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Listening to the Voices of Boys

reviewed by Ashley Boyd

coverTitle: Listening to the Voices of Boys
Author(s): Krista Griffin
Publisher: Information Age Publishing, Charlotte
ISBN: 1681234580, Pages: 2016, Year: 142
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In Listening to the Voices of Boys: Exploring the Motivation of Primary Boys to Engage in Reading, Krista Griffin provides a refreshing perspective on how to go about encouraging young boys to read: ask them about their motivations. Although this may seem simple, in our standards-saturated educational milieu, the perspectives of students on their own learning are often ignored. Griffin disrupts that tendency by offering a plethora of ways to get to know the students in our classrooms and solicit their knowledge of themselves and of what would motivate them to read. With this premise, Griffin unleashes a world rich in strategies and considerations for closing the gaps so well-documented in national statistics that illustrate girls’ outperformance of boys in reading.

Griffin’s approach, however, is anything but deficit-based. Rather, she directly confronts David Gallo’s (2001) lamentation of aliteracy, the notion that we teach our children how to read but give them such uninteresting texts in schools that they begin to choose not to read. Instead, she posits, “boys can be informants on their own learning and... what they have to say is of value and needs to be taken seriously” (p. 11). She uses boys’ interests and strengths, ascertained through methods she outlines in detail, such as observing, book-making, interviewing, and creating art (each accompanied by a suggested protocol), to gather the knowledge necessary to match texts to students. If and when students are not successful, she warns against attributing that behavior to “intelligence” and instead encourages educators to facilitate students’ recognition of their own “performance” (p. 55). Furthermore, she emphasizes cultural factors that preclude boys from reading, such as societal expectations for masculinity and the lack of male role models. She again delivers targeted tactics for addressing these issues, including family literacy nights and male reading mentors. By debunking the notion that males do not read, she opens a space for students to “see reading as something they do” (p. 43). Griffin’s tactic of addressing broader structural forces along with supporting the individual is multi-pronged and holistic.

In addition to these affirming techniques, Griffin emphasizes the benefits of helping boys see the relevance and value of reading in the present, and not as some skill for a distant and unknown future. After offering strategies for getting to know the topics that engage boys, she outlines ways to show the utility in reading: “Perhaps they need to read complex text for the new aquarium set-up in the classroom... or maybe you know several boys will be playing football next year in junior high and will need to decode playbooks” (p. 47). Direct connections, so that students can discern the importance of reading in their own contexts, are key. Through these and other examples, she leads us to expand the meaning of texts available to boys “to include information books, manuals, comic books, books based on television or movie characters, internet texts, and magazines” (p. 63). She not only complicates notions of what constitutes worthy reading material in the classroom, attending to age-old debates regarding the literary canon, but also challenges the leveling of texts, avowing, “interest in a topic or novel has been shown to be more important to comprehension than reading level” (p. 57). Again, she provides an energizing look beyond measures and into the psychological and social aspects of reading. Finally, she asks us to consider what sorts of reading instruction are advantageous, noting the importance of direct instruction and scaffolding in order to make transparent for students the what and how of reading.

Punctuated by honest, personal reflections and experiences, Griffin’s text is accessible and practical while grounded in literature and research in the field. She shares her own successes and failures as a reading teacher and with her own son, demonstrating that her work is both personal and professional. She teaches readers how to conduct their own qualitative coding to systematize students’ reading interests, even going so far as to teach students to do this for themselves by compiling data from the whole class’s response to their reading environment needs in order to brainstorm “ways to meet the needs of everyone even if they have the opposite needs” (p. 84). She recognizes and validates the Common Core State Standards, but advises a balance between their push for complex and nonfiction reading in the primary grades and following students’ individual interests. Not all reading, she tells us, “needs to be reading we have to fight our way through” (p. 68). She reminds us throughout that her approach is not a panacea, that “motivating boys to read is anything but a one size fits all model” (p. 9), and later that “no single magical technique will work for all boys” (p. 35). Instead, she asks teachers to pay attention to the individuals present in their classrooms and to adjust according to their personalities and needs.

Above all, Griffin’s model is based on choice, and through this, hers is one that fosters more equitable classrooms. Stressing choice in what to read, in how to respond to reading, and in what sort of environment is best for reading, Griffin centers her arguments on all students, having found in her own research, for example, that “boys placed in the higher level groups... were given far more opportunities to practice choosing the books they read” (p. 92) than those placed in lower level reading groups. And yet, it is important to note that her support for choice does mean she believes in giving students free reign; she argues that choice should be “adjusted to the readiness of the students” (p. 77). If we truly hope to create lifelong readers, people who choose to read and do so according their own areas of engagement, we would do well to adopt the strategies Griffin so vividly details in her work.


Gallo, D. (2001). How classics create an aliterate society. The English Journal, 90(3), 33–39.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, 2018, p. -
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 22354, Date Accessed: 10/18/2018 12:21:56 AM

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