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Take it from Frank: Reading is cool

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We all know the stereotype boys who play football or sports are cool, while those who read books? Nerds.

It’s a role played out in countless movies and books with the nerds easily identified by their ill-fitting clothes and thick glasses.

However Frank Serafini wants you to know that he reads books and he is not a nerd.

The American educational consultant and children’s author will give a talk on boys and literacy for the Bermuda Reading Association next week.

The reading expert believes that negative stereotypes about readers are one of the reasons boys don’t read as much as girls.

“The first thing is not to separate boys and girls in reading,” said Dr Serafini, who is an associate professor at Arizona State University. “Sometimes that is not a good way to think. The reading differences between boys is sometimes as great as the difference between boys and girls. Certainly, it seems that traditional classroom instruction has been less boy-friendly. One of the biggest challenges is trying to make reading cool.”

Finding material of interest to boys was one of the problems, he said. Boys tend to like things that aren’t sanctioned in schools, such as comic books, gaming catalogues and books about farting. Dr Serafini said the disconnect between boys’ interests and what was being taught was sometimes heightened by the fact that 98 percent of teachers at primary-school level are female.

“Sometimes there is a disconnect between what teachers read and what boys want to read,” he said. “Some teachers say ‘I won’t read ‘Captain Underpants’’ but a lot of boys enjoy reading that book, and it can help bring them into reading.”

Dr Serafini said another component was getting boys to see themselves as readers.

“Too often in their lives they don’t see other positive role models as readers,” said Dr Serafini. “How do we bring more positive male role models into the classroom? They could be physically invited as a guest to the classroom. They also need to appear in the literature we read. They need to read books with male protagonists. Here in America, about ten years ago the American Library Association began a campaign putting sports figures on reading posters. That has been going on for a while.”

Dr Serafini said boys often liked there to be a purpose to their reading. Boys want to know why they are reading something.

“The more authentic the reading material, the more purposeful it is,” he said. “Sometimes they like reading instructional manuals. You don’t always have to be reading fiction in the classroom. And your students don’t always have to be reading to produce a book report. A lot of children like reading to have a discussion in the classroom after the book is finished. They like the social aspects. A lot of us like to read so we can talk about it with our friends later.”

Although some educators blame television for luring children away from reading, Dr Serafini believes that most readers tend to read and watch television. But he said overscheduling children’s lives could get in the way of reading, as much as or more than television.

“I am amazed at how busy a lot of children are with soccer and violin practice and other activities,” he said. “When do we get to sit down and read a book?”

Dr Serafini suggested that families try to create a reading hour that is part of each day. But he stressed that it is meant to be fun and relaxing and not a punishment.

He has a six-year-old grandson, Vaughan, who is an avid reader. Dr Serafini gets a particular pleasure out of the fact that his grandson enjoys his writing ‘Looking Closely Inside the Garden’, ‘Looking Closely Through The Forest’ and ‘Looking Closely By The Seashore’ are among the books he has written for childing.

Dr Serafini said that the world is going through a reading revolution.

“We are seeing more children reading and they are reading different kinds of things,” he said. “They are not just reading traditional novels, catalogues and magazines. They are reading things from electronic media. A lot of what they are reading is shorter text such as blogs or brochures. One of the concerns of educators is their ability to hang with longer texts. As they go into college are they going to be able to read longer texts? The texts we read and where we read them is changing. We are in the middle of upheaval. This is the biggest change in literacy since the printing press was created.”

Dr Serafini is currently working on a book about children and visual literacy. A lot of his research is looking into how children make sense of visual images.

“Now with the internet and other types of technology, we rarely see written text not accompanied by the visual,” he said.

He has written a number of books about reading for adults including ‘The Reading Workshop, Creating Space for Readers’, ‘Around the Reading Workshop in 180 Days’ and ‘Lessons in Comprehension’. His most recent book is ‘Classroom Reading Assessments: More Efficient Ways to View and Evaluate Your Readers’.

In addition to being an education expert, Dr Serafini is also a photographer and has incorporated his own pictures into his children’s books.

“I have been capturing images throughout the Southwest United States and other favourite locations for over 25 years,” said Dr Serafini. “I am an avid hiker and adventurer.”

In 1994 he created a website, backcountryimages.com, to showcase his photographic talents and share his love of the natural world. His journeys have taken him to New Zealand, Fiji, Australia, Italy, England, Mexico, the Caribbean, and across America in search of inspiring images. His photography has been exhibited at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Cave Creek Fine Arts Festival, and Gammage Theater at Arizona State University. His photography has been featured in Plateau Journal and CERCA Magazine. Last year he was a juried artist in the Sonoran Arts League / Arizona Arts Alliance.

He is also a musician and has his own band called Frankie & The Tornadoes. Perhaps more importantly he is an avid reader. When he spoke to

The Royal Gazette he was reading the second book in the very popular ‘Hunger Games’ young adult trilogy by Suzanne Collins.

Dr Serafini will speak at a Bermuda Reading Association workshop on Saturday at the Fairmont Southampton Resort. The event runs from 9am to 3pm.

Tickets are $75 and available from www.bdatix.bm .

Useful websites: www.frankserafini.com; guysread.com; www.backcountryimages.

Dr Frank Serafina
Let them read: Some teachers are reluctant to let children read books like 'Captain Underpants' but Frank Serafina says the important thing is for children, and especially boy, to read something.

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Published August 29, 2011 at 10:00 am (Updated August 28, 2011 at 4:13 pm)

Take it from Frank: Reading is cool

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