Boys and Literacy

“Self-education is, I firmly believe, the only kind of education there is.”
Isaac Asimov

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Boys and Literacy

I first became interested in the subject of boys and literacy when I took my friend’s two sons (who were 12 and 13 at the time) to see the reincarnated version of Star Wars with all the improved special effects. Since they had only seen these movies on the small screen, they were pretty excited about seeing them on the big screen. We had just gotten past the opening scroll, in which Lucas tells all the back story that we need to know, when the younger one leans over to me and whispers “You know all those words? I didn't read any of them.”

This surprised me, because I’ve always read any text that was thrown in front of my face, and because I never knew it was possible to not read text that was thrown in front of your face. For years, I’ve always looked at text, and just instantly knew what it said, whether it was a street sign, a billboard, a newspaper, or a box of laundry detergent. Until that point in my life, I simply didn't know that not interpreting text into meaning was even an option.

At about the same time, there was a fair amount of controversy concerning the “math and science gap” between boys and girls. For a long time, it was assumed that girls didn't do as well as boys in these subjects simply because girls’ brains weren't as good at assimilating these kinds of information as boys’ brains. Of course, this isn't really true, and once educators started teaching these subjects in more “girl-friendly” ways, the test scores of girls started going up. Now, girls outperform boys in math and science at the high school level (although it's possible that the difference is statistically insignificant).

Flash forward a few years, and now we're concerned about the “literacy gap” between boys and girls. I first became aware of, and interested in, this issue while taking teaching of literature course in 2010. I created a short presentation that gave my fellow students a heads-up about some issues they could expect to run into, ways to manage those issues and, and some other resources they might find helpful. I also prepared a short PowerPoint presentation using images from Gene Luen Yang’s American Born Chinese to show how male brains approach literature and visual images, but since this was only a ten-minute presentation, I didn't have time for it. I have continued to carry out research in this area and have had the opportunity to give this talk a few times informally, and twice in a professional context.

I am available to give this talk to your group or organization. Just contact me.

“Mind the Gap: Teaching for Reading and Writing Success to the Male Brain” Presentation

I have given this talk three times, so far, and each time the content varies a bit. If you are looking to catch up on what you have missed, look below.

MCTE Bright Ideas Conference

Saturday, April 10, 2010, at Michigan State University. Sponsored by the Michigan Council of Teachers of English.

English Studies Conference

Friday, November 6, 2009, at Western Michigan University. Sponsored by Sigma Tau Delta.

  • ESC Handout — A copy of the presentation in handout form.

Boys and Literacy Discussion Forum

I have started a discussion forum for those interested in boys and literacy. Join the forum, and share your tips, techniques, what works (and what doesn't), what books your boys are reading, along with any questions or concerns you may have. Click here to access the forum.

How to Cite this Page:

  • Odle, Kenneth John. "Boys and Literacy." 11 June 2016. Web. 12 July 2024. <>