(Boys) Reading as a social activity

As I wander around my library during recess and lunchtime, before and after school, I realise more and more than reading is not the solitary quiet activity that it’s usually purported to be. I’ve taken to trying to capture this by photographing the communal reading that is going on – which takes me to an article that I’ve been reading that I think is quite important when thinking about boys’ literacy pursuits – “Morphing literacy: Boys reshaping their school-based literacy practices” (Blair & Sanford, 2004).




boys2 boys1









Who can relate to this in their school libraries?

  • A cluster of boys sitting around a boy with the Guinness Book of Records – pointing and chatting and oohing and aahing about some record or another, followed by a debate about if it has been surpassed, and grabbing the next years book?
  • Two or 3 boys sitting with a Minecraft or lego book trying to find out how to do something?
  • A couple of younger boys reading the same graphic novel (usually squish or lunch lady) and turning the pages at the same time or waiting to turn the page so they can read the same thing at the same time?
  • Requests for books that tell them how to progress in computer / online games
  • Needing books about the 2nd world war because their grandfather or great-grandfather fought in it?

Blair and Sanford (2004) relate boys’ reading to their need to acquire social-cultural capital – i.e. they read as long as it enhances their peers and their own view of themselves as “acceptable masculine beings” and creates connection, collaboration and camaraderie between themselves and their friends. The authors refer to “team-like literacy” involving participation and interaction that is purposeful.

In terms of the kinds of texts that engage and fulfil these needs, the “rules” are simple

  • action > relationships
  • excitement > unfolding characters
  • need to suit personal interests / fact finding / purpose / sharing information
  • humour and fun ++++ important

I would suggest that the literary market / publishing is NOT catering for these needs adequately or at all in fact. Let’s take “Jets” for example.  The current obsession of the Grade 1 / 2 students in my school at the moment. The available books we have are dumb. They’re not information rich enough and the publishers cater to their reading level rather than their interest level. They’re dated before they even hit the shelves. They want elaborate up to date images with lots of numbers and facts – never mind the silly narrative “here is a pilot” “this is the instrument console”.  Ditto Lego – I’ve said this a million times and I’ll say it again. There is nothing inbetween the little books “castles, towns, 101 things to make” and “Lego StarWars” that is so big and bulky and hard to take home.  Make each chapter into a book FFS. How much time do publishers even spend walking around school libraries and talking to boys? (or even librarians? or teachers? or parents?).

This type of article also explains why our “Blokes with Books” and “Readers’ Cup” clubs work so well at school. Connection, affinity, literacies growing out of relationships.

Now to make sure we leverage that in the classrooms and at home.


Blair, H. A., & Sanford, K. (2004). Morphing literacy: Boys reshaping their school-based literacy practices. Language Arts, 81(6), 452.

7 thoughts on “(Boys) Reading as a social activity

  1. I was at a seondary boys school for 10 years, and these were my observations as well. They want to pour over, share skim and scan, and share. The spaces have to accommodate that. Also high-interest non-fiction all the way!!

    And joke books ! Gosh!

    Trisha B


  2. Hi Trisha – good to hear that this transfers to secondary as well. And I like your comment on the spaces needing to accomodate this – we are planning a library expansion and renovation and I feel I need to show the architects this type of picture so we can make sure the spaces are “sharing friendly”

    A quick question to anyone reading this – do you think the photos are blurred enough or do I need to blur them more?


  3. Hi Nadine, The blurring is fine and I appreciate your examples of the collaborative nature of many boys’ reading. In our secondary library, we are trying to also give the boys who need to remove themselves from the world/people/noise, by placing some of our chairs in isolation; and it is fascinating to watch the introverts seek those spots out.
    Equally, I want space to include big beanbags, so that boys can sit 2-3 in a spot and share their thoughts, books, images etc, so this is on my radar.
    I have found myself going back to NoTosh and Thornburg’s work a lot this year. We definitely need spaces for different purposes.


  4. Hi Nadine, I think the photos are blurry enough, but you could try one more layer just to check the difference.
    Loved and made personal connections with this post on a number of levels:
    1. I love connecting books and boys together (one of my # librarian pleasures)
    2. that you have organised such a powerful initiative as “Blokes with Books” (love the title, and am going to ask, whether I can use it down the track?)
    3. the cluster of boys over the Guinness book of records image. It really is wonderful that we can see clusters of boys not only over computers and games, but also books. It is all about engagement, conversation and communication (which is what we see in our school libraries everyday).
    3. publishing…hmm, I feel there is a gap in the literature (publishing) especially for our students who are dyslexic- one of my focus collection development areas this year, and one I am struggling with – to find titles beyond Barrington Stokes. Or our EAL students especially for older readers – high interest books – and especially for boys I focus on graphic novels, semi-graphic novels, verse novels..but this is an area that I would love to be collaborating with others about ‘what is out there’ and available.
    4. Promotion – I think you are right, we need to send the message home and outward.


  5. Of course, anyone can use that – I’m so meaning to do a blog post about it, as I think it was one of the more powerful initiatives of last year and it’s got such great momentum now.

    Yes, the publishing thing – did you hear / read MaryAnn Wolf’s interview about the rise in dyslexia and reading issues? http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/healthreport/building-the-bi-literate-brain/7815874

    I just keep thinking there must be books out there that I’m just not aware of, or some struggling author that publishers are ignoring….


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.