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Honoring Students’ Interests in Sports to Support Literacy Learning, Part II

This post (the second of two parts) is written by member Alan Brown. Luke Rodesiler wrote the first part. 

revised-alan-brown-photo-for-publicationThere is an unfair perception about reading that abounds from many corners of the universe, and it’s one I encountered frequently during my youth. It is the notion of reading as a passive, feminine activity, particularly when contrasted with activities that are often considered more active and masculine, such as playing sports. The end result is the boy crisis we hear about so often not only in schools but also in the media, as described by Watson, Kehler, and Martino in their commentary “The Problem of Boys’ Literacy Underachievement: Raising Some Questions.”

Examples and discussions of masculinity in sports are not hard to find. One discussion I found particularly interesting involved Brendan Dwyer, a researcher in the field of sport administration, who was quoted in a recent article about fantasy baseball by Nadia Kounang as saying, “Sports in general has been a space for men to communicate . . . and now fantasy sports is an enhanced version of that . . . . I like to equate it to the male version of a book club.” For English teachers with a passion for inference, we understand the implications of this suggestion: fantasy sports are for boys, and book clubs are for girls.

Robert Lipsyte refers to divisive sporting environments that separate students from athletes and readers from so-called nonreaders as being overtly influenced by jock culture. So it’s refreshing to learn about Andrew Luck’s book club as a high-profile method for connecting adolescents, sports, and literature, and I am always excited to see award-winning children’s and young adult authors such as Matt de la Peña emphasize sports as an entry point to literature.

Years ago I created a sports literacy blog for students, teachers, librarians, and parents to help them connect sports and young adult literature. What was missing, at least for me, was the opportunity to put these resources into practice. As a result, I started my first after-school sports literacy program at a local high school in 2013. Years later, I have just begun my first middle-grades sports literacy program at a school with dedicated teachers and administrators trying desperately to decrease the reading proficiency achievement gap in their school.

This program is grounded in sociocultural theory in that students develop literacy skills while engaging in activities related to their personal, everyday interests. The program’s motto is simple: sports talk, free snacks, good books. Through social activities and sports-related young adult literature, students have an opportunity to explore the world around them, including academic objectives and social pressures that are part of the transition to high school. Personally, I can’t think of a better way to spend a Thursday afternoon.

If you are interested in learning more about meaningful and productive ways to engage students in reading, writing, and other literacy practices, I hope you will consider picking up a copy of NCTE’s new release Developing Contemporary Literacies through Sports: A Guide for the English Classroom, which I coedited with my colleague Luke Rodesiler. This edited book includes contributions and sample lesson plans from experienced English teachers, teacher educators, scholars, and young adult authors from across the country.

You may also want to mark your calendars for Thursday, February 23, when Luke and I will host a live Web seminar exploring critical literacy at the intersections of sport and society. The seminar, which begins at 4:30 p.m. (EST), is free to NCTE members.

Thanks for taking the time to read these blog posts, and we hope you will consider, if you haven’t already, honoring students’ interests in sports to support literacy learning.

Layout 1Alan Brown is an assistant professor of English education at Wake Forest University. Along with Luke Rodesiler, he is the coeditor of Developing Contemporary Literacies through Sports: A Guide for the English Classroom, a new release from NCTE. Luke and Alan are co-chairs of the Featured Session: G.01: The Intersection of Literacy, Sports, Culture and Society.