Susie Smith, a literacy specialist, browsed through the 3,600 new books in Issaquah Valley Elementary’s hidden book room, pleased with the accomplishment.
New literacy curriculum is a rare site. It’s been 10 years for Issaquah.
This round of new lessons isn’t just about having books with bindings intact, it’s an opportunity for elementary teachers to approach reading with a new philosophy: All students don’t learn at the same pace.
“It’s very exciting,” said Smith, who helped choose the new books. “I’ve never been in a district where this was adopted in one swoop.”
As a part of the new program, each of the district’s 15 elementary schools received thousands of new books, labeled A-Z for students’ abilities.
At Issaquah Valley, Smith flips through an A-level book, which is made up of a dozen pages. It’s also a lesson for kindergartners about why people wear glasses. On the opposite end sits a blue tub marked “Z,” which is full of novels that promise a good read.
While the school’s PTA started the book room a year ago, this year’s editions were made possible by a $350,000 donation from the Issaquah Schools Foundation.
Without the foundation, the new reading program wouldn’t be complete, said Emilie Hard, executive director of teaching and learning.
There are three parts to the program – book rooms, lectures and small groups.
The district is spending about $1 million in new lesson plans and teacher training. It’s also committed to having part-time literacy support teachers at each school for the next few years.
The small group instruction time is an opportunity for teachers to focus on various skill levels. With the system, third and fourth grade teachers could be pulling books from the same bins.
Teachers want to challenge students, but not to the point where they can’t pick it up, Hard said. “One size doesn’t fit all anymore.”
The district also is adopting the approach that students need to spend more time in class reading.
“You learn by doing,” Smith explained.
The old curriculum was composed of a stack of hardcover anthologies packed with short stories, excerpts and poetry. Students from all levels read the same material, whether it was too little or too much of a challenge.
It also wasn’t teaching kids to enjoy reading, Hard said. “We’re teaching students this is how you become a good reader.”