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Formative Feedback for Teachers: An Essential Support for LDC Implementation

December 3rd, 2015

A 2015 LDC Lead & Learn Fellow, Kelly has been supporting LDC implementation for the past four and a half years since IU13, a national LDC partner, served as an original LDC pilot site. She provides comprehensive LDC professional development for K-12 teachers from IU13's twenty-two local school districts and also serves as the PA State LDC Content Lead for Keystones to Opportunity, Pennsylvania's Striving Readers Grant.

This summer at the College and Career Readiness Networking Conference, a participant in my breakout session entitled “Building LDC Capacity: One Regional Service Agency’s Approach” inquired, “How can you send teachers off to implement full LDC modules after only two days of LDC professional development? They don’t know enough yet. They aren’t ready.” This was a question I had been grappling with for quite some time. You see, in IU13’s LDC training model, teachers design and implement two modules over the course of a single school year with only four days of regional professional development. Shocking, I know. 

A little background: Lancaster-Lebanon Intermediate Unit 13 (IU13) is an educational service agency in Pennsylvania providing professional development to twenty-two local school districts as well as charter and nonpublic schools. Schools sign on to send teacher teams to regional LDC professional development. Teacher teams participate in two full days of training to design their first modules, they go back to their classrooms to teach them, and then they return to IU13 half way through the year to learn how to score student work and to design second modules. You can read more about IU13’s work with LDC here.         

The LDC instructional design process prompts teachers, administrators, and school district leaders to think about systematizing distributed literacy instruction across K–12 in English language arts, science and technical subjects, and social studies. This involves a deep examination of existing curriculum, instructional practice, and assessment methods. This participant in my session was a seasoned LDC facilitator, and she was pointing out that deep implementation doesn’t just happen in four days with two modules. She’s right.

This whole idea of front-loading professional development reminds me of what Doug Fisher and Nancy Frey (2013) talk about with close reading. “During close reading, the teacher does not provide much in the way of pre-teaching or front-loading of content. The structure of the lesson itself is the scaffolding that was once delivered through frontloading” (p. 48). Too much front-loading of a text can eliminate the need for students to read it at all because they’ve done so much pre-reading work beforehand.

However, having students learn by doing, by grappling with complex text and making meaning from it with just enough support (repeated readings and discussion), can help to increase students’ independence, one of the goals of the Common Core State Standards. Just like close reading, educators learn LDC instructional design through implementation. Teachers use their expertise and their new learning about LDC to iterate in the classroom and collaborate with one another on problems of practice.

It’s no secret that effective LDC professional development (or any professional development, for that matter) should be sustained over time, be clearly aligned with state standards and local curricula, provide job-embedded support, and encourage collaboration (Crafton & Kaiser, 2011; Desimone, Porter, Garet, Yoon, Birman, 2002; Johnson, Fargo & Kahle 2010; Penuel, Fishman, Yamaguchi & Gallagher, 2007; Tchsannan-Moran & McMaster, 2009). Of course this involves more formal professional development, as we know it, but much of the professional learning occurs when smart teachers plan content-specific literacy mini-tasks, field-test them, and collaboratively examine student work, all with the right supports (Penuel, et al., 2007; Research for Action, 2014; Tchsannan-Moran & McMaster, 2009).   

 Our challenge at IU13 has been to figure out what those “right” supports are, and I can say with certainty that formative feedback is one of them. The peer review feature in LDC CoreTools has been an amazing addition to our LDC professional development model. It has given us the ability to provide specific, formative feedback on module design. We all know that great writing instruction for students happens in the margins with feedback from teachers or peers. The same is true for LDC module design. Providing specific, formative feedback on modules through peer review can accelerate LDC professional development because the feedback is individualized to the content and context of each module.

 There are no shortcuts to providing feedback for learning just as there are no shortcuts for providing specific feedback on student writing. However, LDC CoreTools has made it significantly easier. In the 2014–15 school year, I formatively peer reviewed each and every first module (over 60 of them) as part of our professional development in order to accelerate teacher learning. Reviewing each module informed my facilitation of LDC professional development, and it prompted teachers to think about and revise their work.

 Now, in 2015–16 as part of an effort to expand formative peer review and increase our regional capacity, IU13 will pilot a winter regional team comprised local teachers and administrators who have also participated in national LDC peer review training. The goal is to increase opportunities for educators in our region to give feedback to one another on task and instructional ladder design. The conversations that will occur around peer review will, no doubt, deepen LDC knowledge and expertise in our region.  

 As I mentioned earlier, formative peer review is only one of the supports we have established at IU13, and it has become an essential component of our model. Just like many of you, we are dealing with a reality of dwindling budgets and substitute shortages. Right now, I’m not counting on more professional development time with teachers outside of their classrooms in the initial LDC training year. I’m focusing on providing more effective supports, and I’m always looking for better solutions—perhaps additional, site-based coaching, or LDC online courses.

We have four days, two modules, one school year and amazing teachers and administrators who see the value in collegial feedback and how it can deepen professional learning. In our case, we find that the best way to learn about LDC is to dive right into the work.      



  • Crafton, L. & Kaiser, E. (2011). The language of collaboration: Dialogue and identity in teacher professional development. Improving Schools, 14(2), 104-116. doi: 10.1177/1365480211410437
  • Desimone, L. M., Porter, A. C., Garet, M. S., Yoon, K. S. & Birman, B. F. (2002). Effects of professional development on teachers' instruction: Results from a three-year longitudinal study. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 24(2), 81-112. doi: 10.3102/01623737024002081
  • Frey, N. & Fisher, D. (2013). Rigorous reading: 5 access points for comprehending complex texts. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Literacy.
  • Johnson, C., Fargo, J., & Kahle, J. B. (2010). The cumulative and residual impact of a systemic reform program on teacher change and student learning of science. School Science and Mathematics, 110(3), 144-159.
  • Penuel, W. R., Fishman, B.J., Yamaguchi, R., & Gallagher, L. P. (2007). What makes professional development effective? Strategies that foster curriculum implementation. American Educational Research Journal, 44(4), 921-958. doi: 10.3102/0002831207308221
  • Research for Action (2014). Enacting common core instruction: How Intermediate Unit 13 leveraged its position as an educational service agency to implement and scale the LDC initiative. Retrieved from

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