As I type this I am looking at my son play outside. He is playing with the soil in a large barrel by the door. He is pretty much a mess and will require some hosing down before he returns in this house. Personally, I can't relate with how much fun this mess must be, but I think this is a microscopic cataclysm of what happens in the classroom in regards to working with boys. We can't relate (assuming you are a female reader). And some of us don't know where we went wrong.
Which probably explains why I purchased Ralph Fletcher's book (2006) the day it came out. I noticed early on in my teaching career that "teaching" girls to enjoy reading and writing was a walk in the park. Boys, on the other hand, took some convincing. Some, I noticed, didn't want to drink my reading and writing Kool-Aid at all. What was a women to do? According to Fletcher, he cries, "Let the boys be boys!" Let them write about farting, burping, and wars. Let them write outdoors and/or where they feel comfortable. Be generous with their humorous writing style and encourage them to find other authors who write in the same manner. And I couldn't agree more. Here are some of the things Fletcher recommends in working with boys under the literacy framework:
- Boys need an audience. In our classroom, this means daily reading and writing share time. I honestly don't know when the boys swap out their writing to each other but every time a boy says I am going to read-insert silly title here- I hear a murmur of, "Oh, that's a good one." Audience is everything for the boys.
- Boys need to feel at home. This usually means reading/writing in a corner, on the floor, or outdoors. The level of focus is really high when my boys write outdoors. We have a large collection of milk crates from the cafeteria that we store right under the portable. It becomes an outdoor classroom of boys each sunny day.
- Allow your boys to have a "Private" section to their writer's notebooks. This writing, not meant for public consumption, allows students to write freely. This is how you can value that love for war stories that involve some gore.
- Don't automatically outlaw stories with weapons. Especially if you live in the south like I do. One of my students wrote the most fascinating hunting story that involved being caught up in a storm with his father while hunting. If a ban was in place, this story would have never been told.
- Look for the humor underneath the violence you may find in your boys' writings. For my boys, one in particular, violence seems to be mixed with flatulence and/or weddings. It's really quite funny, if I am being honest. And if I am being even more honest, I have laughed so hard that tears come out of my eyes a few times. Each time, those stories have come from the brains of a boy.
- Connect "humorous" writing with published authors. My favorite is Jon Scieska. It might sound like this, "You know, Zach, this writing sounds just like Scieska's work. Have you read The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Stories?" That's all it takes. Trust me.
- Instead of "humor" think "voice" and instead of "silly" think "satire."
- Give more wait time for boys to talk about their reading and writing with you.
- Create some boundaries on language and use of names. For example, in our room you may not include the name of another student without explicit permission (the student needs to know their role in the story).
- Embrace a more visual definition of writing that includes sketches and drawings. Fletcher also calls this, "Sketch to compose."
- Consider creating a mini-lesson that models specific drawing techniques when writing (e.g. Max's Logbook by Marissa Moss).
- Portray writer's notebooks as a space to collect weird facts, feathers, leaves, and interesting snippets of information. This may resonate more with boys that perceive writing as journals and fiction stories.
- Explore many genres. Boys tend to read more nonfiction and really seem to enjoy writing nonfiction as well. As a result, I try to focus on reading and writing nonfiction quite closely throughout the year. Keep your library stocked.
- Finally, just let them read and write. Boys are all about doing...give them time to just do it!