I am convinced that the way to turn boys on to writing is to play games. Research shows that boys who are judged in school to have reading ages well below their chronological ages are writing on games forums and fan sites at a level appropriate or even above where the school expects them to be. The message is clear – for the majority of boys schools are dysfunctional, whereas gaming offers a world which engages their intellectual interest and produces literacy practices their English teachers would envy!
I run a games club at my sons’ school, and the boys use the club’s website blog to write copiously about the games that they are playing. The level of literacy displayed on the club blog would appear to back up reasearch results.
I teach at an all girl school, and one of the more successful writing tasks that I have set girls is to use PowerPoint, and specifically the action buttons function, which allows you to establish clickable links from one slide to another, to create interactive “books.” You know the kind of interactive Role Play Game Books that were created by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone in the 1980s? You would read a passage and then be given a choice, each choice leading to a different outcome on a different page of the book. The reader could thus navigate different narratives with alternate endings, including, of course, the fateful – ‘you die!” Any combats were resolved with a roll of the die. This type of book has recently re-incarnated in the form of apps on your iPad or phone.
Using PowerPoint, and action buttons a student can write a similar book, using clickable links instead of turning to a particular page, and different slides instead of pages. The writing can be complemented with graphics in a way that engages screenagers. Within an hour most students can already write a story with 3 or more branches, and many take it on as a personal challenge.
I don’t teach boys at the moment, but I was assessing some of the PowerPoints that my students had written, and my 14-year-old son looked over my shoulder at the screen. I showed him how to use the action buttons and he was hooked, immediately starting one of his own. It seems to me that this task would go down quite well with boys, and might be something a teacher could use to try to close the gender literacy divide.