Mr. R. Reads: Why Should We Read??

Mr. R. Reads! By Steve Riddell

Mr. Riddell McGregor Matters

Every month for the past four years I have been writing a column called Mr. R. Reads and this month, I would like to talk about why Mr. R. reads, why is it so darn important?  Well the simple answer is because I love doing it!  Every time I pick up a book or open a magazine or visit a website I enter a new world; a world of adventure, a world of excitement a world of information.  Reading and the ability to read makes me feel powerful; I chose, I read, I enter the story.  Reading to children is also a love of mine.  It is a way of sharing, a type of performance art where we all share an experience together, that of story. When we share a book we embark on an adventure together and who knows how it will come out?  That is why one of the most important things I can do,  that which gives me my greatest joy, is to share that love of reading with you, empower you to read and help you to find that special book that will transport you to other worlds and open doors to information.  That is what a Teacher Librarian does – they open doors and give you the power to choose!

But something disturbing is happening, in schools all across Ontario and North America, children are telling us that they don’t like to read as much.  Fewer children tell us they choose to read, fewer children tell us they like to read and they see reading as a tool to use rather than a gift to treasure.  Here is an excerpt from a Globe and Mail article, Dec. 12, 2011:

 Ontario kids can read well, but they don’t have to like it

‘Students in Ontario are among the most proficient readers in the world, but those bragging rights may have come at a cost: The joy of reading.’  A new report released Monday by education advocacy group People for Education finds that while literacy and standardized test scores have climbed over the past decade, the number of students who report that they like to read has dropped, from 76 per cent of Grade 3 students in 1999 to 50 per cent in 2011.

Here are a few facts pulled from this report by People for Education entitled – Reading for Joy

“Literacy — alongside writing and math — has been at the centre of Ontario’s educational agenda for more than a decade,” says Reading for Joy, a report to be released Monday by advocacy and research group People for Education.  And while Ontario students’ literacy scores have improved during that time, something unexpected has happened: There has been a dramatic decline in the percentage of Ontario students who report that they ‘like to read.’”  Annie Kidder, executive director of People for Education, said the trend mirrors other countries, including England, where there’s an emphasis on standardized testing.

QUICK FACTS (from EQAO survey data)

– The percentage of grade 3 students who report they “like to read” has declined from 76% in 1998/99, to 50% in 2010/11.

– In grade 6, the percentage of students who say they “like to read” has declined from 65% in 1998/99 to 50% in 2010/11.

-In Ontario, only 56% of elementary schools had a teacher-librarian in In 2010/11, eighty percent of them part-time, compared to 76% in 1998/99.  And this year all elementary school have been allocated 0.5 of a Teacher/Librarian regardless of size.

Annie Kidder in Reading for Joy points out that international studies have shown that children that read for pleasure (particularly those that choose fiction) are more proficient at reading and they do better in school.  She hypothesizes that the focus on literacy may make children see reading as work which takes away the fun and joy.  She also points out the significant correlation between having a trained Teacher Librarian in elementary schools with the number of kids who like to read.  This makes a lot of sense to me, all day long I share my love of reading with children and they read!

“Reading for pleasure is part of a broad-based idea about what education should be, but it hasn’t been a part of the larger discourse. Education is increasingly defined through tests.” (Reading For Joy, People For Education, 2011)

Now this is all a bit depressing, a decline in the love of reading, a decline in the number of schools with a full time library and librarian, what about McGregor, where do we fit into all of this?  Well anecdotally I can tell you we are just fine, we are a school of readers, I know we value our library because the library is always full, kids want to be there and kids talk about reading.  But our board and ministry are data driven so let’s look at some data from the 2011/12 EQAO results:

63% of our students say they read by themselves every day and 90% say they read at to themselves several times a week!  Much more than those who play video games, or even play sports.

67% of our children in grade 3 are reading at level 3 compared to the Board average of 53% and Ontario’s average 56%!

31% of our students say they read with a parent every day compared to the TDSB and Ontario average of 21%

This year hundreds of students take part in the English and French reading programs, so many that we had a waiting list for months and didn’t have enough books to satisfy the demand.  Recently we read over a hundred thousand minutes in the two weeks of our MS Read-a-thon and raised over $5,000.00 – that’s a lot of reading!   Why?  Because we have fabulous resources, we have a beautiful space and over the years we have made the commitment to staff the library with a full time teacher librarian to keep the joy of reading alive.

Reading is a skill, one we rely on every day.  But not all skills are learned by directed teaching; many skills are acquired through need and honed by constant practice.  In our school we have a need to read, we want to read and I sincerely hope that in the coming years we will keep on reading – why, simply because it brings us great joy!

Your friend in Reading, Mr. R

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