An excerpt from Pam Withers’ Jump-Starting Boys

I’m excited to share an excerpt from Pam Withers’ Jump-Starting Boys: Help Your Reluctant Learner Find Success in School and Life today.  Pam Withers is a former journalist, editor and outdoor guide who has written many sports and adventure novels for teens, including the Take-it-to-the-Extreme series. She has one son and lives with her husband in Vancouver, Canada. She is the co-founder of the youth literacy website Keenreaders and blogs at kidsliteracy.

Her latest book deals specifically with boys who are struggling in school. Below is an excerpt about boys and reading.  I think all teachers can agree that more time spent reading and more parents modeling reading will help students, both boys and girls, become more enthusiastic readers!

So What is a Reluctant Reader?

From these slumps emerge what are variously called “slow,” “struggling,” or

“reluctant” readers. And the majority of these are boys. But beware: There is no

widespread agreement on what a reluctant reader is. In fact, one sunny optimist,

Donalyn Miller, a sixth-grade teacher who wrote The Book Whisperer, says, “Lord

help the students with [those] labels.” She prefers:

developing readers: those not reading at grade level, whether due to

inadequate reading experiences or learning disabilities,

dormant readers: unmotivated, uninterested, “good enough” readers who

don’t engage with reading due to a lack of support and role models,

underground readers: gifted or beyond the average student’s level, individuals

simply uninterested in what school requires them to read.

Sticking for now with the term “reluctant reader,” we’d like to add that some

of these boys have fallen so far behind (one to two grade levels) that reading now

elicits fear and embarrassment. Perhaps they started out with the disadvantage of

speaking English as a second language (ESL). There are also “closet readers” who

prefer to read at home so they’re not seen as a reader in school. And there are kids

who slide into and out of all these descriptions.

“These categories shift and change and vary with socioeconomics and ESL

factors,” says David Ward, an assistant professor in literacy at Lewis and Clark

College in Portland, Oregon, and a children’s author. “We’ve seen a terrible crash in

wages to middle class and below, and loss of jobs. That impacts the children, home

literacy, how many books a family can buy, even affordability for getting to the

library.”

Ward says that in conversations with parents across North America, the word

he hears most is “unmotivated.” Yet when he delves deeper, he finds that half the

parents using that term have a child with a physical challenge, diagnosed or not. The

other half could benefit from putting stricter limits on their child’s television, video

game, and other media time, he notes (more on that in Chapter Seven).

Screen time is often just a symptom of a larger problem, however: parental

busy-ness, or a lack of one-on-one interaction between child and adult. In their

formative years, children desperately need the one thing that busy parents often

cannot or will not give them: time. It’s a theme well addressed in David Elkind’s The

Hurried Child.

Regardless of why a boy gets labeled a reluctant reader, determined parents

can help turn him around. If we had to boil all the advice into a sentence, it would

be: Get him reading one-on-one with someone—with you, a reading buddy, a

reading specialist, whomever—and pull out all the stops to make reading a bigger

part of his life.

Again, there’s a direct link between how much time he spends reading for

pleasure and his future achievement in life. Or, as Henry David Thoreau wrote, “How

many a man has dated a new era in his life from the reading of a book!”

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