Jack, who attends Pawcatuck Middle School, is just one example of a trend that educators say has been growing for years: middle school boys are reluctant readers and according to various reports, is contributing to an achievement gap between boys and girls.
Prior to the Christmas break, teachers at Pawcatuck Middle piloted a program they hope will help get students more excited about reading.
“We focused on boys because we’ve noticed the trend — they’re not enjoying reading,” Elaine Temel, who teaches fifth-grade language arts and social studies, said. “Once they get past elementary school, their interest starts to drop off. Boys are more interested in hands-on activities, like coding and playing video games.
“It’s all taking them away from books.”
For more than an hour after school on a recent day, about a dozen fifth-, sixth- and seventh-grade boys created their dream reading space, participated in speed-booking, shopped a book fair and met Sean Faye Wolfe, a recent high school graduate and author of the “Elementia Chronicles,” an unofficial Minecraft-Fan adventure series.
“The young man who published his own books reinforced to Jack that anyone can do this,” Beebe said. “He provided a little bit of inspiration that anything is possible.”
Steven Wilk and Joe Entwistle are seventh-graders at Pawcatuck Middle, huge fans of the video game Minecraft and not such big fans of reading.
Yet, both students mapped out their dream reading space and admitted that if they could put down the video games and other technology, they probably could enjoy reading.
“My dream reading space would have a trampoline like the one you can build in Minecraft because it would give me a fun, quiet place to read,” Steven, 12, said. “I try to read on my own time for about 20 to 30 minutes. I read and then I give myself a reward: I play Minecraft.”
A pair of reports released in 2010 — the Scholastic’s Kids and Family Reading report and another from the Center on Education Policy — show that the reading lag between boys and girls exists in every state and grade and is “the most pressing gender-gap issue facing our schools.”
According to the scholastic report, 39 percent of boys said reading books for fun “is extremely or very important” compared to 62 percent of girls.
“At this age particularly, girls get drawn into reading,” Pawcatuck Middle library media specialist Betty Pacelle said. “One of the things that’s really important for both boys and girls is choice. We have to really get to know the students and interests so they’re finding books they’ll enjoy.”
During five-minute, speed-booking sessions, students received rapid-fire exposure to find a book they might want to read.
They spent a minute choosing a genre from a bin of books; took one minute to develop first impressions of a book, i.e. checking out the front and back covers; spent two minutes turning to anywhere in the book and reading; and finally ranked the book using emojis.
“It was fun,” Jack said.
Making reading enjoyable, both Temel and school reading specialist Stephanie Petricone said, is essential in drawing students back into books.
Temel is more creative with book projects, like having students create a book T-shirt, and educators are pushing different types of genres like graphic novels, for example, which are books made up of comics content.
The next after-school reading event they host will be open to more students, too.
“I’ve been inspired to read more after today,” Joe, 13, said. “I might buy one of (Faye Wolfe’s) books since it’s about Minecraft.”