Tukwila schools tapping power of literacy to help all students succeed

In the Tukwila School District, a team of teachers, administrators, coaches and staff members are drilling down into the meaning of “active” literacy appropriate for each grade level and across all content, such as math and science.

Literacy – the ability to read and write at its most basic level – is the foundation for learning.

In the Tukwila School District, a team of teachers, administrators, coaches and staff members are drilling down into the meaning of “active” literacy appropriate for each grade level and across all content, such as math and science.

Then, they’ll develop a plan to help teachers develop best ways to teach literacy, often drawn from the classroom successes of fellow teachers, capped off with extensive training for teachers and support for them and students.

“Really we are designing a two- to three-year plan, which is very much grounded in professional development and what the work will look like for our buildings and teachers, all staff in the district, to accomplish this work,” said Suzanne Hamilton, a reading teacher at Showalter Middle School.

The goal is to prepare Tukwila’s students for post-secondary education and training after high school and eventually successful lives, say four educators who met recently with the Tukwila Reporter to talk about this critical part of meeting new state and federal education standards – and is central to the district’s Strategic Plan.

The team is developing a definition of active literacy specific to the Tukwila School District, starting with preschool, but that adheres closely to the definition from the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction.

The state definition includes the ability to use listening, speaking, reading, writing and critical thinking in all types of communication in a way appropriate to the situation. Students will learn to think, create, question, solve problems and reflect.

“One way to think about it is that the expectations for our students as they leave our district are higher and higher,” said Heather Newman, the school district’s early learning coordinator. “So we want to make sure we are doing everything we can to equip them.”

“So are they able to ask good questions? Are they able to think critically about the media they consume, whether it’s written or something they see on TV? Have we given them enough opportunities to practice that questioning? I think that’s pretty important.”

And that’s true for a specific course of study, say calculus.

“What are we doing all along the way to prepare her to think like a mathematician? To speak like a mathematician? To listen and to engage in the kinds of deep critical thinking that are required of a mathematician in that calculus class?” she said. That is a change in thinking, according to the educators.

At the core is “high-quality teaching,” say the educators.

“We want anyone to be able to enter the Tukwila School District and be able to say, ‘This is a high-performing district’,” said Superintendent Nancy Coogan.

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