Helping Boys to Read
There is much discussion about the need to do more to help boys to read. It is well known that boys are slower readers than girls and later to start reading for pleasure, and it is the opinion of experts that the beginning of self-motivated reading out of interest is the break-through point in education, irrespective of the reader’s career aspirations. Reading is the essential tool for all courses of higher education. Complete fluency with lack of conscious effort is only achieved after many hours with books that capture the imagination. The challenge to teachers, authors and parents is how to generate the fascination to motivate that first stumble into a jungle full of long words and unfamiliar expressions, with the incentive to press on to the end no matter how many times the progress is interrupted.
Young people in the twenty-first century spend hours looking at screens on a variety of electronic devices from computers to mobile telephones. It is playing games that captures the young imagination and at first these involve only pictures and patterns. However, observant parents have reported that their children reach a point where they notice that there is writing on the screen, and that if this could be interpreted, the game would become even more enjoyable. Here is motivation for reading arising from the technology that some fear is rendering obsolete the traditional paper book, but gathering information from the Internet, receiving or sending emails or texts, and a hundred other things can only be done with an attained fluency in reading and writing. The technology has challenged the dominance of the printed word but it has not yet eliminated the need for literacy.
The computer and other electronic devices might stimulate an interest in learning to read but it is doubtful if they can yet be the sole medium for teaching the skill. Books can be read on computer screens and kindle readers, but many adult readers still prefer printed books and many parents and teachers still prefer to use books in helping children to read. Nothing electronic can rival the beauty of children’s first picture books and looking at them with a parent is the natural path into reading. The experts still maintain the importance of the picture book and recommend that all children’s books should have pictures even when the text comes to dominate.
Most children have happy memories of a parent, aunt or uncle, reading aloud to them when they were young, and this shared activity often occurred at bedtime. There is no doubt that the gentlest entry into the world of the written word comes from first sharing a picture book with a parent, being read to, and gradually engaging more and more in deciphering those strange symbols that represent speech. And the more exciting and funny the pictures and stories, the greater the curiosity that draws the young reader onwards to the point where both pictures and parents become redundant.