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Guest Blog: A Lead & Learn Fellows' Perspective

August 29th, 2017
Note: We are pleased to welcome guest blogger and 2017 LDC Lead & Learn Fellow Katie McNelly from Van Siclen Community School in New York. In this article, one in a series of blogs by Lead & Learn Fellows, she shares her school's experiences implementing LDC.

When I was first exposed to LDC by my instructional coach, Christina Wallace, I thought it would be an excellent resource for pulling lesson plan ideas, resources, and activities that had been proven to support students in learning. Honestly, it was daunting at first; despite settings and filters, there is a seemingly endless plethora of resources that I found intimidating. It took becoming a project liaison to truly open my eyes to all that LDC had to offer, and I’m so grateful in retrospect that it has.

As a school, we went into this school year with apprehension and immense pressure. We knew, statistically, we were the worst performing school in our district. Despite strong reviews in community and trust, we just couldn’t achieve the test scores of our surrounding schools. We knew that there are a variety of factors that play into student performance, and that socioeconomic status can vary wildly even on the same street in the same neighborhood. However, we weren’t in the business of making excuses. We were willing and able to take responsibility for what we could control: quality instruction. It didn’t take long for us to realize that our involvement in LDC would be paramount in increasing student performance.

Our goals were simple: increase quality in students’ writing ability and increase quantity in objectively measured reading levels through targeted comprehension instruction and as measured on state tests. We knew we had our work cut out for us.

LDC implementation began immediately over the summer curriculum sessions. However, teaching teachers new technology and pedagogy is complicated. The clichés held true for us: teachers are creatures of habit and we like to teach how we’ve been taught. Implementing LDC challenged teachers to see the value in literacy across the entire school day. It forced teachers to reexamine what we were really pushing for here; although we wanted test scores to increase, we knew that low scores indicates a much bigger social problem: illiteracy.

Our goals were simple: increase quality in students’ writing ability and increase quantity in objectively measured reading levels.

Despite a slow roll out, teachers began to see improvements. Through introducing a school-wide comprehension intervention involving the “Stop and Think” method of chunking a text and reflecting on what has been read, students and teachers alike began to experience success. Students and teachers were able to hold each other accountable. Administrators could see unified routines in every single classroom of the school. Students were helping each other, discussing their texts, and most importantly, engaging meaningfully with a text.

We anticipated rapid implementation. We had a set routine and, after a couple of trials, errors, and tweaks, we finally felt it was ready for students. However, that’s not to say our students were ready for it. We had to gradually release supports in a method that ended up taking months. Teachers got discouraged, especially when entire class periods, and occasionally even entire weeks, were dedicated to establishing new routines.

Eventually, we settled into them. Student implementation of the strategy (and others that developed in subsequent months) became automatic and constant. The months continued to roll by. Through the use of student work review, reflection, and documentation, we knew the needs of our students and could target performance with specific, structured feedback. We held conversations with colleagues to gauge performance across classes. Content teachers shared successes and asked advice. We had weekly collaborative meetings focused solely on the students; it was a truly powerful experience and clearly effective for our students.

Most recently, using low-inference data and observation, we learned of our initial test score results: student performance had doubled.  

Personally, I’m a little in shock about how effectively we pulled instruction together this year. But through the use of LDC’s online platform, coaching sessions, and support network, we made the gains we were hoping for. We worked together as a staff and a school, and we provided students with high-quality instruction. Students engage rigorously with texts and work toward becoming highly literate critical thinkers. I am relieved, excited, and proud to know that we provided students with tools to become more intellectually strong and capable individuals, and I am eager to continue this work through future school years.


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