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Harry Potter and Boys’ Literacies Jane Sunderland (with input from Steve Dempster and Joanne Thistlethwaite) RiGLS, Dec. 4 2013.

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Presentation on theme: "Harry Potter and Boys’ Literacies Jane Sunderland (with input from Steve Dempster and Joanne Thistlethwaite) RiGLS, Dec. 4 2013."— Presentation transcript:

1 Harry Potter and Boys’ Literacies Jane Sunderland (with input from Steve Dempster and Joanne Thistlethwaite) RiGLS, Dec

2 Moral panic in UK about boys’ ‘underachievement’ especially in reading PS… 1693 Locke expresses concern about schools failing to develop boys’ writing and speaking skills (Cohen, 1998).

3 Do boys really not read? (1) Manuel & Robinson (2003) identify assumptions about teenage readers: – Boys don’t read as much [fiction] as girls – Teenage boys don’t like books – Adolescent boys have poorer self-image as readers than girls. Manuel and Robinson then dispute these assumptions: – 50% boys, 40% girls read for 2hrs+ per day – 42% boys, 46% girls prefer fiction over other printed media CAVEAT – Small scale study (n=69); boys and girls in a New South Wales secondary school

4 Do boys really not read? (2) Boys more likely than girls to identify as ‘reluctant readers’ (though only a minority of male pupils in each Key Stage) (5 Key Stages in UK education system) More girls than boys read fiction, but only a minority in of boys each KS said they ‘never’ or ‘hardly ever’ did so ( n = 4182; boys and girls from KS1-3) Maynard et al. (2008)

5 Enter Harry Potter... media claims folklore/articles of faith anecdotes assumptions and speculation informal surveys ‘awards’ (e.g. ‘Smarties Gold’ – from children) …and claims that the series has made a positive difference to children’s reading, (particularly boys’)...

6 Media claims ‘Like magic, they're readers’ (St Petersberg Times, USA, 2005)Like magic, they're readers ‘The Harry Potter effect: how one wizard hooked boys on reading’ (The Ottawa Citizen, Canada, 2007)The Harry Potter effect: how one wizard hooked boys on reading ‘Potter's magic spell turns boys into bookworms’ (The Observer, UK, 2005).

7 Unsupported claims in the literature “Harry Potter appears to be as popular with girls as with boys …. While boy readers may identify with Harry’s heroism, girl readers, like the girls at Hogwarts, respond to him both as a motherless boy in need of love and as a romantic hero with special powers” (Eccleshare 2002: 87).

8 ‘Library practices’ data  In 2006 Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix most-borrowed book from UK children’s libraries  “[the Harry Potter books] appear to be rich enough to support many re-readings by the young and less young alike … … one of the most exciting aspects of the Harry Potter phenomenon [is that it has] enticed boys from non-fiction to fiction” (Ruth 2001)

9 Boys’ reading and Harry Potter: interesting questions Do girls and boys respond differently to the Harry Potter series? Has the series made a difference to boys’/girls’/children’s literacy, in terms of attitudes (e.g. to fiction) and practices? Has the series made a difference to boys’ and girls’ reading achievements, in the short or long term? Does Harry Potter help learning generally?

10 The gap/niche …. “There have been no reliable and thorough demographic studies concerning the purchase of the Harry Potter books and their reception among adults and children” (Zipes 2002: 186; our italics) Timely research topic! (especially now that the book series and film series are complete, and now that a generation of older teenagers can reflect on their Harry Potter experience) Influence of film series (now complete)

11 Some academic work (1): ‘Young people’s reading in 2005’ (Maynard et al. (2008) for National Centre for Research in Children’s Literature’) (a)Harry Potter was the favourite character of both boys and girls at all Key Stage levels (1-4) (b)J.K. Rowling in top 3 authors of girls and boys across all KS. (4182 children)

12 Some academic work (2): Margaret Willis’ (2001) MEd dissertation (Sheffield University) Small rural North Yorkshire comprehensive school; – questionnaire to Year 7 (86 boys and girls) Finding: 74% of girls and 65% of boys had read Harry Potter books – focus group with 6 boys (‘enthusiasts’) – semi-structured interviews with 6 boys

13 Willis’ (2007) explanatory claims “The boys in my study generally had a poor image of themselves as readers largely as a result of parents and teachers dismissing their electronic game and computer-based reading as being of little or no value. What Harry Potter gave them was engaging texts that sustained their interest and, most importantly, convinced them that reading could be fun. The global appeal of Potter made reading ‘cool’ ” (2007: 24; my italics).

14 Also positive for boys, Willis (2007) suggests, is that Harry… “… retains many of the qualities of the traditional fantasy hero …. [He] takes his readers to a secret magical place, to become members of a very special club, where codes, rules and secret languages provide access to another world ….” [like fantasy computer games]  i.e. intertextual links (e.g. codes, rules, fantasy) may reassure boys with poor self-image as readers but  are these qualities particularly relevant to boys?

15 …and that … “ there is a sense of security in the familiar style and characters for the boy reader as he moves from one book to the next” (Sunderland, 2011, paraphrasing Willis 2007) Is this ‘sense of security’ (provided by Harry Potter as a series) particularly relevant to (or needed by) boys?

16 Other possibilities which might attract boys to the Harry Potter series  J.K. Rowling’s ‘straightforward’ style, sustained across 7 books, may appeal to previously reluctant (boy) readers of fiction  ‘focalisation’ of Harry (i.e. things are seen from his point of view)  authorial representation: J.K. Rowling?

17 Our own study: Harry Potter and Boys’ Literacies 2 years British Academy funded (‘Small Research Grant’), Mixed methods: – questionnaire with whole classes – single-sex focus groups with Harry Potter ‘enthusiasts’ Boys and girls from two local state primary schools (Years 5 and 6) Boys and girls from two local comprehensive schools (Years 7-11)

18 Rationale for selection of participants primary school children may be reading Harry Potter now secondary students who read Harry Potter when they were younger may be able to assess its influence on their current reading practices teenagers today in an unusual position in the sense that they ‘grew up’ with the story; as the books were being published, anticipation of next title/film release may have added to hype e.g. a 16-year-old, born in 1997, may have been reading the books before the film series ( ) was complete

19 Original RQ (1): Literacy practices (a) Do boys borrow or request Harry Potter books? (b) How many of the books do they read? How many times? (c) Do they talk about the books with friends or family, outside class? If so, who? (d) What (do) did they go on to read?

20 Original RQs (2) and (3) (2) Achievements a)Do these boys feel that Harry Potter has help them improve their reading? If so, in what ways? b)Do they think the books have changed their attitudes to reading? to fiction? (3) Responses a)What do these boys think of the Harry Potter books, broadly? b)What do they like about them? c)What do they dislike about them?

21 Schools and number of pupils involved PS1PS2SS1SS2Total Boys Girls Total (self- selecting) (+ 2 who did not specify their gender)

22 Some interim questionnaire findings …..

23 Children in general …. 606 of the 621 children had heard of Harry Potter 49% (298) of the 606 have read at least one Harry Potter book themselves (‘readers’) 28% (161) of the 606 had had a Harry Potter novel read to them; 85% of the 161 also self-identified as Potter readers (N.B. importance of home literacy practices) mean number of Harry Potter books read (primary and secondary) is four BUT Harry Potter readers are most likely to have read either one or all seven books just over two-fifths of Potter readers (41%, n = 122) have re-read at least one book at least once; 37 pupils (12%) have re-read all seven

24 Children in general, continued …. the Harry Potter books reportedly inspired a majority of readers to read (a) more books generally (59%); (b) books that are more difficult than Potter (54%); and (c) more fiction in general (65%) association between Potter readership and self-identification as a ‘good reader’(sig., p <.05). Potter readers are approx. twice as likely as others to self-identify as ‘good readers’.

25 Is gender relevant? In the main, no As usual, there are many ‘gender similarities’ between girls ands boys and differences among girls and among boys (for example, around half the girls and half the boys had not read a Potter book) Very few statistically significant differences Need to be careful not to view these phenomena through a populist, ‘gender binary’ lens (‘some boys’ ≠ ‘all boys’ and ≠ ‘no girls’)

26 Some quantitative gender tendencies (1): boys and Harry Potter?  Boys overall are more likely than girls to have read at least one Harry Potter book (44% of all girls; 55% of all boys; stat. sig. p <.05); also sig. at secondary level alone but not at primary level In each sector (primary and secondary), boy readers outweigh boy non-readers, and girl non- readers outweigh girl readers (not sig.) The biggest library borrowers were secondary school boys (not sig.)

27 Some quantitative gender tendencies (2): girls and Harry Potter? The biggest borrowers of all seven books were secondary school girls (not sig.) With the exceptions of Chamber of Secrets and Half-blood Prince, a higher percentage of female readers engaged with each title; sig. for Goblet of Fire

28 % of Potter readers reading each title

29 Some quantitative gender tendencies (2): girls and Harry Potter? (cont.) Higher percentages of girls than boys overall re- read each title, sig. for Chamber of Secrets (p <.05)

30 Some quantitative gender tendencies (2): girls and Harry Potter? (cont.) Girls were more likely than boys to rate each book as ‘easy’ (not sig.) More girls than boys overall reported positive ‘post-Potter’ reading behaviours (more books, more ‘difficult’ books, more fiction) (not sig.)

31 Themes and findings ‘emerging’ from the focus groups of Harry Potter ‘enthusiasts’ (SS1) importance of the ‘bedtime story’ influence of family and friends much criticism of the films some felt the books influenced their later reading; others said they were reading (fiction) anyway ‘thickness’ of the books vocabulary-building potential of the books

32 What do (some) boys say they like about Harry Potter? mythical creatures magic characters (e.g. Snape, Fred, George, Neville, Dumbledore, Peter Petegrew) Boy 1: it’s something that … you want it to be real and I think that’s why you get so hooked into them … especially when you’re younger you think how exciting it is Steve: and what do you mean when you say you want it to be real Boy 2: like you want that to be a true story as if it could actually happen …. Boy 1: want to play quidditch and … Boy 2: yeah things like that

33 Learning (1) Jo: do any of you think that erm Harry reading Harry Potter helped you improve your reading in any way Girl: I learned most of my spelling from the Harry Potter books Jo: what spelling in general Girl: yeah Jo: okay that’s interesting Girl: yeah I think I probably got a bigger vocabulary from reading them Jo: right Girl: well it was the first big book I read so it like made me read like other bigger proper books Girl: yeah Jo: okay so do others agree that it made them read other long books afterwards Girl: yeah I read The Lord of the Rings after (Younger SS girls)

34 Learning (2): other books Boy: well these sort of books did get me onto other really in-depth books like I read something by an author who worked for Star Wars … and it was like a buffed up diary of one of the characters and I got so engrossed that I re-read it four times Steve: yeah Boy: and it was kind of because I’d read a few Harry Potters

35 Learning (3): other books Girl 1: … these were like the first books that I read properly ‘cause before that … I hated reading Jo:ah interesting Girl 1:so after Harry Potter I then started to read other things Jo:okay so it kind of Girl 1: and it really helps with my reading as well ‘cause I think I went like two levels after reading from when I like started reading properly … Girl 2: I think I did a lot of reading anyway like all the time I think being able to read the last three in particular because they’re so thick they encouraged me to read things like Lord of the Rings Jo:is that what you went on to read afterwards Girl 2: no it was a couple of years but I knew I could manage thick books (older SS girls)

36 Influence of friends Girl: my friend she is Harry Potter mad so she kept going on at me to read them so in the end I decided to read them too Girl: yeah my friend did that to me too Libby told me about them and she was like ‘you have got to read these books’ and I was like ‘okay’ [exasperated tone] so I did (younger SS girls)

37 Gender in the focus groups (our first impressions, pre-analysis with Atlas-ti) boys tended to mention non-fiction more than girls boys tended to cite book series more than girls did boys tended to prefer male characters; girls liked both female and male characters but no children said they saw Harry Potter as a ‘boys’ book’ or a ‘girls’ book’ ….

38 Jo: do you think more boys read Harry Potter than girls generally or 3 girls: no Girl: I think it’d probably be more girls than boys Jo: right okay what does everyone else think Girl: I’d say equal spread Girl(s): yeah Girl: I don’t think it’s either a girls’ book or a boys’ book really like some books … are more targeted towards girls but it’s not really that (SS1, older girls)

39 And to finish with …. Jo: and why do you think it is that some people don’t like reading er don’t read the Harry Potter books Girl: because they’re peasants

40 Thank you

41 References (selective) Connolly, P. (2004) Boys and Schooling in the Early Years, London: Routledge Falmer. Department for Children, Schools and Families (2009), National Curriculum Assessments at key Stage 2 in England 2009, Statistical First Release, source: Department for Education (2010), Key Stage 1 Attainment by Pupil Characteristics, in England 2009/10: source Epstein, D. (1998) Real boys don’t work: ‘underachievement’, masculinities and harassment of sissies’, in: Epstein, D., Elwood, J., Hey, V. and Maw, J (eds.), Failing Boys? Issues in Gender and Achievement, Buckingham, Open University Press. Frosh, S., Phoenix, A. and Pattman, R. (2002) Young Masculinities: Understanding Boys in Contemporary Society. Basingstoke: Palgrave.

42 Gillborn, D. & Mizra, H. (2000) Educational Inequality: Mapping Race, Class and gender: a synthesis of research evidence, London, OFSTED. Gorard, S., Rees, G. & Salisbury, J. (1999) Reappraising the apparent underachievement of boys at school, Gender & Education 11(4): Manuel, J. and Robinson, D. (2003) Teenage boys, teenage girls and books: Re-viewing some assumptions about gender and adolescents’ reading practices, English Teaching: Practice and Critique 2(2): Maynard, S., MacKay, S. & Smyth, F. (2008) A survey of young people’s reading: thinking about fiction, New Review of Children's Literature and Librarianship 14(1): Millard, Elaine (1997) Differently Literate: Boys, girls and the schooling of literacy. London: The Falmer Press.

43 OECD Programme For International Student Assessment (Pisa)/UNESCO Institute For Statistics (2003) Literacy Skills for the World of Tomorrow: Further results from PISA 2000, Paris, OECD/UNESCO. Spender, D. (1982) Invisible Women: the schooling scandal. London: Writers and Readers Press. Sunderland, J. (2011) Language, Gender and Children’s Fiction. London: Continuum. (Chapter 10; surveys anecdotal and passing references to boys; literacies and Harry Potter.) West, A. & Pennell, H. (2003) Underachievement in Schools. London: Routledge Falmer. Willis, Margaret (2007) Harry Potter and the great reading revolution. Literacy Today, September


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