Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Getting boys reading - start in the middle

Start from the middle.

This was Leonard Sax’s counter-intuitive (and possibly brilliant) suggestion to English teachers who want boys to enjoy great literature.

Boys’ and girls’ brains process information differently. Girls process emotional information throughout their cerebral cortex, where language and analysis are also processed.

Boys, however, process emotional information in the amygdala – which doesn’t connect with the “talking” part of the brain.

So girls take in emotional scenes and can talk about them, analyse the characters, and empathise easily. The boy's brain is more attracted to action.

And if there’s nothing “happening” in a book, boys’ brains aren’t going to find it engaging. So Dr. Sax says, skip right to the action. In Jane Eyre, that’s page 233, when Mason is having his shoulder bandaged – for teeth marks that have punctured his skin.

The boys will be instantly hooked by the action and the mystery. Ask them, “why would someone bite a person, rather than use a knife, which would be more efficient?”

“Maybe the person didn’t have a knife!” one boy will offer. “Maybe the person was crazy!” another might say.

A-ha… now you have them. And now you can take them back to the beginning of the novel, looking for signs of the crazy person who, you know, bites Mason on page 233. Now the boy is engaged in the action of Jane Eyre, rather than having been turned off during the actionless opening scenes.

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