Reading

Reading and gender and the messages we send

Published by Lori Pickert on July 28, 2014 at 06:25 PM

Yes, yes, a million times yes to this:

A couple things happen when we focus all of our collective attention on boys and whether or not they are reading. First, we tell boys that they are not reading, and that reading is not an inherently “boyish” thing to do. We expect them, in fact, not to read, and boys who love reading are outside the norm. Next, we start gendering books and telling boys that they like certain kinds of books, that they are interested in humor and adventure and fun. And they specifically do not like the sort of books that help kids at this age figure out how to be in the world, and they specifically do not like literary books or hard books or emotional books. And they absolutely positively do not want to read a book starring a girl.

When we give panels on boys and reading with only (or even predominantly) male authors, we tell boys they are only supposed to like books by men. (This will be surprising to JK Rowling and Suzanne Collins.) We tell them that only men have something to say to them. When we say boys won’t read books with girl heroes, we are constructing that reality for them. (It gets troubling in all kinds of ways — the act of reading as a child is about empathy for and connection with the protagonist, and it’s quite problematic to tell boys we don’t expect they can empathize with girls.)

And in all of this, we’re telling boys that we don’t expect a lot from them. — On Gender and Boys Read Panels

The post goes on to make many more good points.

Related posts of mine on and around this subject:

[I]t’s a shame to treat reading as a sort of punishment — or something that requires a spoonful of sugar to go down, which is why I’m a curmudgeon about reading programs that bribe kids with prizes or pizza if they read. Reading isn’t punishment — reading is one of the greatest things ever. When we act this way, we are sending a clear message that reading isn’t awesome — it’s something that requires cajoling, bribery, or denial. It’s good for you, like broccoli.

But why — why?! — do we keep presenting reading as something that is incompatible with normal life? Why can’t you read and watch TV? Why can’t you enjoy playing the Wii and reading a good book?

Does it really follow that children need to be bored to read? And in order to invoke boredom — and cause children to read — we have to smash all the other entertainment options?

If we are going to put forth this idea that readers are people (and children) who sit around in horn-rimmed glasses and sweater vests, who don’t play football or Xbox, who don’t like Spongebob or Spiderman, then how are we going to convince reluctant readers that reading is one of the most awesome activities ever? — In defense of reading, which should need no defense

and

I worked for years in a school environment, and I constantly had to take kids and convert them into readers — convince them that they were wrong about hating to read, about not wanting to read, about wanting to do anything but read. When you try to promote something good (reading, playing outside) by attacking something kids love, you are seriously not helping me.

I tie this to the “books are broccoli” approach. Imagine a cartoon where a teacher is handing two parents a sheet of paper and saying, “Now, the way we introduce children to hating learning is to first get them to hate reading. So require your child to read 30 minutes every night and then fill out and initial this form.”

If you want to suck the fun out of anything that your child enjoys doing, I suggest you force them to do it for 30 minutes every night, fill out a form, and have you initial it.

What is the message there? Reading is broccoli. It’s good for you. You won’t do it unless we make you. Eat your broccoli. Read!

The kid who liked to read sees reading turned into an assigned chore. He gets the message: Reading isn’t cool, dude. It’s something no one would do if they weren’t forced to do it. And by the way, you don’t get to pick out what you read anymore. That book is too young for you; that other one is too old. And neither of them are leveled readers. Here, read this flat, melba-toasty book for a half an hour and then I’ll initial your form. Make sure you get your form signed or I’ll make you read it again. It reads or it gets the hose.

Does it ever work to encourage activity A by denouncing activity B? Books are broccoli and kids need their broccoli so that makes TV and video games candy. Sweet, delicious candy. I’m in my 40s but even I know: candy good, broccoli bad.

The either/or approach focuses on scarcity. The glass is half empty, your day is almost gone. Your free time is as scarce as hen’s teeth. Don’t waste it on things you enjoy! Invest it in these more intellectually valuable pursuits instead!

An entirely different approach would be to present books as candy, the outdoors as candy. — Why I don’t worry about my kids’ screen time, Part I

Our choices convey beliefs; we need to stop and think about whether we’re sending the messages we really want to send. Something worth thinking about.

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Losing our ability to strike a balance

Published by Lori Pickert on July 20, 2010 at 01:40 AM

According to The Shallows, a new book by technology sage Nicholas Carr, our hyperactive online habits are damaging the mental faculties we need to process and understand lengthy textual information. Round-the-clock news feeds leave us hyperlinking from one article to the next — without necessarily engaging fully with any of the content; our reading is frequently interrupted by the ping of the latest email; and we are now absorbing short bursts of words on Twitter and Facebook more regularly than longer texts.

Which all means that although, because of the internet, we have become very good at collecting a wide range of factual titbits, we are also gradually forgetting how to sit back, contemplate, and relate all these facts to each other. And so, as Carr writes, “we’re losing our ability to strike a balance between those two very different states of mind. Mentally, we’re in perpetual locomotion”.The Art of Slow Reading

Stealing the discovery away

Published by Lori Pickert on July 9, 2010 at 02:10 PM

You may want to check out a great new comment on an old post, Helping Pre-Readers Research, and my (typically long) reply:

Being a working 9-5 away from home sort of mom, I catch myself feeling and expressing how little time I have with them... So often I feel rushed and find myself stealing the discovery away from my son... because I'm also starving a bit for new and exciting discoveries. This isn't great to either of us. There is a balance to strike in there some where...

Discovering his interests and discoveries are growing more interesting for me. Still, how does a mom stay present and engaged in the activity without over interfering?? ... But still I keep finding myself wanting to control... why?

Read the rest, and my reply, here.

 

You may also be interested in:

Control Issues

 

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In defense of reading ... which should need no defense

Published by Lori Pickert on January 8, 2010 at 10:19 PM

An interesting post by Joanne Jacobs asks, Do children need to be bored?

My opinion is, of course they need free, unscheduled timeBut we can do better than stultifying boredom.

This post pokes one of my particularly sore spots, though. Joanne quotes an article in the Telegraph by Nigel Farndale titled “Children need to be bored, so I’m smashing the Wii”:

How can a jigsaw puzzle that might take hours to solve compete with a PlayStation game that has the synapses fizzing within seconds.

We did succumb to a Wii last year, however, and I regret letting it into the house. Not only is it the rival of den-making, football-kicking and tree-climbing, it is the enemy of reading. But ordering your children to turn the Wii off and read a book instead hardly sends out a positive signal about the pleasures of reading — which is a shame, because a child who has discovered the magical world that lies between the covers of a good book is rarely bored. I have a feeling our Wii is going to meet with an accident any day now, and will take several months, possibly several years, to repair.

Okay, I agree that it’s a shame to treat reading as a sort of punishment — or something that requires a spoonful of sugar to go down, which is why I’m a curmudgeon about reading programs that bribe kids with prizes or pizza if they read. Reading isn’t punishment — reading is one of the greatest things ever. When we act this way, we are sending a clear message that reading isn’t awesome — it’s something that requires cajoling, bribery, or denial. It’s good for you, like broccoli.

But why — why?! — do we keep presenting reading as something that is incompatible with normal life? Why can’t you read and watch TV? Why can’t you enjoy playing the Wii and reading a good book?

Does it really follow that children need to be bored to read? And in order to invoke boredom — and cause children to read — we have to smash all the other entertainment options?

If we are going to put forth this idea that readers are people (and children) who sit around in horn-rimmed glasses and sweater vests, who don’t play football or Xbox, who don’t like Spongebob or Spiderman, then how are we going to convince reluctant readers that reading is one of the most awesome activities ever?

My sons love to play video games. They play outside. They play inside, with toys that don’t plug in. They listen to music. They draw. They watch TV and movies. They love comics. And they read and read and read.

Reading shouldn’t need an intense advertising campaign to convince kids that it’s fun. Reading is fun. It’s more than just fun; as Emily said, it’s a frigate to take you worlds away.

The real problem isn’t that reading suffers in comparison to TV and movies and video games — it’s that kids have such a pitiful amount of free time that they have to choose among reading Treasure Island, watching Animal Planet, playing Xbox, and playing outside.

If we want to turn this boat around, kids need to get free reading time in school and enough free time after school to do all the things that make life worthwhile.

See also: ReadingTeaching Kids to Hate Reading, and Why I don't worry about my kids’ screen time, part 1 and part 2.

Teaching kids to hate reading

Published by Lori Pickert on June 17, 2009 at 01:21 AM

 

“Mom, I hate reading. I did not want to tell you that, ’cause I know that it’s your job and reading is a big deal to you, but I really really hate it. I dream of the day when I will never have to do reading again. If I was on a desert island, I would rather die of starvation, than read a book. And, if you think I am weird or something, you gotta know, all my friends feel exactly the same way.Angela Maiers, Reading Without Meaning — Heartbreak at Home

Here’s the question. Is it just reading they’re learning to hate?

See also: Reading and In Defense of Reading .. Which Should Need No Defense

 

Helping pre-readers research

Published by Lori Pickert on October 15, 2008 at 01:25 PM

Some ideas for helping children who are not yet reading independently:

• Let them choose books at the library — and don’t restrict them to only picture books or books with very little text! They can choose books that they want you to read to them.

• Give them a pad of small post-its and let them flag pages that you (or an older sibling) will read to them later.

• Collect ephemera: posters, charts, postcards, brochures, etc. The more images to compare and contrast, the better!

• Look for videos at the library or on youtube; remember that you can watch only a part of a film or video with a small child — you don’t have to watch the whole thing. Remember also that they will probably want to watch their favorite parts over and over and over again.

• Make a Pinterest board with a selection of age-appropriate, project-related YouTube videos and other online resources. Your small child can now safely navigate this curated collection and choose what to watch.

• Do observational sketches together and ask them to tell you about their sketches as soon as they are finished drawing them — then again the next day. Pre-readers can “read” their own sketches. Just a few lines can prompt them to remember a great deal.

• Label the parts of their sketches, e.g., the parts of a fire engine: ladder, tires, bell. (Ask their permission first! You can also label a xerox of their original sketch.)

• Make illustrated lists of the commonly requested AND project-related words for your child’s reference. Your child can draw the illustrations or, if they prefer not to, digital photographs and xerox copies of book illustrations work great. Print the words large and clear with a black marker. Laminate these sheets if possible; children will use them for the length of the project. They can refer back to these lists when they want to write a word on a drawing, letter, sketch, construction, sign, poster, or book — allowing them to work more independently. (They won’t have to ask you over and over again how to spell, e.g., “dinosaur” or “Grandma.”) (Make illustrations small enough to put a group of related words together on a page, e.g., “Mommy,” “Daddy,” “Grandma,” and sibling names on one page, while a project-related page might say things like “firefighter,” “engine,” “hat,” “ladder,” “dog,” “hydrant,” etc.)

• Make sure your child knows that if they dictate stories, notes, letters, e-mails, and so on, you will be happy to write them down for him or her.  Make sure they understand that you will write anything for them that they need! If they are making very frequent requests, funnel them to your dedicated project time.

Pre-readers and pre-writers can research independently if they know they have a dependable resource for helping them find and decode the resources they need. You don’t have to be at your child’s beck and call 24/7, but you do need to be a trusted resource and you do need a dedicated time when you can offer your attention and support. It’s fine to say “Mark all the pages you want me to read and I will read them to you after lunch/at project time.” But be aware that if you don’t follow through a few times in a row, they’ll probably give up and stop asking.

This is just one way you can support your child’s investigations — being a trustworthy partner in learning, helping them locate and decode the resources they need.

 

Golden Book of Birds

Published by Lori Pickert on February 3, 2008 at 04:33 PM

Children Make Sculpture

Published by Lori Pickert on January 27, 2008 at 05:27 PM

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I ordered this book after I saw Lena's copy.

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“This book attempts to show children involved in making sculpture. Their work does not have to be good, finished or artistic. What matters is the activity itself and the knowledge gained by the child…”

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This book was written in 1972. It is the work we did with children from 2000 to 2007, and it is the same message we tried to spread through our own work with children, workshops and conferences, and educational consulting.

It is not a new message. We are saying the same things that Elizabeth Leyh was saying in 1972; unfortunately they are still largely ignored. We were constantly having to explain to parents, education students, teachers, visiting administrators, etc., that what the children were doing was important and meaningful and a better use of their time than coloring in a mimeo book about apples or making a follow-the-directions craft.

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Many of the books that sustained me during the running-a-private-school years were written decades earlier. Yet the vast majority of the work with children that we observed in both public and private schools didn't reveal one one-hundredth of what we knew children were capable of doing, making, experiencing, and expressing.

That's not to say we shouldn't keep trying. What I'm trying to say is, we must keep trying.

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Great holiday books for kids: holiday favorites

Published by Lori Pickert on November 28, 2007 at 05:11 PM

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I've had such a great response to the last two days of book posts that I decided we'd have more book talk today! (It doesn't take much convincing to get me to talk about books. Anyone want a cup of hot chocolate?)

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I have a few less familiar (I hope) holiday books to share with you. Of course, I love The Polar Express. We read it every Christmas Eve. I love love love it. But everybody's heard of it. Maybe some of these will be new to you.

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We love this beautifully illustrated book of Robert Frost's poem Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, illustrated by Susan Jeffers. The dust jacket is vellum, with the cover gorgeously illustrated in a way that is simply uncommon today. This isn't a terribly long poem, but we read it very slowly, to enjoy looking at each picture. This book makes a lovely hostess gift; it can be enjoyed by adults and children alike.

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Another book with a vellum dust jacket (co-inky-dink) is Abbie Zabar's A Perfectly Irregular Christmas Tree. It's unfortunately out of print, but that won't stop me from bringing it up. It tells the story of a tree chosen for Rockefeller Center, and we love her illustrations.

(Abbie's book The Potted Herb makes a great gift or stocking stuffer for a gardener, and it's still in print.) Country Living magazine did a layout on Abbie's house and Christmas decorations a gazillion years ago and I've never forgotten it. In fact, I still have the issue! If I can find it (ha), I will share.

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Back when the boys were small, some dear friends gave us Stranger in the Woods: A Photographic Fantasy. The title sounds a bit ominous, but it is really a sweet story illustrated with gorgeous photographs of snowy woods and woodland creatures. The boys loved it.

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Is everyone in love with Toot & Puddle, or is it just me? We don't even have all of their books; the boys are a little too old to snuggle down with one these days. I love I'll Be Home for Christmas.

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Oh, okay, one more mention of a pure classic before I go. No, not Snowy Day, although, hey, that's another good one! I'm giving a shout out to Katy and the Big Snow. I love all of Virginia Lee Burton's books, I think. What a great bundle to give a favorite little — Mike Mulligan, The Little House, and Katy and the Big Snow! (Is The Little House out of print?!) And just to round things up by getting back to the obscure, have you ever seen her book Life Story? No, it's not her autobiography — it's an amazing picture book telling the story of evolution.

Time to put the winter- and holiday-themed books in the basket by the wood stove, dig out the flannel lap quilts, and wait for the first snow.

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