An Interview with Pam Allyn


There are many books out there on boys and reading.  They are filled with crucial data about how boys flounder in literacy and what we as a society must do to increase boys interest in literacy.  I recently received an advance reader’s copy of Pam Allyn’s new book titled Best Books for Boys.  It will be a great book to add to your collection.  The first 30 some pages discuss why we should focus on boys, and key questions.  The rest of the book is filled with fantastic lists of books for boys. I had an opportunity to do a cyber interview with Ms. Allyn.  Thank you for taking your time to answer my questions.  Here it is:

Ms. Allyn thanks you for taking the time to answer my questions.  I enjoyed your new book Best Books for Boys.  It is very user friendly and points out why we as teachers must focus on boys and reading.

·      There are so many ways and methods for labeling books.  Your list is thoughtful and varied. I was excited to see many books on the list that my boys have in their hands. You use Emerging for younger boys, Developing for middle grade boys and Maturing for middle school boys.  I noticed that there are books you labeled as developing that I would classify as maturing and vice versa.  What are some of the criteria that go into grouping a book?
IDENTIFYING BOOKS BY LEVEL IS VERY CHALLENGING! THERE WILL ALWAYS BE HEALTHY DIFFERENCES OF OPINION, AND I WELCOME THESE. THE MAIN CRITERIA I LOOK FOR IS READABILITY AND EMOTIONAL PREPAREDNESS. I TRY TO USE THIS FORMULA PLUS MY OWN TEACHING EXPERIENCE TO CUE PARENTS AND TEACHERS IN TO APPROXIMATELY WHAT DEVELOPMENTAL RANGE WE ARE TALKING ABOUT. SOMETIMES THE BOOK MAY APPEAR EASY BUT THE EMOTIONAL THEMES IN THE BOOK ARE AT A HIGHER LEVEL. SOMETIMES THE BOOK MAY REQUIRE SOME WORK IN TERMS OF DECODING, BUT ACTUALLY CAN APPEAL TO A LESS EXPERIENCED READER THANKS TO ITS COMPELLING THEMES OR WONDERFUL GRAPHICS. BUT I DO UNDERSTAND THAT WE MIGHT SOMETIMES FEEL DIFFERENTLY; I ENCOURAGE YOU TO USE YOUR BEST JUDGMENT FOR YOUR CHILD AND OTHERS YOU KNOW WELL RATHER THAN RELY TOO LITERALLY ON ANY ONE PERSON’S ASSESSMENT. THE VERY BEST WAY TO MATCH KIDS WITH BOOKS IS TO GET TO KNOW THE CHILD AS WELL AS POSSIBLE AS A READER. THEN THE MATCH FEELS NATURAL.
·      The iPad and eBooks are a new tool.  What impact do you think these will have on boys and literacy?
I LOVE TECHNOLOGY! WHAT I ALREADY SEE IS THAT THESE TWO TECHNOLOGIES ARE HAVING ENORMOUS IMPACT ON THE READERSHIP OF ALL PEOPLE, NOT JUST BOYS. WHAT I AM INTERESTED IN IS BUILDING LIFELONG READERS AND WRITERS. THE TOOLS WE USE TO ACHIEVE THAT GOAL ARE JUST THAT, TOOLS, NOTHING MORE. I WANT ALL BOYS AND GIRLS TO FALL IN LOVE WITH STORIES, POEMS AND INFORMATIONAL TEXT IN WAYS THAT WILL CHANGE THEIR LIVES. TECHNOLOGY ALLOWS US TO RE-INVENT WHAT IT MEANS TO READ, AND IT THRILLS ME FOR THIS REASON. THE IPAD ALSO ALLOWS FOR CHOICE WITH PRIVACY. FOR EXAMPLE, A STRUGGLING READER CAN PUT EASIER READS ON HIS IPAD WITHOUT THE WORLD SEEING WHAT HE’S READING. IN THIS WAY, HE CAN PRACTICE HIS READING IN A SAFE SPACE. THIS IS JUST ONE EXAMPLE OF WHAT BENEFITS THERE ARE TO TECHNOLOGY IN READING.
·      The number of male elementary teachers is so low what do you think we can do as a nation to get more male role models into elementary classroom? THIS IS A VERY SERIOUS PROBLEM. THINK OF THE MESSAGE THIS SENDS! UNTIL WE BEGIN TO CONSIDER TEACHING AS A PROFESSIONAL CAREER PATHWAY (WITH BENEFITS THAT INCLUDE SALARY SCALES THAT REWARD EXCELLENCE AND WAYS TO ADVANCE A PROFESSIONAL LADDER WITHIN THE CLASSROOM) WE ARE NOT GOING TO GET TO FIFTY PERCENT ON THIS, AS IT SHOULD BE. PEOPLE THINK IT’S ALL ABOUT SALARY BUT IT’S NOT. IT’S ALSO ABOUT PERCEPTION. WOMEN ARE LESS VALUED IN OUR SOCIETY, AND SO IS TEACHING. IT STANDS TO REASON THEN THAT THEY ARE MATCHED UP IN THIS UNIVERSE. THE ISSUE IS BOTH ABOUT GENDER EQUITY AND ABOUT VALUING THE TEACHING PROFESSION. I LOVE WHAT TEACH FOR AMERICA HAS DONE TO BRING YOUNG MOTIVATED PEOPLE INTO THE PROFESSION, BUT I’D LIKE TO SEE THEM CONSIDER TEACHING LESS AS A TWO YEAR PEACE CORPS KIND OF STINT AND MORE AS A CAREER FOR LIFE.
·      There is much written about reluctant boy readers and how to get them engaged in reading.  What are your suggestions to teachers and parents that have boys that aren’t reluctant readers, but may become so?
BOYS OFTEN BECOME RELUCTANT AT MAJOR TURNING POINTS IN SCHOOL, THIRD AND SEVENTH GRADE ARE TWO EXAMPLES. WHEN THE WORKLOAD INCREASES AND READING BECOMES A CHORE, BOYS WILL QUICKLY TURN OFF TO READING. MAKE SURE YOUR HOME IS RICH WITH ENJOYABLE OPPORTUNITIES AND SELECTIONS FOR READING. ALWAYS BE THE KIND OF PARENT WHO DEMONSTRATES HOW PLEASURABLE READING CAN BE, AND MAKE YOUR HOME A PLACE WHERE YOUR CHILD CAN ALWAYS FIND A READING REFUGE AND THE KINDS OF READING THAT HE IS GOING TO WANT TO DELVE INTO. DON’T JUDGE YOUR BOYS’ READING SELECTIONS. IF HE WANTS TO BROWSE A VIDEO GAME MANUAL OR SCAN THE INTERNET ON THE IPAD, CELEBRATE ALL THESE FORMS OF READING. THEY WILL TURN HIM INTO A LIFELONG LOVER OF WORDS.
·      I have a boy’s book club with about 25 third to fifth graders.  The reading level ranges from grade level to
about 10th grade reading level.  It is a challenge to find books that meet all the needs.  Do you have any suggestions?
I SUGGEST SHORT TEXTS, SUCH AS SHORT STORIES AND POEMS FOR CLUBS OF MIXED LEVELS. I ALSO SUGGEST FRAMING THE CLUB AROUND A READ ALOUD RATHER THAN ESTABLISHING AN EXPECTATION THAT THE BOYS CAN ALL READ ONE BOOK AT THE SAME TIME AND AT THE SAME PACE. THESE SUGGESTIONS SEEM TO BOUNCE UP AGAINST OUR ROMANTIC IDEA OF EVERY CHILD WITH A CHAPTER BOOK IN HAND HAVING LONG CHATS ABOUT THAT ONE BOOK, BUT THE TRUTH IS THAT BOOK CLUBS CAN BE AMAZING IF THEY FOCUS ON ONE GOAL: HELPING READERS LEARN TO TALK ABOUT BOOKS, STORIES AND POEMS AND COLLABORATE TO NEW IDEAS ABOUT THEM. ANOTHER WAY TO THINK ABOUT THIS IS TO SELECT THEMES ACROSS THE YEAR FOR THE CLUBS, SUCH AS COURAGE. THEN USE ONE SHORT TEXT FOR THE READING IN THE GROUP AND BETWEEN SESSIONS ASK EACH BOY TO SELECT A BOOK AT HIS LEVEL THAT REFLECTS THIS THEME AND THEN RESERVE TEN MINUTES OR TWENTY EACH BOOK CLUB SESSION FOR THE BOYS TO CONNECT THEIR OWN READING SELECTION WITH YOUR READ ALOUD TEXT OR SHORT TEXT. IN THIS WAY, ALL READERS CAN READ COMFORTABLY AT THEIR LEVELS BUT YOU ARE UNITING THEM THROUGH THE BIG OVERARCHING THEMES.
  

Comments

Becky said…
What a great interview! Thanks for sharing!
Lauren said…
Wow. I love her answer to the last question. What a way to think about book clubs in general... and also a way to think about reaching multiple levels of readers in the classroom and creating book clubs around that!

Thanks for sharing your interview.
Ms. Yingling said…
Hunting down a copy of this right away!