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English Language Journal Vol 4, (2011) 31-48 ISSN 1823 6820


This paper addresses the issue of whether or not schools can sustain male teenagers interest in extensive reading by ensuring that high interest reading materials are selected based on students preferences and also by providing time for reading. Specifically, the following research questions were posed: (i) What kind of materials do form two and form four male students prefer to read? (ii) What kind of material do teachers think form two and form four male students prefer to read? (iii) Are teachers ideas of students reading preferences fairly accurate? and finally, (iv) What provision for reading in schools studied is made in terms of materials, approaches and time?

Studies conducted in Malaysia in the past have focused on the issue of dissatisfactory reading standards among Malaysians. Two landmark studies conducted by Atan Long et al. (1984) and Frank Small and Associates for the National Library (Mohd Fuad. Razali, 1997) revealed Malaysians lack of reading inclination. The nationwide survey findings by Frank Small and Associates complement findings of two 1995 studies conducted by Ambigapathy about school and university students in Penang, Malaysia (Kathiresan, 1996). The latter revealed that secondary school and university students reluctance for material other than that related to academic topics is confirmed by the nationwide scale findings of the National Library Malaysians spend 30 minutes a week reading a newspaper and reading an average of two books per year (Mohd Fuad. Razali., 1997). The Malaysian Education Ministry has made efforts to improve students reading habit viz a viz its intensive and extensive reading programmes. These are discussed below in order to show how the programmes have been structured to shape students reading experiences. A historical trajectory shows that a two-pronged curriculum move resulted in literature being offered as an elective subject as well as a component of the English language

English Language Journal Vol 4, (2011) 31-48 ISSN 1823 6820

subject. Literature has also been featured in Malaysian ESL classrooms through large-scale school reading programmes initiated by the Ministry of Education such as the First Readings in Literature, The New Zealand Readers Project, the English Language Reading Programme (ELRP), the Class Reader Programme (CRP), and finally, the literature component in English language teaching (Ali & Jayakaran, 2000). Besides, the Ministry of Education also collaborated with the Centre for British Teachers (CFBT) for the Reading Kit programme. In 1990 the syllabus for literature as an elective for upper secondary students [Literature in English Syllabus for Secondary Schools] was introduced. Literature in English as an elective subject is taught in forms four and five. In the literature elective, besides an awareness and an appreciation of reading literary works, students are encouraged to develop the skills of literary reading including an acquaintance with, and an appreciation of the main forms of literary expression and of literary devices used (Kementerian Pendidikan, Pusat Perkembangan Kurikulum, 1990, 2). The texts taught draw from the corpus of English, Malaysian and American literary works, as well as from the Commonwealth and European corpuses (Kementerian Pendidikan, Pusat Perkembangan Kurikulum, 1990). They comprise original and unabridged works. Literature is a suggested feature of the Integrated Secondary School Curriculum. The CRP made the teaching of literature more deliberate with a specific period allocated in the secondary school timetable. However, the unexamined CRP was not successful. In a bid to arrest the decline in the literacy rate as well as to make examination-oriented Malaysians take heed of the need for exposure to literature, the introduction of the literature component in the national and English language curriculum requires students to read literary texts for major public examinations. twenty percent of the class time [one period out of five in a week] is allocated for the literature component (Kementerian Pendidikan, Pusat Perkembangan Kurikulum, 2000, April 5). However, studies to discover students opinions about school-assigned material have shown disparities between in-school and out-of-school reading experiences (Smith & Feathers, 1983; Bintz, 1993).

English Language Journal Vol 4, (2011) 31-48 ISSN 1823 6820

Gaudart (1994) in a survey of Malaysian secondary school students found that approximately 30 per cent of respondents expressed dissatisfaction with reading material available. Case studies of six middle-class, urban primary school children found differences in their acceptance of reading materials. Extensive reading is introduced formally in schools to encourage the reading habit among Malaysians and to increase ESL proficiency. As stated previously, the Ministry initiates extensive reading programmes that complement classroom reading programmes. At present, the examined literature-based text reading programme initiated in 2000 is complemented by the Nilam (Nadi Ilmu Amalan Membaca or The Pulse of Education is the Reading Habit) Programme (Program Nilam, Pusat Sumber Pendidikan Negeri Selangor, n d). The programme tracks primary and secondary school students extensive reading habits in two stages. During stage one of the programme structured for secondary school, those who read above 288 books obtain the Nilam award. Meanwhile, the second stage of the Nilam Programme which is called the Reading Buddy focuses on students leadership. In order to qualify as a Reading Buddy, a student needs to have read a hundred books in stage one. The Programme requires that teachers provide workshops and guidance so that reading buddies can tell other students about the stories that they have read. Teachers award marks to Reading Buddies each time based on the number of activities (story telling, reading together, books discussed, and books lent to friends) and friends involved. The programme recognizes that language is social and dialogic (Bakhtin, 1981). More importantly, keeping track of students reading shows whether mandating the literature-based component has achieved the Ministrys aim to inculcate the reading habit outside the language classroom. The government-funded Nilam Programme can be problematic if teachers disregard differences in students reading preferences for school library reading materials. Squire (1985) suggests a multidimensional approach to studying the extensive reading programme in schools. If students are reading, then a study is needed to find out

English Language Journal Vol 4, (2011) 31-48 ISSN 1823 6820

whether or not books are being borrowed by students from the school library. Additionally, the information revealed from the study could be used to revise the selection of materials to suit readers preferences. School libraries need to cater to different categories of readers preferences for books, newspapers, magazines and comics. The purpose of this paper was to present the findings of a study conducted firstly to investigate 14 and 16 yearold male students reading preferences. Secondly, the study investigated whether students and teachers perceptions of students reading preferences matched. Thirdly, the study showed whether provision was made for extensive reading in schools in terms of materials, approaches and time.

The sample for the study, instrumentation and also the method of data analysis are discussed below.

Factors that influence book selections include gender, age and personal reading preferences (Chance, 1999) including features of books (Baines, 1994). Student samples comprising 140 of 14 year-old male students and 150 16 year-old male students were selected at random from six day schools in the state of Perak, Malaysia. A sample of 56 English language teachers was selected from the six schools and one other school nearby.

For this study, two different sets of questionnaires of the selfcompletion type were designed to survey teachers and male students perceptions of male students reading interests and to compare male students book and/or author favourites with teachers recommended books and/or authors for students. A questionnaire in English was used for teachers. However, a translated version of the students questionnaire in the Malay

English Language Journal Vol 4, (2011) 31-48 ISSN 1823 6820

language was distributed in order to obviate the possibility of respondents misunderstanding questions asked in the English language. The students questionnaire focused on finding out the kinds of reading materials that male teenagers preferred to read; their preferences within categories of materials listed; where they obtained books that they read; the methods they used to choose books; the features in a book that caused these male teenagers to enjoy it; popular authors among male teenagers; and whether they liked fiction. In addition, the questionnaire focused on finding out the parts in a newspaper that male teenagers liked most as well as comic and magazine preferences. The teachers questionnaire was designed to discover factors such as pedagogy, curriculum, school and classroom organization, reading materials, reading instruction, teacherstudent relationships, and school goals (the goals that would relate to community goals). These factors showed whether teachers ideas of male students preferences were fairly accurate. METHOD OF DATA ANALYSIS The responses in students and teachers questionnaires were manually counted and tabulated into frequency counts and percentages for all forced choice ranked responses. Open ended questions were categorized and counted. A discussion is conducted on male students preferences and teachers perceptions of 14 and 16 year-old male students reading needs.
Research Results

The research data and findings are presented below. 14 and 16 Year-Old Male Students Reading Interests in Relation to Other Interests Knowing students leisure time interests may help to explain students reading preferences in that it may indicate how much time is available for reading. The findings for this

English Language Journal Vol 4, (2011) 31-48 ISSN 1823 6820

particular study indicate that 14 year-old males liked listening to music first (44%), reading second (37%) and watching television third (32%). By comparison, 16 year-old males favoured playing games most (36%), sports second (34%) and listening to music third (31%). Younger males appeared to prefer indoor activities, where reading is a pastime, while the older males preferred the outdoors, and they indicated that reading is not as attractive as many other leisure interests, being relegated to sixth position in their choices. Male Teenagers Reading Preference by Genre The data in Table 1 below show male teenagers reading preferences by genre.
Table 1 Reading preferences by genre Males of 14 n = 140 Comics Newspapers Story books (fiction) Magazines Non-fiction Books about wild life Poetry Males of 16 n = 150 Magazines Non-fiction Comics Storybooks Newspapers Poetry Books about wild life

1 (46 %) 2 (43 %) 3 (39 %) 4 (22 %) 5 (13 %) 6 (12 %) 7 (2 %)

1 (64%) 2 (43%) 3 (33%) 4 (27%) 5 (19%) 6 (9%) 7 (0%)

Males of 14 like comics, newspapers and story books and as they grow older, they still enjoy light reading material such as newspapers and comics. They certainly do not read as many story books as teachers would want them to. Their interest is not on books about wildlife even though the issue of wildlife conservation is in the secondary school syllabus Unsurprisingly, males do not like poetry. Male Teenagers Preferences for Books Table 2 provides data on male students preferences and teachers perceptions of fiction preferred by 14 and 16 year old male students.

English Language Journal Vol 4, (2011) 31-48 ISSN 1823 6820

Table 2 Male students preferences and teachers perceptions of fiction preferred by 14 and 16 year-old male students
Kinds of fiction Students preference and teachers perceptions Teachers a b c d e f g mystery and detective stories Funny stories Love and romance Science fiction Stories about space and flying Sports stories Myths and legends 1 (63%) 2 (30%) 0 (0%) 4 (15%) 3 (22%) 0 (0%) 0 (0%) 14 yearold males 1 (57%) 2 (38%) 3 (17%) 4 (15%) 5 (14%) 0 (0%) 0 (0%) 16 yearold males 1 (48%) 2 (27%) 3 (21%) 0 (0%) 0 (0%) 4 (20%) 5 (18%) Teachers 1 (63%) 4 (9%) 0 (0%) 3 (24%) 2 (26%) 5 (2%) 5 (2%)

14 and 16 year-old males in general like mystery and detective stories, funny stories and love and romance. Teachers seem to know that 14 and 16 year-old males would enjoy the first two kinds of stories, but none of them could imagine that these males would read romance novels. Younger males are interested in science fiction and stories about space and flying. Teachers think these males become keen about both kinds of stories as they grow older, but they do not. The older males like stories related to sports, probably because they love outdoor pursuits. Strangely, males of 16 are interested in myths and legends, yet the younger ones are not. Male Students Writer Preferences Data in Table 3 below comprise males favourite writers and/ or book titles that they considered enjoyable and teachers recommendations of writers for males of 14 and 16. The data in table 3 above show that not many males are into leisure reading. Fourteen year-old male students are reading books by J.K.Rowling and Enid Blyton. This is perhaps due to interest, at the recommendation of teachers,

English Language Journal Vol 4, (2011) 31-48 ISSN 1823 6820

or simply due to availability. Form four male students still prefer Harry Potter, but also read Star Wars and X-Files. Teachers recommend writers such as Steinbeck for 16 yearold males, writers which are difficult for them. Teachers do however recommend writers and books of mystery and excitement, suitable for males interested in the genre.
Table 3 Male students favourite English book writers and/or book titles
14 yearold males preferences J.K. Rowling Harry Potter (25) Enid Blyton (2) Charles Dickens (1) Oliver Twist Chris Carter The X-Files (15) Star Wars (5) Mark Twain (2) Franklin Dixon The Hardy Boys (0) Ernest Hemingway (0) Nancy Drew Series (0) John Steinbeck (0) Arthur Conan Doyle (0)
author or book.

Teachers recommendations of writers for 14 year-old males J.K. Rowling Harry Potter (10) Enid Blyton !10) Charles Dickens (1) Chris Carter The X-Files (0) Star Wars (0) Mark Twain (1) Franklin Dixon The Hardy Boys (4) Ernest Hemingway (1) Nancy Drew Series (1) John Steinbeck (0) Arthur Conan Doyle (0)

Teachers recommendations of writers for 14 year-old males J.K. Rowling Harry Potter (3) Enid Blyton (1) Charles Dickens (1) Chris Carter The X-Files (0) Star Wars (0) Mark Twain (0) Franklin Dixon The Hardy Boys (0) Ernest Hemingway (0) Nancy Drew Series (0) John Steinbeck (1) Arthur Conan Doyle (2)

16 yearold males preferences J.K. Rowling Harry Potter (5) Enid Blyton (0) Charles Dickens (0) Chris Carter The X-Files (5) Star Wars (5) Mark Twain (0) Franklin Dixon The Hardy Boys (0) Ernest Hemingway (0) Nancy Drew Series (0) John Steinbeck (0) Arthur Conan Doyle (0)

Note: The number in parenthesis indicates the number of respondents naming the


English Language Journal Vol 4, (2011) 31-48 ISSN 1823 6820

Male Students Preference for Non-book Reading Material This study also investigated students preferences for reading material such as newspapers, comics and magazines and teachers perception of students preference for such reading materials. Male Students Preferences for Features in Newspapers Data in Table 4 below indicate the parts of newspapers that teenagers like most. Teachers perceptions are discussed.
Table 4 Newspaper features enjoyed by male students
Features of newspapers a b c d e f g Sports pages World news Local news Comic strips Television-radio news Teenage page Classified advertisements Choice rank and percentage (%) Males of 14 Males of 16 1 (52%) 1 (66%) 2 (48%) 3 (32%) 3 (29%) 2 (46%) 4 (26%) 5 (14%) 5 (24%) 4 (23%) 6 (7%) 6 (6%) 7 (1%) 7 (1%)

Table 4 above shows that male students will read the sports pages first, then only will they read the news. The younger males go for comic strips first. But at 16, radio-television news is more important. They are not much interested in reading what is happening with people their own age, on the teenage page, and at their age, they have no reason to look at the classified advertisements. Generally, the newspaper reading trend does not change much as male students grow older. Teachers Perceptions of Newspaper Features Preferred by Male Students An open-ended question was addressed to teachers about sections of the newspaper male students preferred. Their answers were rather sketchy. However, 89% of the teachers

English Language Journal Vol 4, (2011) 31-48 ISSN 1823 6820

(41 out of 46), correctly identified male students preference for the sports pages. Comics The results of the study indicate that students hardly read comics in English. Two read Ultraman and three Superman, comics based on fantasy. The teachers however recommended Lats Cartoon, famous for the cartoonists perspective on the Malaysian lifestyle. Two teachers recommended Peanuts and 13 others recommended different comics. Ten percent of the respondents in the 1996 Malaysian Public Literacy Survey (Mohd Fuad Razali, Berita Harian Education, August 4, 1997) stated that comics are childish. But teacher respondents in my study have suggested that students read educational comics. These comics could be amusing, yet thought-provoking. Teachers could possibly consider introducing comics in school libraries. Magazines English language teachers recommend Readers Digest (12), Quest (8) and National Geographic (6). All are educational magazines. There is a possibility that students might frequent the library more if we include interest magazines. These would induce reluctant readers of books to read shorter articles for enjoyment, provided that libraries provide magazines for varied fields of interests. Time Provided for Reading in Schools As stated earlier, the Education Ministry mandates that a 35 or 40-minute lesson is allocated weekly for teaching the literature-based component in English. This study indicates that 32 out of 46 teachers (70%) set aside time for students to read individually in class and 36 of 46 language teachers (78%) also provide time for reading during the course of group or individual work. But it appears that the time may possibly be meant for the completion of intensive reading

English Language Journal Vol 4, (2011) 31-48 ISSN 1823 6820

exercises and not for pleasurable reading. Opportunity for reading for pleasure provided in between lessons is slight, as indicated by 9 (20%) of the 46 teachers. Provision of Materials at the School Level Libraries must be accessible to students and 34 of the 46 teachers (74%) confirmed student accessibility to the library. My findings indicate that 30 (65%) of the teachers felt that the library was especially designed for that purpose and 14 (30%) admitted the adequacy of the library, adapted for the purpose, but 2 (4%) complained otherwise. Upgrading school libraries includes the provision of books, chosen with consideration for students preferences. Four teachers (9%) admitted student involvement in suggesting book titles to be bought for the library. However, eight teachers (17%) stated that suggested titles needed teachers approval. 11 teachers (24%) admitted teacher and student involvement in book selection during book exhibitions in school. 31 teachers (67%) reported that the library teacher selected the books. 36 (78%) affirmed that selection was at the recommendation of members of subject departments, while eight teachers (17%) stated that the Principal selected them. Therefore, books for the library are almost exclusively chosen by staff, without consulting student preferences. Arbitrary selection of books is undesirable. Sometimes the choice is made by those who are unaware of what teenagers like, or even of what is available for the age group. Choosing Books Where students get books, what influences selection, and features looked for in books influence book acquisition. Table 5 below indicates the source of male students books. Source of Books The data in Table 5 below indicate the source of students reading materials.

English Language Journal Vol 4, (2011) 31-48 ISSN 1823 6820

Table 5 Source of male students books

Source of books a b c d e f g Borrow from friends Borrow from the school library Borrow from the public library Buy from shops From home Presents Buy from school Choice rank and percentage (%) Males of 14 Males of 16 1 (48%) 4 (27%) 2 (39%) 2 (30%) 3 (30%) 1 (36%) 4 (28%) 5 (22%) 5 (21%) 3 (29%) 6 (14%) 7 (4%) 7 (7%) 6 (6%)

A common pattern is that males of both age groups borrow books from the school and the public library. The younger males borrow books from friends, but book exchange is not so common between the older males who do not rate reading high on their list of activities. Method of Choosing Books Table 6 shows male students method of choosing books.
Table 6 Male students method of choosing books
Method of choosing books a b c d e f g Suggestion from friends Browsing the library shelves Reading the outline on the jacket flap Suggestions from family By the topic By the cover and illustrations Suggestions from teachers Choice rank and percentage (%) Males of 14 Males of 16 1 (34%) 1 (31%) 2 (24%) 3 (22%) 2 (28%) 4 (21%) 5 (19%) 5 (19%) 3 (22%) 4 (20%)

Male students are influenced by friends suggestions in choosing books. Younger males browse through the library shelves for books, stopping to read the outline on the jacket flap. The older male students do not browse yet read the outline on the jacket flap, probably displayed and look at the cover and illustration when choosing books. The finding suggests that teachers could possibly motivate older male students to read a book, but not the younger ones.

English Language Journal Vol 4, (2011) 31-48 ISSN 1823 6820

Enjoyable Features of Books Table 7 below shows the features of books that male students enjoy.
Table 7 Enjoyable features of books among male students
Enjoyable features of books a b c d e f Exciting Funny Spooky Unusual True-to-life Informative Choice rank and percentage (%) Males of 14 Males of 16 1 (71%) 1 (53%) 2 (57%) 5 (30%) 3 (46%) 3 (36%) 3 (46%) 2 (40%) 4 (43%) 4 (33%) 5 (18%) 4 (33%)

The data above show that older males would want horror stories with elements of excitement, the unusual and the spooky. Though the younger ones do appreciate horror stories, they want them to have lots of elements of humour. Male students ranging from the age of 14 to 16 would also enjoy informative books about real things and people. I have presented questionnaire data above. Below I discuss issues pertaining to the sample of male students as well as teachers perception of male students extensive reading preferences.

The study reveals several issues of interest. Firstly, for males, reading interest is relegated from second to sixth position in the span of two years between the ages of 14 and 16. This finding reflects the general reading trend found in other studies. A survey of 189 students in Grades One to Four who completed two administrations of the Elementary Reading Attitude Survey (ERAS) following a 3-year interval indicated that initially, reading attitudes were relatively positive and comparable to the standardization sample for both the recreational and academic subscales of the ERAS. Following the 3 years, however, reading attitudes dropped

English Language Journal Vol 4, (2011) 31-48 ISSN 1823 6820

significantly for both recreational and academic scores (Kush & Watkins, 1996). Similarly, the results of the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study 2001 (PIRLS) reported in 2003 on reading achievement of 10-year-olds in 35 countries in which information was collected from children, their teachers, headteachers and parents. The results showed among others that despite high achievement on reading tests, children in England were reported to have relatively poor attitudes to reading, compared with children in many other countries (Twist, Gnaldi & Morrison, 2004). Another survey conducted over a five-year period from 1998 to 2003, in which a subsample of 2,364 pupils studying in the same schools where the same questionnaire was completed in 1998 showed that enjoyment of reading had fallen over the five years (Sainsbury & Schagen, 2004). Secondly, the findings of this study reveal that teachers do not seem to know male students preferences for most types of reading material. This lack of knowledge can be explained because the findings reveal also that students reading interests are diverse. So teachers may find it difficult to identify male students interests, as well as interests according to maturity level or age group. But the issue is that the results of the study indicate that student involvement in suggesting book titles for library purchase is minimal. Only four teachers (9%) admitted that students were involved in materials selection. The limited funds for buying reading material cannot permit arbitrary buying of books by people who do not know students reading preferences. My findings suggest that secondary school teachers may not be recommending the most appropriate books for teenagers. Even if they do, books for young adolescents, for example books by Enid Blyton and J.K. Rowling are written in either the second language or translated into the Malay language. Students indicated that they are reading popular books in the national language, Malay. Yet English language teachers recommend books such as classics and modern novels written for first language readers. None of the teachers indicate knowledge of current reading interests for teenage novels other than the J.K. Rowlings Harry Potter series.

English Language Journal Vol 4, (2011) 31-48 ISSN 1823 6820

Besides the Harry Potter series, teachers did not indicate knowledge of other current favourite series or books adapted from or for films. As for encouraging extensive reading, only nine out of 46 teachers provide opportunity for reading in between lessons. Teachers also indicate that schools rely solely on the centrally-organized reading programmes such as the compulsory reading of predetermined literature-based texts. The focus of literature-based classes is on intensive language study. The language curriculum acknowledges that for second language readers, language proficiency is a real factor in reading enjoyment. So the teachers role is to provide the vital exposure needed for language development. In order to counter-balance the examination-oriented school curriculum, the Nilam Programme is designed to monitor students leisure reading, and the programme acknowledges reading of both fiction or non-fiction material. But the findings of my study suggest that a reading culture does not exist widely. The teachers in this study seemed to have an uncertain judgement of their students reading preference. It is possible that there is some conflict in teachers ideas about what reading material is appropriate for school use: the classics of one kind or another takes precedence over the more popular authors preferred by students. Research in the field stresses the importance of student involvement in book selection and also shows that print access can promote reading frequency. A survey of what made 1,765 sixth-grade students want to read in middle school reading or language arts classrooms in 23 diverse schools in the mid-Atlantic and northeastern United States showed that (1) students valued independent reading when time was given for reading in class; (2) focused more on the act of reading itself or personal reasons for reading rather than on social aspects or activities related to reading; (3) were motivated to read at school when given quality and diversity of reading materials; and (4) indicated that gaining access to reading materials at school was an issue (Ivy & Broaddus, 2001). Additionally, surveys and reading tests administered to a class of 24 eleventhgrade students showed that convenient