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Eyes on the Prize: LAUSD i3 Educators at Saturn Elementary Focus on Enhancing Early Literacy Skills

December 15th, 2015

Megan directs LDC's federal i3 grant-funded professional development work in the Los Angeles Unified School District. She has worked as a reading interventionist, reading teacher, and academic counselor for students in grades K–12. While on a Fulbright grant, she worked with a South African high school to develop its library and literacy programming. She holds a B.A. from UCLA and an M.A. in International and Comparative Education with a specialization in Literacy and Language Development from Teachers College, Columbia University.

A group of dedicated educators and their principal at Saturn Street Elementary School, a Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) school participating in LDC’s i3 grant-funded project, are so dedicated to their LDC initiative that they have committed to meeting over a series of three Saturdays this fall and two more over the winter break to collaboratively complete LDC’s online courses and apply their learning to developing their first modules.

We caught up with Principal Tracie Bryant to find out more about her vision for using LDC’s instructional planning tools to help teachers shift their paradigms toward planning with standards in mind to teach enduring literacy skills. Tracie sees LDC as the tool that can help the school build reading and writing skills in the early grades to drive
the development of strong literacy skills throughout K–5 classrooms.

“LDC is going to be a key strategy for addressing writing within the community,” she says. “The goal,” she adds, “is to deliver our modules on schedule in February. Then, we want to do a ‘show and tell’ to help colleagues know what they look like.” Considering how she’d like to grow this work among her staff, Tracie explains, “for now, we’re staying with our ‘family of seven’ into the new year. Then, we’ll figure out a way to duplicate best practices.”

[Left to right:] Jean Macintosh, Kippi Macdonald, Della Davidson, Maria Alcala, Tracie Bryant, Celenia Calderon, & Tiffany Cullen

Referring to the Saturday course sessions as “boot camps,” Tracie explains that they are “a collaborative process from beginning to end. All of the teachers bring their laptops. We project onto the SmartBoard; teachers discuss the content, watch the videos, and follow the course.” She says that LDC courses are a good way to review, as they provide helpful videos and “here’s how to do it” guidelines.




The teachers in the study group have completed Course 1, which supports them in building the teaching task, or writing prompt, for their LDC modules. They are beginning Course 2, which guides them to identify the skills students need to develop their module writing products, and then to build out the instruction needed to teach those skills.

Tracie advises any schools interested in using LDC courses to “approach it as a cohort college-study course.” She says is important to be open to the process and to the learning.

Asked how the LDC work that she’s done this fall has influenced or changed her own practice, Coordinator Jean Macintosh says she’s noticed that her “way of thinking is different—more focused on student’s learning the skills (mini-tasks) and the teaching task (product). Instructions are really defined, deliberate and intentional (based on the CCSS standards).”

As for how she’s applying her learning to help develop students’ literacy skills, she says, “As out-of-the-classroom staff, I collaborate and co-teach with my colleagues on designing their teaching tasks. I am doing mini-task lessons in reading and writing for my second-grade pullout students. I’ve used the math mini-task where students use charts to solve their word problems, and also the reading mini task where students identify story elements.”

We also had an opportunity to hear from three of the Saturn Kindergarten teachers involved in the LDC initiative—Kippi Macdonald, Della Davidson, and Maria Alcala—who explained that one of the challenges they face as Kindergarten teachers is that many of their students have no prior experience. At Saturn this year, they have 77 Kindergarten and transitional Kindergarten students. Of those, 43 are English Language Learners (ELLs) and many of the others are Standard English Learners (SELs).

According to the group, “In addition to not being able to write letters, many [students] are not able to draw discernable pictures. (This makes the “writing and drawing” parts of the kinder language arts standards tough during the early months of the year until the students have been taught these skills.) But every student can talk from the beginning!”

When asked about how LDC courses help them discuss planning with those standards in mind, they explained: “The biggest things we got from LDC Course 1 were a renewed appreciation for backwards planning and the need to be thoughtful about what tasks or mini-tasks we want our students to perform, what writing products they will produce, and the need to precisely communicate to and make sure the students understand the tasks.”

This collective work around identifying the enduring reading, writing  listening & speaking, and reasoning skills their students need to develop in Kindergarten is bolstered by fifth-grade teacher Tiffany Cullen’s work in the group. Collaboration between Kindergarten and fifth-grade teachers is allowing the team to think about the skills their students need to build in the early grades in order to be successful readers and writers in fifth-grade.

As for changes in the quality of student work products since the beginning of the year, the Kindergarten teachers said, “We have noticed that our students are drawing much more developed pictures with more details than they did at the beginning of the year. They are also dictating more sophisticated writing products. Many are also more eager to try to write phonetically earlier than students in past years.”

“We have found it to be an incentive to teach them how to draw, write letters, and try to write independently earlier in the year than we have in past years. The LDC process dovetails well with the new Common Core and ELD standards, but it has also added sparkle and variety for us as teachers as we adapt the methods to our classes!”

 We look forward to hearing more from the entire team as they continue their LDC i3 journey and develop their modules this winter. We commend their dedication and hard work as they focus on enabling their students to succeed and driving their own professional growth in the process.



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