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Booked Up: Collingswood Elementary Schools Introducing Popular Titles to Curriculum

New "book rooms" at each of the district's five elementary schools will encourage literacy.

Students returning to the district's five elementary schools on Tuesday will find a treasure trove of books. 

But not just in the school library. 

Each school will now have a designated "book room," as part of the district's literacy initiative, and a movement away from the traditional textbook-model of learning. 

Students and teachers will be able to choose from 5,460 Scholastic titles at each school, said district Superintendent Scott Oswald. 

Among the titles are books in the Harry Potter and The Lightning Thief series, as well as the Boxcar Children and Magic School Bus books, all of which are wildly popular among young readers. 

"The kids will have lots of choices, and we can monitor their reading growth through the years," Oswald said. 

The district uses the Fountas & Pinnell Benchmark Assessment, testing that helps determine an individual student's literacy level. The system involves one-on-one teacher and student reviews, in which the teacher evaluates a student's comprehension and designates the child's reading level. 

Each child is able to then choose books that are in sync with their own personal reading level. 

District elementary students also take part in daily 15- to 20-minute "read alouds," during the school day. The reading sessions end with teacher-and-student question-and-discussion activities.

Oswald said the book rooms won't replace traditional school libraries, but will complement them. 

"The school library is more just general books," he said. "This is more of an instructional reading area, where the library is more of a research- or pleasure-reading area."

"This is kind of in place of textbooks," Oswald said. "We're moving toward using authentic stories and texts that the kids can read. I'm sure that down the road, we're going to move away from textbooks altogether. We're ready for it."

Oswald described the book rooms as "kind of a shopping area for the teachers to find books that interest kids.

"Some of the books will be used for guided reading in the classroom," he said. "Others will be used for independent reading."

The New Jersey School Boards Association was unable to say exactly how many districts statewide are incorporating into their curricula more children's books in favor of textbooks, which can quickly become outdated in the digital age. 

But, Mike Yaple, spokesman for the group, said school districts for years have tried a variety of strategies to encourage literacy, with mixed results. 

"Certainly, there's been a lot of focus on trying to make an inviting environment for reading" in schools, he said. "And anything that promotes reading is a good step forward. You won't find too many educators arguing with that." 

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