Capitalizing on kids’ obsession with stories and narratives
By Tyler on May 24th, 2011
Last week, I visited a class for 9th-graders who struggle with reading at Boys & Girls High School in Brooklyn. It was a class that was using Scholastic’s READ 180 program, designed to help kids who are reading below grade level.
Many of these students were placed there because they were several years behind where they should be in reading, and, as a result, were getting poor grades in all their classes. These are the kinds of kids who often start to lose interest in school and are more likely to become dropouts.
As I sat in the corner, I listend to a small group of them huddled in a circle with their teacher debating a passage from their workbooks. It was the story of a young man from NYC who got involved in a gang and sent to prison as a teenager, and who was later able to turn his life around and begin to help other NYC kids learn from his mistakes. It was a narrative that hit close to home for many of these students. They debated why he might have decided to give up on gang life and why he might have gotten involved in the first place — and then they discussed how they might be able to find him and get in touch with him themselves so they could learn more (it was agreed upon that Facebook would be a good starting point…).
It was immediately clear to me that these struggling students had found a story that was compelling to them — something that motivated them to think deeply about an issue and even take action in real life.
We hear a lot about how kids aren’t reading as much as they used to, especially boys. But is that really true? Charles London made an interesting argument in Huffington Post last week in which he argued that perhaps boys are “reading” stories as much as ever. The popularity of TV and video games, he argues, is proof.
“Just like girls, boys are hungry for stories that speak to them, that excite their imaginations and reflect their experiences. They are hungry for information to help them make sense of the world, or achieve a goal or just to geek-out on whatever is holding their attention at that moment.”
The lesson I think we should take away is this:
Boys love stories and narratives just as much as girls do. Let’s do a better job of immersing them in the stories that capture their attention — however different those might be for one child vs. another.
For me, it was a series of books about sports that convinced me that I loved reading. For others it’s magazines that let them “geek-out” (as London said) on whichever topic they fancy the most. For some kids today, it could be the stories woven into video games that are capturing their attention.
Let’s not give up hope that those vide0 game-obsessed kids won’t give books a try later in life. It’s probably just a matter of them discovering the right story at the right time.