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'If the NAPLAN results are telling us anything, it's that not enough boys read books for fun.'

The NAPLAN results make it plain to see. Boys are falling behind when it comes to literacy.

The breakdown of the 2017 NAPLAN results, released this week, shows that nearly 25 per cent of boys in Year 9 don’t meet the minimum standard when it comes to writing. Girls are clearly outperforming boys in all age groups.

Yay for girls. But what’s going on with boys? And as parents of sons, what can we be doing to help them?

Professor Robyn Cox, the president of the Primary English Teaching Association of Australia, says the results aren’t showing anything new. For her, there are several reasons why boys aren’t doing as well in literacy as girls.

“Most teenage boys want to be out doing stuff,” she tells Mamamia. “Also, in primary school, reading is seen as a more feminised behaviour. Primary school teachers are often female. It’s not something a lot of young men go into. We’ve got limited male role models reading in schools.”

Professor Cox praises the Rugby League Reads campaign run by NRL clubs which encourages young sports-loving kids to read. She’d also like to see Australia follow the example of the UK, where giant pictures of David Beckham reading are plastered on the sides of buses. She thinks it could be done in Australia with high-profile local sports stars.

“It’s just telling boys that it’s something boys can do. Boys can read for pleasure.”

LISTEN: We debate whether NAPLAN stress is too much for kids, or if they need to harden up. Post continues after audio. 

Professor Cox also believes there’s a “dire need” for more good books to be written for teenage boys. She says boys love reading authors like Andy Griffiths at primary school, but there needs to be something they want to move up to afterwards.

“It’s that line between Andy Griffiths and then being able to read that Year 12 stuff.”

So what can parents to do improve their sons’ – and daughters’ – literacy? Professor Cox has a few suggestions.

Buy fun books.

For babies, give them books like The Very Hungry Caterpillar or others that can be pushed, squeezed, or played with in some way.

“Even if they’re chewing on it, or you’ve got them in the bath, playing with it, it’s just indicating that there’s some pleasure to be had in engaging with a book.”

"She also says it’s okay for kids to start with the movie and then go onto the book." (Image: Getty.)
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Buy magnetic letters for the fridge.

A major study in the UK showed that the biggest indicator of whether kids would be successful in early reading in school was whether they had magnetic letters on their fridge at home.

“That indicates parents’ interest in letters and literacy,” Professor Cox says.

Talk to your kids a lot, and in interesting ways.

Be a storyteller. Ask your kids for their ideas, and really listen to them. Even use TV as an opportunity to start a conversation.

“Say, ‘I wonder what’s going to happen next? What do you think Charlie’s going to say when Lola does that?’ We’re looking for engagement in ideas.”

Pause, prompt and then praise.

When your kids are just starting to learn to read, it’s important that you don’t jump in when they hesitate over a word. Count to 10 in your head, then if your child hasn’t made an attempt at the word, prompt them by asking them what they think it might be.

“Whatever attempt they make you praise, and then you correct,” Professor Cox says.

Seek out books that your teenager might enjoy.

People who work in bookshops are a good source of information about what teenage boys are reading. You could also ask the school librarian.

“Or, if there isn’t a school librarian, ask the question why there isn’t a school librarian.”

Remember that reading doesn’t have to mean literature.

“Manga is okay,” Professor Cox says. “I don’t think it has to be Mark Twain. We want kids to engage with the storyline and if the response is pleasure, they’ll find another book.”

She also says it’s okay for kids to start with the movie and then go onto the book. “Maybe that’s something parents could do: ‘Let’s all go to the movie and then let’s read the book.’ It’s that whole family engagement.”

Do you have any tips of your own to improve literacy?

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