Boys and Book Clubs

I was reading this article about the launch of edudemic magazine for ipad when the mention of gender specific class really caught my eye.  I’m sure that if you’ve been in education for awhile, you’ve heard that the traditional school system is very conducive to girls but quite the opposite for the boys.  There have been books written on how boys are failing and how they need to be more catered for and so on and so forth.

But what really made me dwell on the gender specific class is something that I observed in my classroom recently.  The 4th graders at our school have been doing our second round of literature circles.  We had all four 4th grade classes mixed up to form groups and each teacher was responsible for a few of the literature circles.  If you’re not familiar with literature circles, it’s basically a book club with more specific tasks for each meeting.  But the ultimate goal of it is for the students to get talking about books and hopefully make some connections and hear others’ connections as well and collectively realize how fun reading is especially when you do it together…in the ideal world at least.

In my classroom, I had four groups.  And two of those groups had the opposite gender make-up.  One group had all girls except one student.  And the other group had all boys except one student.  It was just too amusing to see the contrast in these two groups.  The almost all-girls group were just having a little tea party with the literature circle.  With seriously furrowed brows, they were discussing what they thought about a particular character and how they connected with certain parts of the book etc- basically, an ideal literature circle discussion.

In the other corner, the opposite group – the almost all-boys group – were having trouble keeping everyone seated.  They were constantly talking over each other even with the raising hands rule and other strategies to keep everyone in order.  At one point, when they were supposed to be reading together only three of them were taking turns reading while one of them did not participate at all.  When I asked them what was going on, they said that, that student wanted to read silently so they just let’em.  (It was quite funny how ‘matter-of-fact-ly’ they were in responding to my concern.)

Now, we have had plenty of discussion and instruction on what a literature circle looked like and what they’re supposed to do during a literature circle.  So, this wasn’t a lack of instructions.  Students were all made sure that they had completed their tasks before their meeting, so it wasn’t a lack of preparation either.  And for this round of literature circles, we had them choose the book they wanted to read (although, we did provide them with the list they could choose from).  But nevertheless, the boys were just…not that into it.

I’m sure, that there are plenty of boys that love to talk about what they’re reading with their peers.  But, I have to say, when I look at the big ‘boys’ in my life, I don’t know how many of them would actually enjoy getting together with other boys who have read the same book and have an intentional discussion about it.  How many boys voluntarily join or even form a book club?

It just made me have mixed feelings about literature circles – a reading program that I LOVE.  I know that I can’t cater for every individual need.  But I want to do my best.  And this just made me think if reading programs (or any program for that matter) such as this, is the ‘best’ program for the general audience in my classroom.  I am not ready to say good-bye to lit circles yet…and I’m definitely not ready to say that gender specific class is the answer…to be honest, I don’t know how I feel about gender specific class..but instances like the above definitely make you wonder…

Any thoughts?