Ontario is a-buzz these days with young readers declaring their love of reading in classrooms, school libraries, gymnasiums, auditoriums and even sports arenas across the province! Over the course of the past several months, students from Kindergarten to Grade 12 have been reading books selected for the Forest of Reading Program run by the Ontario Library Association. Based on their grade level, they are invited by school and public libraries to vote for their favourite among a set of ten books in each of the categories that include Blue Spruce, Silver Birch, Silver Birch Express, Red Maple and White Pine. The winner for each category is then announced, often to loud cheers of approval from student audiences.
What impresses me the most about this program that has been gaining momentum in Ontario for the past number of years is the level of engagement demonstrated by students who participate in the reading clubs. Students commit to reading a minimum of five books in order to be eligible to vote for their top choice. Many read all ten and in some cases go on to devour books in other categories as well. This year the Peel District School Board will be putting on their 9th Annual Forest of Reading Celebration where 4,200 students and staff will celebrate their love of reading. This number only accounts for a percentage of total students involved in the reading program in the Board.
So, what might account for the popularity of this program? For one, the Ontario Library Association (OLA) does an excellent job of creating selection committees who read and recommend books based on richness of text as well as potential for capturing student interest at each of the grade levels. In addition, students are invited to read for pleasure! How often do we value our students reading for the love of it, rather than for the purpose of assessment and evaluation or meeting curriculum expectations? Not very often! It may also be that students enjoy having the opportunity to express how they feel about what they are reading. We often hear about the importance of student voice, well, in this reading program, student voice really counts! It's their vote that accounts for the winners.
The Peel District School Board is looking forward to their upcoming 9th Annual Forest of Reading Celebration. Ultimately, we have much to celebrate when we see our kids engaged in reading because they want to, loving it and cheering for books they love. A big shout out to the OLA, to teacher-librarians and public librarians, library technicians, classroom teachers, administrators, volunteers and, most of all, the kids who choose to participate in this valuable reading program.