The Toronto District School Board is enlisting the help of a new slam-dunk writer in residence and a Junkyard Dog to get boys excited about reading.
Eric Walters, a bestselling children's author, has collaborated before with former Toronto Raptor Jerome Williams and his brother Johnnie. For their latest book, Home Team, the three men will launch their largest collaboration ever when thousands of Grade 3 and Grade 6 boys act as their story editors.
The project is the latest evidence that the TDSB's new education director, Chris Spence, understands that to narrow the achievement gap between boys and girls, you need to close the enthusiasm gap first.
Boys fare poorly in reading and writing in part because they don't like reading and writing. When the province released standardized test results this year, a little-noticed accompanying survey found that 53 per cent of Grade 3 boys said they liked to read, compared to 69 per cent of girls. The chasm widened by Grade 6, when only 42 per cent of boys reported they liked reading, compared to 64 per cent of girls.
Writing proved even less popular. Only 43 per cent of Grade 3 boys and 32 per cent of Grade 6 boys said they enjoyed it.
"There's this myth that boys don't read," Mr. Walters said. "Really, boys read but they read what interests them and we've got an obligation to bring them things that they enjoy."
The author said there are tricks to capturing and keeping boys' attention. They'll read on if you provide them plot-driven books with action in the first three pages, rather than relationship-driven stories.
The TDSB project goes further than selecting exciting books, inviting Grade 3 and Grade 6 boys to help craft an exciting book themselves.
The thousands who are expected to participate in the program will be given two chapters of the book every week over a period of 12 weeks and invited to vote online to shape plot turns and character profiles. Each vote will gain them a chance to win Raptors tickets, autographed basketballs and a chance to meet Jerome Williams.
"We thought that would be a great way to not only encourage boys to read but to give them an interactive book and more excitement about reading," said Jerome Williams, who will be visiting schools and leading online discussions throughout the editing process.
Mr. Walters said that role models like the Williams brothers will help the boys learn that reading and writing isn't a feminine pursuit and that writers can be athletes too.
"Boys like to build things, so as we tried to engage them in reading we wanted to give them some tools to work with by getting them involved in writing," said Johnnie Williams, a youth activist and motivational speaker.
The plot of the book will revolve around the efforts of a pair of students who try to convince the Raptors basketball team to visit their school. It should be completed in February and Mr. Walters said he hoped to publish in May and give a bound copy of the book to each students who participated in the writing process.