Brief description of the issue
Differences between boys and girls’ school success are more easily visible in reading and writing skills than in other school subjects. The gap we start to see at the beginning of the elementary level is still present in high school and is even widening in terms of reading skills (Boyer, 2009). Yet, reading is an essential prerequisite for success and retention in school. To close this gap, we have to cultivate an interest in reading from the beginning of the elementary level, and combat gender stereotypes portraying reading as a female-only activity.
Even today, boys still perceive reading as a female activity (Sokal, 2002), their mothers being the ones reading stories to them more often than fathers do, and reading for their own pleasure more often than men do. As boys are very careful of not being associated with female realities, these gender stereotypes encourage them to insufficiently develop this essential skill for school success (Point de match, 2014). A team of researchers from UQAR led, between 2006 and 2010, a research-action project in the Commission scolaire des Phares that aimed at developing an interest in reading with boys at risk of failing at school. The positive impact this project had on boys’ reading habits leads to the idea that it could be reproduced in a variety of places, with some cultural adaptations to fit your community’s needs.
As oral tradition and storytelling is more common and ancestral in Mi’gmaq culture than reading is, the activities organized don’t have to only be based on books: sharing stories can also contribute to developing children’s literacy skills.
Here is a step-by-step procedure to set your own father-and-son (or father-and-child) reading circles. Note that it is also possible to do grandfather-and-son or uncle-and-son reading circles. The main goal of having a male caretaker participating in these activities with boys is to give them a positive male reader model.
Using letters, phone calls and preparatory meetings, introduce reading and storytelling circles to fathers as a fun activity generating precious father-and-son moments to recruit a maximum of 12 participants per group (6 father-and-son duos).
2. First preparatory meeting
Organize a first meeting, where only fathers (without their sons) are invited, to introduce them to the project more in depth, address their concerns and to get to know their reading habits and type of written medium they would prefer. This meeting must also allow you to note when fathers are available and to organize the calendar accordingly. Offering food and coffee or tea is a good way to make sure you gather as many fathers (or male elders) as you want.
3. Second preparatory meeting
This is a meeting gathering fathers and sons. With the suggestions made by fathers at the last meeting, bring books, magazines, etc. that might be of interest for fathers as much as for sons. If the books chosen for the first round can be more “stereotypical” (for example, sports and hunting & fishing magazines, the Auto Guide, etc.), an effort must be made to progressively suggest books with various models of masculinity. It is also important to propose books with Indigenous characters. Look at the selection available on Strong Nations’ website.
The main goal of the second preparatory meeting is to get participants to choose a book and then to give them a “reading mission” they must do at home. Missions must, above everything, help participants enjoy reading. Here are a few examples of the missions used in the first project:
- Create a hunting and fishing quiz;
- Associate your father or your son to an animal from a book about mammals;
- A “Spot the differences” game comparing a comic book to a movie;
- Prepare a secret question for your father or your son about a world’s wonder.
To integrate storytelling, one mission could be to find an Elder wanting to share a story with them. Father and son then have to share the story in their own words with the group at the next gathering.
4. Sharing meetings
Every week (or any other period you chose between meetings), a sharing meeting takes place.
- These meetings must start with a welcoming period, where participants are invited to talk about how their reading activities are going at home. It is the time for the facilitator to make sure the discussions are happening in a respectful climate and that everyone feels comfortable to express himself. The facilitator must take into account the physical, emotional, spiritual and intellectual dimensions of the participants in his teaching methods (Demers and Simard, 2015).
- Participants are then split into groups of two or three father-and-son pairs to talk about the mission they received during the last meeting.
- Participants then come back together to share their experience and provide feedback to improve the reading circles. The meeting ends with the choice of the next reading subject among three propositions from the facilitator. These suggestions must take into account the discussions and feedback gathered from the last meeting.
The number of meetings depends on the interest of the participants. Missions and reading subjects must really adapt to participating fathers and sons’ interests so that everyone is having fun.
Boyer, M.-C. (2009). La lecture et l’écriture chez les garçons… de A à Z [Reading and writing among boys … from A to Z]. Ministère de l’Éducation, du Loisir et du Sport, Québec. http://www.education.gouv.qc.ca/fileadmin/site_web/documents/PSG/statistiques_info_decisionnelle/LaLectureEtLEcritureChezLesGarcons_DeAaZ.pdf
Demers, P. and Simard, J. (2015). Présentation de quelques techniques propres à l’enseignement traditionnel autochtone et exemple concret d’application de celles-ci dans l’enseignement du français écrit à une clientèle autochtone adulte selon une perspective langue seconde, Revue de la persévérance et de la réussite scolaire chez les Premiers Peuples, 1, 75-78.
Jean, P. (s.d.). Cercles de lecture pères-fils, Le Monde alphabétique, 22-24, http://bv.cdeacf.ca/documents/PDF/rayonalpha/mondealpha/ma21/ma21g.pdf
Point de match (2014). Associer le plaisir de lire au plaisir de bouger!, Une école montréalaise pour tous.
SOKAL, Laura (2002). On cherche de l’aide : les garçons et la lecture [Looking for help: boys and reading], Interaction, 15(4), 13-14. www.Idac-taac.ca/Research/boys-reading-f.asp