Ten Tips to Promote Literacy: New Immigrant Boys

Note: While this article is aimed at literacy for immigrant boys,
we at Red Apple Reading believe the tips provided can be helpful for any child.10 Tips to Promote Literacy: New Immigrant Boys

Guest Post by Michael Gurian

New immigrants face particular challenges and can struggle with English language literacy. While what works for all boys will generally work well for new immigrant boys, try adding these practical steps as well.

1. Keep High Expectations. If your son is having problems, sit and learn with him; support him however you can. Make sure he does not give up on literacy to go play video games. “If you read _____ chapter, you can play your video game; if not, you cannot,” may become your mantra so that high reading/writing expectations trump entertainment. You can assess your child’s literacy needs by taking a short quiz from the Gurian Institute.

2. Use Technology. Watch television with your son, play video games with him, go onto the Internet with him, and have him verbally critique and explain. Have him read aloud what is written on the game package; have him verbally report the action. Have him write you an email—even if it is a short one—about what the story was that he saw or gamed. Do what you can to link language and literacy learning to visual imagery.

3. Use Subtitles. Have your son read movie subtitles aloud. Pause at various places so he can explain to you what the subtitles mean in English. Linking English language to the audiovisual stimulant of the movie helps his brain store words, vocabulary, and grammar. If the movie has a book associated with it, read the book with your son.

4. Use Comics and Graphic Novels. Use newspaper comics, comic books, and graphic novels as “books.” Anything he reads in English is good for his literacy development, so if some of what he reads are comics or graphic novels that is OK. You can get a few minutes of good dialogue in English from a newspaper comic he laughs at.

5. Find Free Literacy Resources. Use the services of pediatricians, counselors, and other professionals who provide free books and takeaway magazines at well-child or counseling visits. Wherever you can, take advantage of free books and magazines in English. A number of programs nationwide are now funding an effort to get more free materials to immigrant families.

6. Connect Literacy With People He Trusts. Rely on people your son trusts to help him push through walls and discomforts as he increases his literacy. A boy who is having trouble reading is more likely to take coaching from someone he trusts than from someone outside his family-friendship circle or someone who constantly criticizes him. Seek trusted people who hold your son to his tasks, but encourage him according to his unique personality.

7. Let Your Son Choose. Let your son choose at least 60 percent of the books and magazines he reads in English. When he finds a genre he likes, set up timetables for him to read a book in that genre, then get him another book in that genre. If he likes a series, focus on getting him the next books in that series. Your son knows what he likes, and even if it is gory, reading it can be good for his literacy development.

8. Use Male Mentors. Help your son find a male mentor whose first language is English. If possible, find a mentor who works in an interest area your son has and can not only guide your son in how to do the specific task—such as a craft, a sport, or an art form—but will also encourage your son to speak and read in English with him. Encourage him to read Boys’ Life magazine, which features stories about great men who have also been great readers.

9. Write in English Every Day. Have your son write in English every day for a short period of time (perhaps for 15 minutes). Let him free-write at first—don’t correct his grammar or spelling. After he has free-written for some time, then you can review grammar and spelling with him.

10. Advocate for Your Son in His School. Quite often, teachers are not trained in how the male brain learns language and literacy. Boys’ brains develop language skills at their own tempo. As much as you can, expose your son to teachers who understand how to teach boys. If his teachers don’t understand how to teach boys literacy skills, your son can end up in special education classes regardless of whether he has a learning disability.

Boys’ Life magazine is written for them and can assist a boy’s literacy level and encourage a love of reading. To review sample articles that would interest your child, visit http://boyslife.org/literacy/

Copyright Michael Gurian 2013

Ten Tips to Promote Literacy: African American Boys

Note: While this article is aimed at literacy for African American boys, we at Red Apple Reading believe the tips provided can be helpful for any child, regardless of gender or race.

Promoting Literacy among African American Boys

Guest Post by Michael Gurian

African American boys struggle with literacy in greater proportion than many other racial groups in the United States. While what works for all boys will also work for African American boys, try adding these practical steps as well.

1. Increase Physical Movement. Have him read a book while he is walking/moving around in the room and/or while he is tossing a ball or other object in his other hand. Physical movement and hand-squeezing can activate brain centers useful to reading comprehension and enjoyment.

2. Start Early in Life, Thirty Minutes a Day. Start reading to him while he is in the womb and continue in his infancy. When he is able to read, have him read aloud to you. When you are busy, have your other children or other neighbor children read with him. The more he sees words the better, and the more communal the experience is the better.

3. Band Together. Form small moms’ groups to support one another not only in shared parenting, but also in reading and literacy development. Your group also can advocate for more books to be available in churches, community centers, and schools. Organizations like “Mocha Moms” can provide information on forming such a group.

4. Men, Men, Men. Dads, older boys, and elder men are crucial to increasing literacy, especially when your son reaches pre-puberty (from about 8–9 years old). If Dad is active in the boy’s life, switch some of the reading/literacy work from Mom to Dad. If Dad is not home, enlist a male role model. The more the boy sees his father or other men reading, the more he will see reading as a part of manhood.

5. Use Technology. Let your son teach you how to use the Internet and other technologies. Read content aloud with him as you visit sites together. Don’t rush through a site if it has words to read, especially if your son takes you to a site he is very interested in. Read aloud, and let him read aloud as much as he can or wants to on that site.

6. Blogs and Writing Outreach. Ask your son to read and write blogs via sites he might be interested in. If you need a starting place, help your son blog about his lineage, including, if appropriate, all the way back to slavery. Use ancestry sites to give him material to read and write about. Have him write emails to relatives and others about this (or any other subject).

7. Focus on Black Identity. Help your son find books and articles that are about black male identity, like Barack Obama’s Dreams of My Father, Roots by Alex Haley, Clarence Thomas’ My Grandfather’s Son: A Memoir, or Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass. If needed, help your son read abridged versions of these books.

8. Use Phonetics and Hearing. If you son needs to engage his ears as much as his eyes when he reads, use phonetics and auditory stimulants. If your son is not a visual learner, move to books on tape for a part of his reading experience.

9. Understand Your Son. Take this short assessment to help determine your son’s literacy needs.

10. Make reading cool. Find role models among rap stars and athletes who promote reading. Boys often will not read because they think it is not cool. Fathers, elder men, celebrities, and other males in the media culture can help make reading cool by example.

Boys’ Life magazine is written for them and can assist a boy’s literacy level and encourage a love of reading. To review sample articles that would interest your child, visit http://boyslife.org/literacy/ .

Copyright Michael Gurian 2013

Ten Tips to Promote Literacy: Latino and Hispanic Boys

Note: While this article is aimed at literacy for Latino and Hispanic boys, we at Red Apple Reading believe the tips provided can be helpful for any child, regardless of gender or race.

Ten Tips for Promoting Literacy among Hispanic or Latino Boys

Guest Post by Michael Gurian

Hispanic and Latino boys struggle with English literacy in greater proportion than many other demographic groups in the United States. While what works for all boys can work for Hispanic and Latino boys, try adding these practical steps as well.

1. Teach Both Languages. If you are a bilingual family, teach your son both languages from birth onward. The more he learns any language, the more literate he is likely to be in both languages, because any language learning increases the use of language and word centers in the brain.

2. Read With Him at Least 30 Minutes a Day. From the beginning of your son’s life, read to him 30 minutes a day at least five days a week. When he is able, have him read to you aloud. If he becomes frustrated in one language, move to a book or magazine in the other, more comfortable language before trying again. It’s most important that he is reading and hearing words read in each language.

3. Engage Dads and Male Mentors. Help Dad spend time reading with your son, and help your son find other male mentors who will read with him. Bonding with dad and male mentors around literacy will increase your son’s excitement and decrease his sense that reading is not “cool” or is something that just girls do. Encourage him to read Boys’ Life magazine, which features stories about great men who have also been great readers.

4. Use Oral Traditions and Storytelling. Connect reading to oral traditions like singing and storytelling. Have your young son make up rhymes (or other rap-type poems) as you and he talk and banter. Have him read things aloud to you in a singsong voice. If he is having trouble reading, move to spoken words and music for as long as needed.

5. Use Literacy for Bonding. Use reading as a ritualized way of developing family closeness. Remember that reading to your son and being read to is not just about literacy but also about sharing and feeling the love that comes from the closeness of the book.

6. Connect Words to Pictures. Point to the picture in a book or magazine and ask your son for the vocabulary words for that picture. Ask your son to talk about the action in the picture. Often, the male brain needs pictures to remember sensory details and vocabulary best.

7. Use Drama and Role-Play. When you and your son read aloud, dramatize and play-act what you are reading. Help your son pretend he is one of the characters in the story, and have him read aloud as that character. This can work with boys of all ages. If your son has to study Hamlet, have him act it out with your family rather than reading alone.

8. Ask a Lot of Questions. Everywhere you go, engage your son verbally. Ask questions and receive answers, either in writing or spoken. Stop the DVD in the middle of movie night and ask your son questions about what is happening. Ask him to guess what might come next. Try emailing your son questions and asking him to respond via email. You can assess your child’s literacy needs by taking a short quiz from the Gurian Institute.

9. Physical Movement and Drawing. Let your son move around or squeeze or toss objects while reading. Have drawing paper around so that your son can draw while you read to him and/or draw what you are reading aloud. Movement and drawing activate centers of the brain that help with vocabulary retention and memory.

10. Become an Advocate. Advocate in your son’s school for teacher training in how boys and girls learn differently. Many teachers have not been trained in how boys learn, especially in areas of verbal learning and literacy.

Boys’ Life magazine is written for them and can assist a boy’s literacy level and encourage a love of reading. To review sample articles that would interest your child, visit boyslife.org/literacy/.

Copyright Michael Gurian 2013

Ten Tips for Promoting Literacy Among Boys

Ten Tips For Promoting Literacy Among Boys - RARGuest Post by Michael Gurian

Whether your son is a reluctant reader or already loves reading, try these literacy boosters anywhere, anytime.

  1. Start Early in Life. Read to your son 30 minutes a day while he is in the womb, and when he is an infant and a toddler. When he is able to read, have him read aloud to you. The more words he hears and reads, the better for his brain.
  2. Make Daily Activities into Reading Activities. Have your son read billboards aloud as you drive to school each day. Have him read game instructions or the back of the DVD case aloud on family night.
  3. Make Literacy a Family Affair. Keep books and magazines like Boys’ Life available on counters, tables, and in your son’s room. The more he sees books and magazines around, the more likely he is to read them. Make sure older siblings pass down books and magazines they liked to read at this age.
  4. Increase Physical Movement. For most boys, physical movement can activate brain centers useful to reading comprehension and enjoyment. Let your son read while pacing, or let him squeeze or toss a ball while reading.
  5. Make Reading Cool. If your son sees reading as “not something boys do,” find role models among family members, celebrities, and athletes who promote reading and can help make it cool by example.
  6. Use Social Media. Encourage your son to write emails to family members who live far away.
  7. Volunteer as a Reading Buddy at School. Especially in your son’s younger years, become a reading buddy in his classroom. Donate books to the class, especially ones that boys will love to read and that have lots of pictures. As boys get older, they will like stories with adventure.
  8. Let Him Read What He Loves. Graphic novels, comic books, magazines about sports or other vocations—all of these are reading. While guiding your son to read larger works, you can appreciate the reading he does in these less complex forms.
  9. New Words Every Day. For a month or more, learn a new word each day with your son. The word can come from a book or from an object in your home or neighborhood. Create at least one opportunity every day (perhaps on the drive home from school) to repeat together the new word and have fun using it in a sentence.
  10. Help Him With Homework. Especially in language arts and other literacy-oriented classes, parents need to be homework buddies well into middle school, providing supervision, inspiration, and motivation. Taking time to go through assignments and lessons with your son can help ensure that he reads and writes—and succeeds—more. You can assess your child’s literacy needs by taking a short quiz from the Gurian Institute. http://www.gurianinstitute.com/literacy-survey-for-boys/

Boys’ Life magazine is written for them and can assist a boy’s literacy level and encourage a love of reading. To review sample articles that would interest your child, visit http://boyslife.org/literacy.

Copyright 2013 Michael Gurian

A Crisis of Confidence to Succeed – The Literacy Challenge Facing Boys

The Literacy Challenge Facing Boys

Guest Post by Michael Gurian

Literacy matters. Reading, writing, and speaking intersect with everything in life: character development, emotional intelligence, and physical fitness. Reading is essential for successful brain development in children, and stories help build character and emotional development. There are few career areas in which literacy skills—reading, writing, critical thinking, articulation of positions in words, and even anecdotal storytelling—are not essential for success. The Boy Scouts of America’s mission to help boys be “Prepared. For Life.®” is directly correlated with the need for literacy in America and precisely why the BSA incorporates literacy skills into so much of its program.

 Why boys lag behind girls

In general, the male brain develops verbal abilities later than the female brain. Female brains develop verbal centers early, and many girls are nurtured to read every day and develop a love of reading. Gender differences in male and female brains create more verbal vulnerability for males in general. These brain differences exist in all cultures and races, and the literacy levels among boys are lower than girls in all socioeconomic groups.

One in seven American adults (32 million) has such low literacy skills that it is challenging to understand a medication’s side effects as listed on a pill bottle.

Diminished male literacy begins early—boys’ reading/writing skills are approximately one to one and a half years behind girls’. Boys do not want to admit they are behind, and they suffer for it. Boys who have any kind of literacy issue need specific attention in boy-friendly literacy teaching in the same way that girls have been discovered to need special attention in female-friendly improvement of STEM and science learning.

Boys and video games

Many women wonder why boys and men are attracted to video games, and there is actually science behind the appeal of video games to males. The right hemisphere of the male brain in all cultures, races, and ethnicities is chiefly dedicated to visual-spatial processing; video games are visual and spatial. (The right side of the female brain in all cultures, races, and ethnicities is generally more greatly dedicated to verbal-emotive processing.)

Findings from brain science research are robust. One finding involves the reward center of the brain, the caudate nucleus. When the male brain feels like it has accomplished something, this nucleus fills with activity and stimulates the release of dopamine (the feel-good chemical) throughout the body. Video games create the same internal reward. In part, boys are attracted to video games because the games are a visual-spatial medium.

Hormones and neurotransmitters also matter. Males are driven by testosterone and vasopressin. They bond through aggression activities (testosterone) and territorial/hierarchical challenges (testosterone and vasopressin) more frequently than girls. Girls are driven by a number of hormones, including estrogen and oxytocin, both of which encourage verbal-empathic bonding more than aggression-challenge bonding. Video games are aggression-challenge, competition-oriented, thus tending to attract males more than females.

When boys play video games for too long per day, their brains will feel a lot of reward chemistry and think “I’ve accomplished a lot, I’m succeeding, I’m growing, I’m maturing,” but actually that boy has accomplished only successful gaming.

If a boy is convinced of his own incompetence at 8 years of age, he is more likely to fail in high school.

The link between illiteracy and incarceration

Boys who do not graduate from high school are three to four times more likely to get in trouble with the law than their peers who graduated. One in 10 high school dropouts is in jail or juvenile detention. Among high school graduates, the number is one in 35. At the root of academic failure among these boys is nearly always a failure to succeed in reading, writing, critical thinking, and other areas built by literacy achievement.

As a society we pay attention to socioeconomic factors and learning disabilities, which are absolutely crucial pieces of the puzzle, but we miss the nearly universal causal factor of school dropout rates: lack of literacy. Boys who drop out and get into trouble feel unable to compete with peers in their ability to read and write and/or understand and analyze. When they discover prison-based academic programs, they find a light at the end of the tunnel. Inmates participating in literacy programs are significantly less likely to return to criminal activity following their release from incarceration.

Discover Your Child’s Literacy Needs with this assessment from the Gurian Institute.


Changing young boys from reluctant readers to active readers

What, specifically, will help boys gain the best literacy skills possible? Adolescent boys can be especially aided by male literacy role models. The more a pubescent boy (8 to 9 years old onward) associates literacy with models of successful manhood, the more likely he is to want to become more literate. In connecting literacy to manhood, parents should increase the game, challenge, and reward component of literacy learning, setting up a system of rewards for reading and writing that boys can earn through showing competence.

Women can help young boys learn to use and love words, but once boys enter adolescence, most of them need older boys, young men, fathers, male mentors, and older men to guide them. Our ancestors knew that many boys need help, so boys were targeted for increased literacy by apprenticeship to men (like artists, writers, leaders) who embodied and taught that literacy.

Boys connect competition and competence with manhood as they grow through adolescence. Your goal is to help them associate literacy with manhood.

All the evidence points to a significant truth: Whether a boy is in a highly functional home, but one in which video games or other distractions are keeping him from becoming literate, or in a home or community where there is substance abuse, incarceration, or other socioeconomic difficulties, literacy might be an issue. As boys attain better self-esteem educationally and learn to guide and shape their own lives through the world of books, words, ideas, and character ideals, they build better brains and better lives, and they improve their chances of doing well in the future.

Meeting the literacy challenge in Scouting   

The Boy Scouts of America is a national organization committed to improving male literacy at all levels and across all ethnic groups. The organization has joined forces with many in the field of male development to help boys learn to love reading, writing, and all the components of literacy. The BSA’s Boys’ Life magazine, in circulation for more than 100 years, is one of the most boy-friendly periodicals available today.

The writing style of Boys’ Life magazine includes vocabulary that can help even reluctant readers successfully move through the pages. Articles and stories are fun and active, involving heroes, sports stars, nature trips, and most importantly, active and challenging quests and journeys. To provide a secondary style of reading and analyzing, the magazine includes jokes, comic strips, and puzzles. It features historical figures of importance, yet does not shy away from linking some of its writing to some of the video games boys play. For boys, especially adolescent boys ages 10 and older, “wasting time reading” is considered an enemy. Boys’ Life does not waste their time with material irrelevant to their lives.

As boys read Boys’ Life magazine, they read a magazine written for them. For specific examples of how the features in Boys’ Life can assist a boy’s literacy level and encourage a love of reading, visit http://boyslife.org/literacy/.

Copyright Michael Gurian 2013

Michael Gurian is the New York Times bestselling author of twenty six books published in twenty one languages. The Gurian Institute, which he co-founded, conducts research internationally, launches pilot programs and trains professionals.  As a social philosopher and family counselor, Michael has pioneered efforts to bring neuro-biology and brain research into homes, schools, corporations, and public policy.