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At PDS, Boys Love Reading

Posted on | Mike Bullard

According to a number of studies and surveys, there is a gender gap between boys and girls when it comes to reading.

One such study, involving 75 nations and 1.5 million students, analyzed 10 years of data from the Program for International Student Assessment. Across the board, the study found, girls outperformed boys in reading.

Boys, the researchers say, generally lack interest in reading and they lag behind girls from the early grades through high school.

But somehow the boys at PDS have not gotten the “boys-don’t-read” message.

“Honestly, they beg me for independent reading time at school,” Mary-Wilkes Yonchak says of her fifth-grade students. “I would say 95 percent of them love reading. They also have created Book Buzzes, short promos to advertise their books to their friends.”

Some experts suggest that boys are simply wired differently than girls and that they naturally gravitate toward popular distractions like video games, television, and social media.

Jennifer Ransom, a new PDS mom from Colorado, doesn’t buy that for a second.

Though her sons were surrounded by books at home where they loved to read, the family plan to raise enthusiastic readers was nearly derailed once they started at their previous school.

“Conventional wisdom would have us believe that girls are innately better readers than boys, however recent personal experience has led me to draw a different conclusion,” says Mrs. Ransom, whose boys are in the third and fifth grades. “In previous schools we’ve attended, reading was an activity children had to do as opposed to one they got to do. In the few months my boys have attended PDS, we have seen remarkable improvement not only in their reading comprehension, but more importantly in their desire and love for reading.”

Experts suggest a variety of ways to encourage boys to read more, including:

  • Not limiting what they can read. Comics? Sports pages? Blogs? Cereal boxes? Let them read what interests them. Also parents and teachers can provide books and magazines on topics that interest a particular boy, whether it’s cars, football, or coin collecting.
  • Parents, especially dads, acting as reading role models as home. This reinforces the idea that reading can be a guy thing and is an important method of learning about people, places, and ideas.
  • Using modern technology. By making Kindle or iPad Books available, a parent can satisfy a boy’s interest in technology and encourage reading at the same time.

Some helpful websites that offer reading tips as well as title selections geared to boys include,, and

Many PDS teachers subscribe to the idea of encouraging their boys to read what interests them, but they also have other strategies of their own.

“Having students set reading goals is important for self-motivation,” says second-grade teacher Stephanie Taylor, who uses Accelerated Reader points and some more-personalized benchmarks.

“Some students have the goal to read 10 pages a night, to keep a book in their backpack or in the car so they have a book to read wherever they are,” she says. “Some have the goal to read to a younger sibling one night a week. For a lot of my boys, once they find a book or series that they are interested in at their independent reading level, they are hooked.”

In the sixth grade, teacher Philip Cummings lets the boys choose the books they read, while he acts as “cheerleader-in-chief” of the reading class.

“I try to motivate them by talking incessantly about books, and I share the books I love,” Cummings says. “I talk about why I love the stories, and then I surround them with great books in my classroom that they are free to take and read.”

Among the current class favorites are the Alex Rider series by Anthony Horowitz, Savvy by Ingrid Law, the Harry Potter and Hunger Games series, and Paperboy by former Memphian Vince Vawter.

As for a reading gap between boys and girls, Cummings believes that depends more on the individual than on gender.

“One boy’s interest might develop at a different pace than another boy’s,” adds Mrs. Yonchak.

“Boys may lag behind girls at certain ages for reading, but I would say it might be because they haven’t found books that are written with boys in mind or they just haven’t grown in their reading lives enough to dig into a book that would be of interest — possibly with enough action for them — until now,” she says.

Jennifer Ransom, meanwhile, thinks PDS has this gender gap just about bridged.

“PDS has proven to me that if you give boys access to books that interest them, raise the expectations for boys as readers, communicate reading as a privilege rather than as a punishment, and impress upon the boys the importance of being a good reader, an environment can be fostered that will close the ‘reading gap’ that anecdotally exists between boys and girls.”

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