COVID–19 Teacher Diary: A New Way to Celebrate the Forest of Reading

Welcome to the 49th Teachers COVID–19 Teacher Diary, a blog series that takes a look at how teachers are coping with the pandemic.

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Written by York Region District School Board Teacher-Librarian Jennifer Byrne

Forest of Reading is Canada’s largest recreational reading program, celebrating Canadian books and authors. In the eyes of Canadian kids, it is the ultimate expression of student voice, as they have all the power in determining the winners. For many students, the Forest of Reading program is a highlight of their school year. Our school is no exception. From the moment students first begin visiting our school library in September, they are already asking, “When do we get to be judges?” “When do we get to vote?” In our library, we typically don’t begin Forest of Reading until after we return from the Winter break, so to see the excitement in students as early as September, is something special.

Many schools and public libraries choose to run the Forest program in different ways as educators have the freedom to integrate it into library and classroom programming as they see fit. In our school library, the Blue Spruce (grades K-2) and Silver Birch Express (grades 3-4) are run during class library visits, which means every student in those grades gets to participate. In grades 5-8, students choose whether they would like to participate, and do so independently, coming in at their own pace, selecting their books, and rating them when they return. We’ve found that this is what works best for us.

When students come to hear a Forest of Reading book, there are often maker inspired activities set out as invitations for learning. For example, when we read Me, Toma and the Concrete Garden, by Andrew Larsen, illustrated by Anne Villeneuve, students had the option to explore tinker trays to create their own gardens. It was a big hit!

Of course, in our space, the excitement builds as we get closer and closer to voting day. Voting in our school is a big deal! We have polling stations run by polling clerks, voter registration, privacy screens for voting, and of course, “I voted” stickers students receive afterwards, which they wear proudly and garner a lot of comments from older students and teachers. And we cannot forget our post-Forest celebration, where activities are set up around the library based on all the books that we worked so hard to read. The books fly out of the library after that, because kids are so excited to take one home to share with their families, along with their passports where they kept track of their reading. Many schools also visit the Festival of Trees where the awards are handed out and the authors make celebrity appearances. This year was no exception and our students were once again excitedly participating in the Forest of Reading book clubs. We were so close. We had just two books left to share with our K–2 friends. And then COVID–19 hit.

To say that this was not a major disappointment would be an understatement. How might we continue to value students’ hard work and allow them to reach their goal of voting when it was just within arms reach? Could we run the Forest of Reading program remotely? And how?

On March 20, 2020, Forest of Reading made the announcement that their password protected site, normally only available to paid registrants, was being made available to the general public. This incredible gesture was only the beginning. Within a couple of weeks, every single Blue Spruce author had recorded a video of them reading their nominated books. My awesome principal, having been into our school, also took home the Blue Spruce books and recorded himself reading one of the books we were missing. Forest of Reading also continued to run Forest Fridays, where kids could watch and interact with the amazing authors of nominated books.

What has followed since has been nothing short of remarkable. We had read alouds. Choice grids have been floating around the internet as a wonderful tool that allows students to have voice and choice in the activities they choose to complete. Perfect! Our maker challenges could continue!

Our final hurdle has been to set up online voting, but once again Forest of Reading came up with a way for students to vote online. Because so many of us have turned our libraries into virtual spaces, with the help of a fellow teacher-librarian, we were able to create our own voting system using Google forms for each Forest of Reading book club so that students could vote online through our virtual library sites.

We’ve seen during this time how so many different players have come together to support our new world of remote learning, and bringing the Forest online has been no exception. From the entire OLA, to all of the publishers, and authors, and of course educators who see the amazing value in this program and what it does for Canadian kids, to so successfully implement it online has been inspirational to see and to be a part of.

So while this year’s Forest certainly looks different because we aren’t physically together, students will still be able to create the lasting memories that the program brings. And of course the ultimate goal: to foster a love of reading and continue to celebrate our amazing Canadian literary landscape. Thank you to everyone who had a role to play in this!

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jenniferbyrne

Jennifer Byrne is a teacher-librarian at a K–8 elementary school in the York Region District School Board. She is passionate about using the power of stories to reach young people. You can follow all the happenings of her library on Twitter @WilshireLibrary.

>> See all COVID–19 Crisis Teacher Diary posts

May 28, 2020
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