Is a boy’s dislike of a book too often equated to a disinterest in reading? Sometimes a negative opinion is a positive! When boys have the flexibility to say they don’t like a book, they also have more freedom to interpret their thoughts and evaluate what they have read. A negative book review can be a positive step for boy readers.
Encourage Opinions with Questions
In reading sessions with my students, we often read a book over a few sessions. When we end for the day, I ask a few questions to assess their comprehension so far, even if we have not finished the book. Those questions vary, but the question I always ask is: “Do you like this book?” If the answer is “no” or if there is a hesitation, I’ll also ask: “Do you want to pick another book to read next time?”
Recently my third grade student choose a book from one of my favorite picture book series as a child. I was excited for us to read this book together because I remembered enjoying them. (Yes, our reading sessions are often fun for me too!) However, the story got off to a really slow start and did not pick up as we read. My student read page after page out loud while I tried to find a fun or interesting aspect of the characters with which to help engage him.
At the end of our session I asked if he wanted to choose something else next time. He said the story was “fine” and that he would continue with it next session. I was certain I had sensed disinterest from him, but I did not not want to influence his view. (Perhaps that was just my own opinion as an adult, considering I had enjoyed the stories as a child.)
Make it okay to say, “That’s Boring!”
With any opportunity to discuss likes or dislikes of a story, there is the potential for reader analysis. An opinion expressed about a book that has a basis in the story, whether positive or negative, is a great indicator of comprehension and promotes evaluation of the text.
At the beginning of the next session with my student, I asked him to remind me what had happened so far in the book and if he had enjoyed it. Given another opportunity to tell me what he thought, my student was more candid. He explained that the bears in the story where “boring”! Even though they were at the beach, nothing had happened that was interesting to him. More than halfway through the story, all they had done was eat lunch and build a sand castle.
I was satisfied that he had a good comprehension of the text he had read. He wanted to choose a new book that he would enjoy better, not to get out of reading. Also secretly, I was proud of him for deconstructing one of my treasured childhood books as dull because I had been bored too!
The Power of “No”
Boys often look at reading as “work” when the assigned books in school are not enjoyable to them. When a book is required reading, boys are less likely to voice their honest opinion about the book if that opinion is likely to be perceived as negative. It’s important as parents, educators and mentors that we allow boys to speak up. When they have a voice about what they do not like to read, boys can further develop opinions about what they do like to read.
Since telling me why that book was boring, my student is more confident in his evaluations. He tells me when he thinks something is funny or a character is mean and he eagerly predicts the next part of the story. Even when his predictions don’t turn out to be correct, he does not get discouraged about sharing his thoughts next time. We talk about the development in the story and why what developed happened instead. Sometimes he will animatedly explain why his idea could have also worked.
When boys have the opportunity to express honest opinions of books, they are empowered as readers. With the obligation to like specific books gone, boys will not abandon reading, but can embrace it as their own activity to enjoy – their way.