New English language arts curriculum gets teachers and students excited to learn

Feb. 2, 2023

This is the first in a series of stories about curriculum adoptions happening this year for English language arts, Social studies and Social-emotional learning. Information about the adoption process is available on the district website.

Teacher with students

Sarah Auld with first grade students at Glenwood Heights Primary

It has been a while since Battle Ground Public Schools last adopted a new English language arts curriculum.

“I was pregnant with my daughter who is now 14,” joked Cara Zanetti, a fourth grade ELA teacher at Pleasant Valley Primary. She is one of a group of educators now piloting several curriculum options selected through an exhaustive process involving a committee of educators, administrators, parents and community members.

“I find it fantastic that we are making sure that all these groups are represented,” said Amboy Middle School eighth grade teacher Sarah Rhodes of the selection process. “We want to make sure that everyone has a voice.”

“I’ve loved it,” added Pleasant Valley Middle School fifth grade teacher Katie Reed. “I go to trainings, I’m on committees, but this is my favorite. I think it’s probably because I am passionate about reading and writing, but the way it has been organized has just been so spot on.”

Teachers are currently in the process of trying out two curricula each in the kindergarten through fifth and sixth through eighth grade levels. These would replace the current primary curriculum, StoryTown, adopted in 2009 and the Language of Literature for grades 6-8, adopted in 2000.

Finding a common language for learning

Questions and answers

A sample of questions and answers first grade ELA students are working through

One of the goals of the new ELA curriculum is to ensure a consistent approach to teaching the subject across all grade levels and schools.

Sarah Auld, now an instructional coach at Daybreak Primary who was piloting the curriculum for first graders at Glenwood Heights, said part of the challenge with the existing curriculum was that it didn’t meet Common Core standards, so students might have a very different experience depending on how teachers were supplementing the base curriculum with their own materials and lessons.

“We need to have common language and practices,” said Auld. “Because what I do at Glenwood with ELA currently is very different from what somebody in a first grade classroom at Daybreak or Pleasant Valley might be doing, because we have to supplement so much to meet standards.” 

“I’m really excited about potentially having kindergarten through fifth using common vocabulary and language,” added Reed, “so that by the time I have my fifth graders, they’ve kind of gone through the process of how it works and they’re familiar with it.”

From reading and writing to communication

Katie Reed

Teacher Katie Reed talks with her fifth grade ELA class at Pleasant Valley Middle School

The Science of Reading has been around for decades, according to Amy Fredericks, the district’s K-8 Curriculum Adoption Coordinator. “While known to researchers from around the world for nearly 50 years,” Fredericks explained, “the science has just recently become well known to classroom teachers.”

“The research clearly shows that students must sound out words in order to ‘map’ them in their brains,” she said. “Once words are mapped, they become automatic. Once words are automatic, students can free up mental energy to focus on making meaning and thinking critically.”

“What I want personally is to teach kids strategies to understand,” is how Reed puts it. “To slow down and realize how important it is to know what you’re reading.”

“Kids are really noticing that we’re staying with the same text for a lot longer because we’re using it in multiple ways,” Auld said. “Now we’re using the literature to also dive into other skills like vocabulary, grammar, sentence structure. They’re not just learning to read and write, they’re learning to imagine how a story might be told.”

An example Rhodes gives from the curriculum she’s piloting is how students in middle school might previously have focused on reading an entire book over several weeks. The new curriculum generally focuses on smaller passages from several books, asking students to find similarities and then create their own writings using that style.

“They are able to really bring in what the author is feeling or trying to portray in a point and then they’re deeply analyzing and being able to create a new thought,” Rhodes said. “The curriculum is helping students really acquire critical thinking skills and demonstrate their understanding of that through writing.”

In some cases, students might write a short story and then read it aloud or even act it out for their classmates. The goal is to incorporate state listening and speaking standards as part of the overall lesson plan. Texts also may focus on moral decisions, helping students understand empathy and social behavior skills, or even basic scientific learning.

“Almost immediately my class was way more engaged with this program and more interested in what we were doing,” said Zanetti. “It really makes them think deeper than they used to have to think, but they’re capable of doing it. And so I’m seeing them finding answers in their reading and picking up things that maybe they wouldn’t have before.”

Going beyond the classroom

Student with book

A first grade student at Glenwood Heights Primary prepares to work in a notebook

Out of the four curricula in the pilots (two in grades K-5 and two in grades 6-8), parents will likely notice a greater focus on

continuing learning beyond the classroom. In some cases, that might include having students read a passage out loud at home, focusing not just on sounding out the words but also on proper pronunciation, inflection and intonation. Others incorporate online resources parents and guardians can use to augment what students are learning.

“We want parents to know that they can reach out to their child’s teacher with any questions they have, or for help getting into all of the online resources available as part of the curriculum,” said Rhodes.

“I feel like parents are going to see kids who are really excited about the topics that we’re studying,” Auld said, “because we’re going to dive deeply into them and then get into these essential questions that revolve around the same theme.”

The ELA pilot process is expected to wrap up in mid-March. The curriculum adoption committee will then compile a report and make their recommendations to the district’s board of directors during hearings where the community will have opportunities to provide further input. The final curricula adopted for each grade level will be fully incorporated starting in the 2023-24 school year.


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