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Celebrating World Book Day: Widening Participation’s Boys, Books and Blogging project

Michelle McAvoy is a Coordinator for the Widening Participation team based in Marketing and Communications, Queen Mary University of London. To celebrate World Book Day 2018, she reflects on her experiences of running the Boys, Books and Blogging programme.

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There is a lot of discussion about the significance of reading; studies have found that owning books in the home correlates highly with academic attainment amongst young people. Teachers have responded, with their experiences of how we can encourage boys to read for pleasure.

This has led me to develop the Boys, Books and Blogging (BBB) programme. For ten weeks from November to February, three Queen Mary students and I met with nine Year 10 boys at Eastbury Community School in Barking and Dagenham, the 12th most deprived local authority in England.

For one hour each week, the boys had uninterrupted time for reading and discussing how they felt about books, their preconceived ideas about the kind of people who read, and the barriers to reading they faced. Finally, they reflected on the books they had chosen and their experience of the programme in personal blogs.

This was the second year of running the programme and once again, I was blown away by how insightful the boys were. They had an acute awareness that they spend a lot of time playing video games and watching videos on Youtube, and they know that the apps on their smart phones are designed to be addictive. However, even armed with this knowledge, and an awareness of benefits of reading, the boys couldn’t always change their behaviour. We realised that we had a big task ahead of us.

The brain is a muscle that develops and grows as you ‘exercise’ it

The conversations we had as a group were broad. The brain is a muscle that develops and grows as you ‘exercise’ it so our sessions were ‘mental education’ classes. We reflected on the notion that working hard leads to success, and that the missing part of that equation is usually opportunity.

The boys, thankfully, reflected on taking part in the BBB programme as an opportunity. We also discussed Alex Ferguson’s management style – tailored to suit the player - and that my role would be to motivate and encourage them to read in a way that was tailored to them as an individual.

Positive outcomes

This year, as with last year, some boys surprised me (and sometimes themselves) by reading frequently in their own time – something they had never done before. At a parents’ evening at the school, I was delighted to hear that some of the boys had even encouraged their parents to read more, a completely unexpected positive outcome.

It was interesting to find that among their peers, some of the boys maintained that they had not been reading between sessions – yet could describe to us the plot of the book they were reading thoroughly. Clearly, we still have some barriers to overcome.

Widening Participation

A huge challenge in widening participation work is evidencing how much impact you are having; our projects are just one small factor in a young person’s life, and so isolating their influence can be difficult. Rather than aiming to raise attainment or get the boys into university, the goal of this project was for the boys to finish the programme with a more positive attitude to books, and to develop a lasting habit of reading. We will be seeing them again on-campus in three months’ time to see how they are getting on.

By giving the boys this time and space dedicated to read, we hope we have started them down a path toward a life enriched by books. For World Book Day this year I’ll be reading The Death of Grass by John Christopher. If you are one of the four million UK adults that never read books for pleasure, I hope you’ll consider joining me.

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