certainly seems like it.  Allyn shares statistics about how girls tend to outperform boys on standardized testing, and boys overall report a more negative attitude towards reading and writing than girls.  For example, Allyn cites Scholastic’s 2010 Kids and Family Reading Report that “only 39 percent of boys say reading books for fun is extremely or very important versys 62 percent of girls” (page 7).  I don’t know about you, but I’d say that there is definitely a problem here, and it’s one that educators have the power to help solve at least in part.

Allyn outlines her ideas for fostering a love of literacy in male students using the acronym READ: Ritual, Environment, Access, Dialogue.  This model echoes some of my favorite literacy “role models” like Regie Routman and the “Sisters,” while at the same time sparking new ideas for how to make boys specifically fall in love with reading.  Allyn urges educators to create daily reading rituals, while encouraging boys (and girls!) to read in environments that are comfortable for them.  For example, if Bobby needs to stand up and rock side to side when he reads because sitting still just doesn’t work for him, let him!  Reading is reading!  Allyn encourages teachers to incorporate choice into reading as much as possible.  She takes choice to a new level, though, encouraging teachers to help students see that newspapers, instruction manuals, sports stats, and web pages are all text that we can offer as options to our students.  In the past, I’ve tried to steer my students (usually boys) AWAY from comics and graphic novels during the literacy block, but Allyn has definitely influenced my views.  It is counterproductive (and just ridiculous) for me to STOP a child who is happily reading!  What was I thinking before?! 

Moreover, Allyn reminds teachers that boys may not be as interested in reading solitarily as they might be in discussing a book with their peers.  This was definitely an “aha!” moment for me.  Earlier this week when I was at the beach with my head buried in a good book, I kept stopping my reading to share interesting fact or another from the book with those accompanying me.  I couldn't help myself; so many things in my book were too fascinating NOT to share with someone!  If this type of behavior is our natural instinct as readers, why then do we insist that our students not dialogue with peers while reading?  While there are times during the literacy block that should be kept as silent as possible, why not incorporate book buddy journals or pen pals to allow students to share their thoughts on the books they’re reading?  What a great way to celebrate reading and encourage our students to react to text in AUTHENTIC ways.

Perhaps my biggest "aha!" moment occurred after I read Allyn's description of a memorable encounter she observed in another teacher’s classroom (pg. 9).  Allyn tells about a young boy who loved a particular series of books, having read it in its entirety.  One day, this boy excitedly approached his teacher to show her that he’d discovered a complete anthology of the beloved series.  Instead of sharing in the boy's excitement, Allyn recounts that his teacher responded by saying, "Sammy, you've already read these books!  Choose something else."  Oh my goodness.  How often this past year did I tell kids, "NO, you can't read Diary of a Wimpy Kid again!  Choose something new!!!"  Allyn is completely right that fostering a love of literacy and confidence in reading should be our primary goal as educators.  And what better way to do this than by allowing students to reread their favorite books, not only building comprehension and fluency, but building that oh so important passion for reading?  Haven't I read Harry Potter and The Hunger Games (and, okay, Twilight...) more times than I care to admit?  Does that make me a bad reader?  This is a mistake I definitely won’t make again with ANY of my students, not just my boys!

Allyn challenged me to rethink some of my ideas about teaching literacy, especially to boys.  The philosophy in the first parts of the book will be something I read again to refresh my memory as the school year starts, but just as valuable is the second big chunk of the book: a detailed annotated bibliography of book suggestions for boys, some of which include helpful “Talk About It” questions.  Gold mine!  If you are a teacher or parent, definitely add Best Books for Boys to your summer reading list!

Disclaimer: I was not compensated for this review.  All thoughts and opinions are my own.  :)

1 comment:

  1. I'm glad to have read this review because I saw someone else mention this book earlier and was wanting to check it out.

    Over the last couple of years teaching older students (4th and 5th graders), I have had a lot of criticism from other colleagues about "just" letting the boys read graphic novels and/or the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books....but I figured, if they were going to READ, I don't care WHAT they read (I've even been known to tell kiddos to read a CEREAL BOX if it means they're reading!).

    It sounds like a lot of what Pam Allyn is saying aligns with how I think about instilling a love of literacy for my boys. My first year of teaching, a few of my boys introduced ME to the new graphic novel version of the Nancy Drew books. I couldn't believe these BOYS were so into what was always seen as a "girl series", but when they showed me the graphic novel feature, I understood why. It was in graphic form that kept their attention and it helped that the stories actually had plots that kept their attention too.


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