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Connected: Digital Literacy for Gen Z

Dr. Julie Wood

Julie M. Wood, a former public school teacher and reading specialist, is a nationally recognized educational consultant with a special interest in digital learning tools. Join Julie in 2012 as she shares best practices in using educational technology and media in the classroom and at home.

Getting boys hooked on reading: How can digital media help?

September 5, 2013

Did you know that boys often underestimate their ability to read? That boys, on average, read less than girls? And that boys are often less motivated to read than girls? Not only that: By the time boys reach high school, roughly half of them will describe themselves as "nonreaders."

Several theories may explain why these facts are true. It may be that boys have a different cognitive style than girls, preferring action-oriented activities rather than more traditional classroom tasks. It may have to do with what boys see as a lack of personal choice in reading materials. Research also suggests that many boys view reading and writing as the province of girls. Left to their own devices, they often distance themselves from books and writing assignments that don't grab them. For more on these theories, see the enlightening article by first-grade teacher Nicole Senn titled "Effective Approaches to Motivate and Engage Reluctant Boys in Literacy" in the November 2012 issue of The Reading Teacher.

So. Where does this leave us? What can we do to entice boys to read and write? And how can digital media help?

We can begin by giving boys more choices about what they read. Boys often like action, adventure, and (sometimes outrageous or salty) humor. They also enjoy nonfiction topics that relate to their lives — animals, cars and trucks, and exciting weather events — to name a few.

Given that most boys love digital devices (right along with girls), iBooks and eBooks offer new ways to capture their interest. Look for titles with high boy-appeal and invite students to choose the books they want to read. Six-year-olds, for example, might enjoy the iBook app version of The Magic School Bus: Oceans (Scholastic, $7.99). Older boys might be captivated by the digital version of the Goosebumps books by R.L. Stein, via Scholastic's digital eReading app called Storia (see Scholastic for information on pricing).

What about boys and writing? If the boys in your life enjoy comic books, introduce them to tools that can help them create and narrate their own comic books. One excellent choice is the "Monsters Vs. Superheroes" app by Duck Duck Moose, for five-year-olds and up. (Note the companion product, "Princess Fairy Tale Maker.") For younger boys (four-year-olds and up), try the "Draw and Tell" app by the same company. It's also fun, but simpler in design ($1.99 for each of these apps).

Also, check out one of my favorite websites, Guys Read. Created by the popular children's author, Jon Scieszka (The Stinky Cheese Man, The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs, and many more delightful picture books), this site is hard to resist. Take a few minutes to browse the various book genres together, such as "Ghosts," "Cars, Trucks, Etc.," and "At Least One Explosion." You might also explore the "For Little Guys" section, which offers a great collection of mini-book reviews.

What strategies have YOU used to encourage the boys in your life to read and write? Have you found any media products and/or websites to be particularly helpful? Share your ideas!

In writing this blog post I drew upon the thoughtful reviews posted on Common Sense Media.


The key to engaging boys to read is interest. Boys see reading as work. I wonder if giving boys a device that is seen by most as a really cool toy, so they can read a book wouldn't take the fun out of the toy. The book would still be seen as work. The cost benefit analysis for boys would likely be is the content of the reading material worth the work and not whether it is on an electronic device or a printed page. If a boy picks up a book, his purpose would be to read. However, if he picked up an iPad it is likely that the last thing he would want to do is to read a book on the device. If the book is interesting, boys will read no matter the format. As teachers and parents, we need to be careful about limiting their choices. If we want boys to read more, we need to listen to their interests and guide them in finding books that speak to their interests whether the books are electronic or printed.

On several occasions, I observed that my fourth grade boys are less motivated when they are asked to read or write during independent study time. My boys struggle as they begin to make their book selection, and once they choose a book, they are not motivated enough to follow through. So, after reading this blog, I thought about Diary of a Wimpy Kid. I have actually seen several boys walking in lunch lines with their head embedded in this book. I put two thoughts in perspective about what I have observed about my boys: they love technology, and they enjoy reading Diary of a Wimpy Kid. With inspiration from reading this article, I will use technology to get my boys involved in creating their own comic books using Diary of a Wimpy Kid as their mentor’s text. I hope my boys eventually move in the “Write Direction”. Great article!!!

I am a second year, 4th grade Reading and Writing teacher. I have noticed that it is much easier to get my girls to read than it is with my boys. I haven't considered using digital books in class to get them to read more on an independent level. We have programs that read stories aloud in class from our textbooks and they LOVE it. We also have a classroom set of iPads, so this should be easy to implement. Are there any specific apps that can be used in the classroom that has a variety of books for students at the 4th grade level?

Will reading a book a week help children gain interest and in ares their reading skills?

I find all of these comments interesting and helpful. But I feel that these are for old boys/grades. I am a new kindergarten teacher and would appreciate any advice or apps that are suited for kinder kids. I use tumblebooks but would like other apps that read to my kids while on the computers.

Since my male students are using iPads, they are reading more. I use ReadWrite app for my middle school students. This application has been useful especially for my male struggle readers. For writing is also a great tool, they can listen to a word before deciding to use it in their document. For English language learners works well because has a picture dictionary and reads the definition aloud. The only thing is that is not free, but it is not that expensive either. Are there any free apps for iPads that encourage my male students to read more?

"We are seeing that kids today are drawn to both print books and ebooks, yet ereading seems to offer an exciting opportunity to attract and motivate boys and reluctant readers to read more books," noted Francie Alexander, Chief Academic Officer, Scholastic. "While many parents express concern over the amount of time their child spends with technology, nearly half do not have a preference of format for their child’s books. The message is clear – parents want to encourage more reading, no matter the medium."

Since my male students are using iPads, they are reading more. I use ReadWrite app for my middle school students. This application has been useful especially for my male struggle readers. For writing is also a great tool, they can listen to a word before deciding to use it in their document. For English language learners works well because has a picture dictionary and reads the definition aloud. The only thing is that is not free, but it is not that expensive either. Are there any free apps for iPads that encourage my male students to read more?

In doing my research I have discovered many activities that can encourage boys to get hooked on books and one is the usage of technology. Research shows that boys are less likely to enjoy reading than girls. More boys than girls struggle with reading and writing at school and boys are more likely to say they don’t spend any time reading outside the classroom. Adolescent boys generally do not like to focus on learning information that they might use later. Saying “you’ll need to know this in a few years” or “this will help you later in life” causes male students to tune an adult out. Instead, parents and teachers should allow boys to immediately apply what they learn through reading so that they develop the understanding that reading has real life value. For example, if your class is reading an informational article about the effects of global warming ask students to write a letter to their member of parliament or an environmental group stating their views on the topic and offering solutions to the issue. Storytelling is one of the most powerful ways that people relate to one another. Through stories, whether fact or fiction, we share experiences and communicates information to one another. Digital Storytelling which utilizes technology to tell stories is a modern interpretation of an ancient form of communication. Digital storytelling can be useful motivating boys of any school level. Most boys already use computers for schoolwork or communicating with friends, although no previous experience is needed to create a digital story. The technology used in digital storytelling such as digital cameras, camcorders, audio clips, videos and editing programs – can all be easily learned. Since the technology is familiar and exciting to many boys, they will be more comfortable in this environment. Even though the process involves storytelling and writing two activities in which boys are usually disinterested the use of technology helps to spark their interest and keep them engaged.

It is a fact that boys do not love to read,however, i think that there are ways that parents and teachers can help these boys to become readers and to see the importance of reading.Boys are always a lover of games so one way of getting them hook on reading could be to get games with reading instructions when they realize that if they cant read they wont be able to play the game some of them will try to put interest in reading also teachers should try to find out what fascinates their male students and try as best as possible to create ways to incorporate their likes into reading for example if it is that a boy like cars teachers and parents could try to get boys books about cars are in the shape of a car. Teachers can reinforce the importance of reading by modeling reading a book at the beginning or the end of each class. It is also proven by research that struggling readers they tend to be demotivated and even if they can read they will shy way because they are afraid of making mistakes so parents and teachers can allow these boys to know that it is OK to make a mistake. Getting boys hooked on reading parents can get the movie for a specific book watch the movie together then read the book together. Fathers can be a role model for sons by reading with them also parents can invite male readers to read along.provide reading time with no tasks attached. These boys today are our men for tomorrow so keeping a blind eye on them wont help we need them to be readers so that they be able to make positive contribute to society.

“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn the more places you’ll go.”Reading opens up our minds to new experiences and knowledge. For children, it can be a magical time. Today’s story telling has taken on a new dimension with the introduction of books on digital devices. Kids can now interact with stories, touching the screen and exploring the different features a particular book app has to offer.If you have a reluctant reader, encouraging them to read can be a bit of a challenge. So can finding the right level of interactivity in children’s book apps so that it doesn’t distract from the reading experience. Parents want to have their child immersed in the story for the right reasons.There are added benefits to reading on a digital device. Interactivity, when used the right way, can be helpful for a number of kids (especially boys), from beginning and reluctant readers to English language learners. For instance, if a child is stuck on a word, they can tap the screen and have the word repeated until they are able to pronounce it.So how do we encourage our boys to read in the digital age? It is very important to choose very interesting books that will stimulate their interest. Allowing them the chance of choosing books they would want to read is vital, as it makes no sense a teacher or parents chose books and they are well aware that the boys have no interest in reading. Having the app, well designed for someone to Read Aloud can build language skills. But if you have a young boy, you've likely found that many "boy" books contain nothing but pictures of vehicles and their names. These types-of-tractors books encourage the repetitive style of conversation: "Can you point to the roller? Good. Now can you say backhoe?" These are a few things that digital media can do to improve our boys’ ability as indeed they can reach their full potential. I believe our children, yes our boys especially are the future and they should be taught well and allowed to lead the way and shown the beauty they possess inside.

Ok, my son has a kindle fire (he's 11) so obviously we are into the digital age. But no matter what gadgets you throw at them, it all comes down to an interesting story. If it doesn't catch there interest, it won't hold them. The Art of Basket Weaving doesn't look any better on a kindle than in print. My advice for boys reading: Dark Fate Falling (The Gateway Discoveries series) The Rangers Aprentice series, Artimus Foul series, Septimus Heap series. Pick something with action and make it a sereies so they will want to move on to the next book. It works

CommentsI definitely agree that digital devices will help boys to become more interested in reading; most boys want to read about something risky and adventurous boys love to be on the discovering side they want to pull down and re-build, to suit their desires stories with topics about machines and large equipment and having digital devices that they can manipulate these stories will definitely arouse their interest in reading. It was stated in the blog that boys should be given more choices about what they read. I know that they love to read about boys their own age doing the things that they sometimes do also. I am presently teaching a grade four class with 33 boys and they love the stories that we read together but they also love to share their own life stories. I am also aware that boys and girls are distinctly different; they think differently, their actions are unalike the actions of girls their own age and they do have varying interests. I agree with the comment that boys should be given more choices about what they want to read, but they will also need guidance in their selection. Yes it is true that most boys love digital devices and therefore teacher s will have to use these devices to complement their lessons as this will assist in many ways to capture their interest and consequently this will certainly propel their concentration towards reading. If readers are learning in an environment in which they are comfortable and surrounded with digital gadgets they will become interested in reading. Digital devices will help to enhance interest in reading which will also encourage boys to become enthusiastic about reading, and with all these devices that are available to them that may be used to make reading more inviting to the eyes and the mind, if readers are encouraged to use some of these digital devices to enhance reading the only information they will require is the title of the books that they want to read.

I recently read an article called "Me read, No Way". It was a guide to assisting young men to develop an interest in reading. Basically the secret is to get the boys to talk. Some boys need to talk through their ideas before they are sure they understand what theyhave read and before they can commit their ideas to paper effectively. Failing to provide forthis social component, for the opportunity to verbalize ideas before reading or writingabout them, can create a problem for some boys. This problem may be invisible to both thestudent and the teacher, but it can significantly hamper a boy’s ability to become asuccessful, fully engaged reader and writer.Myra Barrs suggests the following classroom situations and instructional approaches as idealfor encouraging talk as part of reading and writing activities: • small shared-reading groups that include the teacher• groups working together with multiple copies of the same text• students reading in pairs, working with a partner from the class or a partner/buddyfrom another grade • groups reading along with taped stories• students using the computer in pairs, perhaps for redrafting a piece of writingIt also highlighted the following study: Boys involved in a study in Leeds, England, read George Orwell’s AnimalFarm and then shared their reading experiences with boys in anotherschool by e-mail. Researchers found that:• the boys, despite poor reading levels and low motivation, wereenthusiastic about sharing their reading experiences by e-mail;• sharing their reading experiences electronically enabled the boys toexpand the range and purposes of their reading;• the boys’ teacher was able to use this experience to developadditional strategies for teaching and assessing reading.(Babbage, 2000)It’s all about approach. Traditional teaching will not attract our boys, a positive, fun approach will.

I recently did a research to find out some ways we can use digital media to motivate kids to read and came up on some helpful tips in an article done by Carisa Kluver. These tips could prove helpful with our boys since they just love technology. Here are the 10 tips 1. Simple navigation. Select apps that are easy to use to ensure an enjoyable reading experience. Avoid apps that have complex navigation or numerous features and instructions that may frustrate young kids. 2. Co-Reading. Parent and child interaction is key, as was recently noted in a Joan Ganz Cooney Center Study on print books vs. e-books. It’s best to have parents by their kid’s side when reading on device. Ask your child questions about what is happening in the story and encourage them to be playful and explore during reading time. 3.Limit “bells and whistles.” Keep interactivity to a minimum. Look for book apps that maintain the integrity of the story and create a reading experience that most closely resembles reading stories in a traditional book format. Stay away from titles that embed superfluous puzzles and games if they distract from the story and hinder reading comprehension. When selecting a book app, ask yourself if the features in the app are there to enhance the literacy aspect of the title. Avoid interactive features that take your child out of the narrative and off of the page to interact. 4.Reading options. Look for apps that include different reading modes which lets your child choose how they’d like to read the story. In addition to reading with their parents, can your child have the option to have the story read to them by a narrator or choose to read it on their own? Key features to look for in book apps for emergent readers include picture/word association, word highlighting and the ability to touch an individual word and hear it pronounced. 5. Make it a ritual. Set aside a special time to read together (i.e. before naptime). Turn off the T.V. and phone and dedicate the time to reading only. Establishing a routine sends a message to your child that reading is important. 6. Build on interests. Look for topics that are interesting to your child when selecting book apps. For example, focus on activities or hobbies that are most appealing to your child in order to find stories that will appeal them. From sports and dancing to animals and science, there’s an app for that. 7. Remember to have fun! Encourage your child to be inquisitive while reading, taking advantage of the touchscreen technology and the added benefits of digital reading. Taking turns reading the story aloud and acting out the different characters can make reading that more fun, especially for a reluctant reader. 8. Model good reading habits. Have your child see you use your digital device to read as well. You’re your child’s best role model. Take time out of each day to show your child that you enjoy reading too. Tell them what you like to read. 9. Look for the classics. Check out beloved stories that have been teaching kids to read for decades. Is there a story you enjoyed reading as a child? Chances are there’s an app for that now. You’ll have a great time revisiting your childhood favorite stories while introducing the digital versions to your child. 10. Build your digital library together. Involve your child in selecting which book apps to load on their device. To guide you through this process, take a look at resources such as Digital Storytime, KinderTown, Moms With Apps, Common Sense Media, Children’s Technology Review, Parents’ Choice and Kirkus Reviews for their recommendations. These resources can help guide you to age-appropriate reading material. You can also visit your local library and see what tablets they have available preloaded with recommended age-appropriate book apps for your child.

I must say, that it is not news to me that our boys are disinterested in reading and regard it as feminine. However, what i find disturbing about this situation is that despite the numerous researches done over the years and the insight that has been gleaned concerning the problem and even advancements that have been made in technology teachers still continue to make the same "mistake". Some teachers seem to bluntly ignore that fact that boys learn learn differently and have different interests. I believe it is high time that we as educators do something to address this problem by striving to meet the needs of our students in the classroom, in particular the needs of our male students. We need to go the extra mile to find out the interest of our students and target their interests to meet their needs; if they are intrigued by technology or comics find ways to integrate technology in the classroom instruction and use comic books to help foster or nurture their interest and love for reading or literacy in overall. We owe them this much, if we desire for them to take their rightful places in society and contribute positively to its development.

It is a fact that our boys have little or no interest in reading. It is confirm from reseach,that our boys struggles cognitvely when it comes to reading. It is therefore our duties as teachers and parents to find interesting way to get our boys excited when it comes to reading. One excited way apart from using the interesting gadgets can be to create a collage with a particular book that boys would be interested in. After the teacher reads the book, He/She would get pictures put them together in an interesting way to say exactly what the book is about. This would get boys interested when they realized the fun way you can get meaning from a text. Parents too can play their part, instead of them buying their boys book, they can take them allow to the book store and allow them to be involved in choose books that they would like to read. Also because of the technological age that we are apart of and our boys are so captivated. We can use it to our advantage, by incorporate technology in our reading lesson, for example, choose books that you can get the audio and words of the book and have them listen to someboby reading it while the words are displayed so they are able to read along too. Also when giving them assignments to read an entire book and do a summary give them in bits, do a few chapters at a time and write a summary until they would have finish reading the entire book. Teachers also can get boys involved in finding interesting books by refering boys to various site to read a ebooks. These are just a few ways we can get our boys interesting in reading and it our duty to get our boys literate so that they are able to make meaning contibution to society.

The Kindle for Christmas did the trick! Hopefully the novelty of searching for books electronically and then downloading them instantly won't wear off any time soon. It is interesting to me that he was most interested in checking out ebooks that were already checked out--not necessarily because he was interested in the title--but because he decided that it was probably worth reading if someone else was reading it too.

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"Outside of a dog, a book is a man's best friend. Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read." — Groucho Marx