Research in Gender, Language and Sexuality (RiGLS) Harry Potter and Boys’ Literacies Steve Dempster , Jane Sunderland and Joanne Thistlethwaite Jan. 16 2013 1993 2004 Moral panic about Boys’ “Underachievement” 2000 2009 2004 2010 2011 PS… 1693 Locke expresses concern about schools failing to develop boys’ writing and speaking skills (Cohen, 1998). Why boys “fail” Based on (Epstein, et al., 1998) ‘Pity the poor boys’ + = Boys’ “failure” is due to faults in a “feminised” primary education system ‘Failing schools’ ‘Boys will be boys’ Boys “fail” due to “natural” male tendencies and laddishness. ‘The male teacher responded by advising parents not to worry about boys reading books – “it’s not their thing”. Boys are “more interested in doing active things like sport and other physical activity. ”’ (Manuel & Robinson 2003, p 67) Why boys “fail” Based on (Epstein, et al., 1998) ‘Boys will be boys’ Boys “fail” due to “natural” male tendencies and laddishness. • Academia (particularly reading) is “feminine”; • ‘Substitute girls’ (Spender, 1982) or ‘poofs’ (Epstein et al.,, 1998); • Greater investment in football and messing about. ‘...being viewed as “clever” or a “swot” was not really masculine and was likely to make for unpopularity’. (Frosh et al, 2002, p 198). ‘There appears to be only limited engagement in reading among 15year-old males beyond what is required of them... twice as many males as females see reading as a waste of time’. (UNESCO, 2003, p 155) Do boys not read? (1) • Manuel & Robinson (2003) 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. • M & R dispute these assumptions: – 50% boys,40% girls read for 2hrs+ per day; – 42% boys, 46% girls prefer fiction over other printed media; – 2/3 both genders see themselves as ‘good’ readers. • CAVEAT – Small scale study (n=69) Do boys not read? (2) Maynard et al., (2008), n=4182: • Boys more likely identify as ‘reluctant readers’ (though a minority of pupils in each KS) • More girls than boys read fiction, only a minority in each KS “never or “hardly ever” Boys’ reading and Harry Potter • Has the series made a difference to boys’/children’s literacy, in terms of attitudes, practices and/or attainment? • The issue is not so much whether more boys read and/or benefit from Harry Potter than do girls, but whether the Harry Potter series has made a difference to boys’ reading, in the short or long term ‘Evidence’ folklore/articles of faith anecdotes assumptions and speculation informal surveys ‘awards’ For example …. • “… one of ‘the most exciting aspects of the Harry Potter phenomenon [is that it has] enticed boys from non-fiction to fiction”(Ruth 2001) • “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) - no support provided for this claim. ‘Library practices’ data In 2006 Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix most-borrowed book from UK children’s libraries ‘return trade’: ‘[The Harry Potter books] appear to be rich enough to support many re-readings by the young and less young alike …’ (Ruth 2001) Naysaying: unsystematic surveys • When Jack Zipes (2002: 185) asked 5th/6th graders whose teacher was reading the book to them, who had themselves read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (US title) …. “only half the students raised their hands … mostly girls …. Some of the students called the books boring. For they most part, they liked what was being read to them [i.e. by their teacher] , but they liked other books equally well”. Naysaying: unsupported claims • “… while children are not adverse to reading the Harry Potter adventures …., they are adverse to spending money on them. They certainly do not buy them. Adults have clearly been buying the majority of the Harry Potter books” (Zipes 2002: 185) On the plus side, Harry Potter is clearly an award-winner • in the UK, accolades for Harry Potter from children have included the Smarties Gold award, Children’s Book award, Young Telegraph Paperback of the Year award, Birmingham Cable Children’s Book award, Sheffield Children’s Book award 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) Since Zipes made his ‘naysaying’ claims …. • (1) ‘Young people’s reading in 2005’ (Maynard et al., for National Centre for Research in Children’s Literature’) • Findings (a)Harry Potter was the favourite character of both boys and girls at all Key Stage levels (1-4) (b)JK Rowling in top 3 authors of girls and boys across all KS. (2) Margaret Willis’ (2001) MEd dissertation (Sheffield University) • Does the Harry Potter Phenomenon confirm or challenge what we think boys like to read? Sample/methodology • Small rural North Yorkshire comprehensive school; – Questionnaire to Yr 7 (86 boys and girls, open and closed questions) – Focus group (6 boys boys’ interests and their interest in Harry Potter books) – Semi-structured interviews (6 boys with interest in the Harry Potter books) Findings: preferences and behaviours Questionnaire Prefer Fiction Prefer non-Fiction Read every day Do not read often Have read Potter Boys 58% 16% 14% 35% 65% Girls 96% 4% 44% 5% 74% Fiction helped them to use their imagination and ‘escape into the adventure’ ; one boy interviewed said this was a particular case with Potter Appeal of Harry Potter (1) • JK Rowling favourite of 32% sample; • Top author for boys (girls – Jacqueline Wilson); • Potter (in questionnaire): – – – – ‘imaginative and exciting’, ‘wicked’ and ‘brill’. full of cliff hangers lets readers ‘escape into another world’ . • Self described ‘not very good reader’ recalls he ‘begged and begged’ for book one to read himself. • No films released at the time of research but boys interviewed were anxious film might ruin their view of characters and the stories • Appeal of Potter (2) Processes • ‘their own choice’ to begin reading Potter for themselves; • Some introduced to books via media or having it read to them at school; • Boys re-read the Potter books –things they'd missed, or needed to relive when reading a later book; Achievements • Many boys pleased they had managed to finish the books. • Few moved on beyond the Potter series to other texts. • But Willis later wrote: “The reading habits and interests of [these boys] were clearly influenced by their discovery of the Potter novels and … this marked a new-found enthusiasm for books and reading in general” (2007: 24). 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). Also positive for boys, Willis 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) …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) Other possibilities JK Rowling’s sustained. ‘straightforward’ style may appeal to previously reluctant boy readers of fiction Focalisation of Harry (i.e. things are seen from his point of view) Intertextual links (e.g. codes, rules) reassure boy (more than girl) readers with poor self-images? Our own study • 2 years British Academy funded (‘Small Research Grant’) • Mixed Methods: – questionnaire – single-sex Focus Groups with “enthusiasts” – 'situated literacies' approach: discussions one boy from each Year group) • Boys (and girls) from a local state primary school (Years 5 and 6) • Boys (and girls) from two local comprehensive schools (Years 7-10) RQ (1): Literacy practices (a) Do boys borrow, buy 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? Assumption: primary school boys 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 RQ (2) & (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? Research Question (4): Practices What are the wider contextual practices surrounding certain boys' (lack of) engagement with Harry Potter? Methodology • 'situated literacies' approach • discussions with six selected boys (one from each Year group) in the physical contexts of their families, schools and friendship groups about their engagement with Harry Potter, and whether they think this affected their later reading.” (from funding application) Practicalities of the study (and challenges!) • Stage 1 - Getting schools to participate • Challenge – communicating with schools! • 3 schools (so far): – 1 Primary School – 2 Secondary Schools The Schools • The Primary School: • Years 5 & 6 (age 9-11) • n = 46 pupils (22 boys, 24 girls) • Secondary School 1: • Years 7-11 (age 11-16) • n = 200+ q’aire respondents (still counting) • Secondary School 2: • Years 7-11 (age 11-16) • n = 707 (hopefully...) Methodology (plan) • Questionnaire • Analyse responses • Identify Harry Potter ‘enthusiasts’ for Focus Groups (have read 2+ books) • Run focus groups with ‘enthusiasts’ • and later • Case Studies of selected boys. Methodology (and more challenges) • Questionnaire o challenge – switch from paper to electronic o Link sent via parent email = decreased response rate (200 out of 1320 at Secondary School 1) • Analyse responses • Identify Harry Potter enthusiasts for Focus Groups (challenge here too) • Run focus groups with ‘enthusiasts’ • Case Studies Progress – The Primary School – 46 pupils (22 boys, 24 girls) Timeline: o Pilot questionnaire (10th October 2012) = Issues arising o Questionnaire (October 24th 2012) = sampling of FG participants o 2 x Focus groups (December 18th 2012) Questionnaire – Initial Findings (Primary School) • • • • (n = 46 ), 52% Girls, 48% boys), Yrs 5/6 All but one had “heard of Potter” 85% self-identified as “good readers” 33% had read a Potter book (53% were boys) • 71% whole sample had seen a Potter film • 31% had done both Potter Readers Non Potter Readers • 47% had a Potter Book read to them; • 93% had also seen a film; • 36% boys and 14% girls have Potter toys; • 38% boys and 29% girls have other merchandise; • 40% played Potter games • 60% had seen a Potter film • 42% boys & 13% girls had video games • 16% had Potter merchandise (mainly boys) • 20% played Potter games In the majority of cases, children’s awareness of and engagement with Harry Potter is more likely to be due to other media– particularly the films – than their personal engagement with the books. Readers (n = 15) • 53% had attempted all 7 books, 63% of whom were boys; • Chamber of Secrets: most read title • Prisoner of Azkaban: least read • Few pupils found any of the books “hard to read” • Philosopher’s Stone judged easiest • Deathly Hallows judged most difficult Further reading? • 53% said HP had made them want to read more • 60% said they wanted to read books more difficult than HP • 67% said they wanted to read more fiction • Boys tended to be more positive than girls Progress – Secondary School 1 – 1320 pupils (+ 350 in years 12-13) • Timeline: o Pilot questionnaire (22nd October 2012) = switch to electronic o Electronic questionnaire launched (16th November 2012) o Reminders on Facebook and via email o 200 + responses (small proportion) o Next stage: Focus Groups. Progress – Secondary School 2 • 707 pupils • Timeline: • Electronic questionnaire to be launched very soon... Progress: Focus Groups so far... • Pilot Focus group – Issues: familiarity, overlapping speech, silly answers... ‘Do you think that reading Harry Potter has improved your reading?’ Girl 1: No Girl 2: Never Girls 3, 4 & 1: No! Girl 2: Never, because I Girl 3: No! Girl 1: I was reading way before, way before then Girl 3: way before then Girl 2: [yeah] Girl 4: [yeah] Girl 1: well, a little bit, Girl 2: we just read them for fun Girl 1: a little bit, it was like the first proper novel that I’ve ever read, it’s like the proper big novel that I’ve ever read so I guess that it can make me a bit more patient Focus Groups so far... • Actual Primary School Focus Groups: – 1 x boys • 6 boys, very successful, next step: transcription – 1 x girls • Issues: very quiet group, only 3 girls, one very shy and one had limited knowledge of Harry Potter. 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: http://www.education.gov.uk/rsgateway/DB/SFR/s000865/sfr192009.pdf • Department for Education (2010), Key Stage 1 Attainment by Pupil Characteristics, in England 2009/10: source http://www.education.gov.uk/rsgateway/DB/SFR/s000968/sfr33-2010.pdf • 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. • 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): 441-459. • • 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): 66-77. • • 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): 45-65. • • Millard, Elaine (1997) Differently Literate: Boys, girls and the schooling of literacy. London: The Falmer Press. • • 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 24-25.