How 2 Arkansas Schools Succeeded with LDC
At the LDC/MDC Conference in Little Rock, Arkansas, LDC’s Abigail Hammer got the chance to sit down with two great educators to talk about how they have used LDC in their schools. She was able to explore different perspectives on implementation and best practices. Larry Newsom is the principal of the Bismarck High School in Arkansas; Meghan Ables is an English Language Arts teacher at Stuttgart High School, also in Arkansas.
Larry Newsom’s school experienced growing pains implementing Literacy Design Collaborative (LDC). His faculty has been using LDC in his school for four years, and “a lot of blood, sweat, and tears” went into the first year. Science teachers especially were worried that the LDC resources were written in an “English teacher’s language” and that they would have trouble adjusting to using the heavily text-based lesson plans.
Larry reported that as teachers began to apply LDC’s backward planning approach, they realized that “the planning is the heart of the process.”
“There’s a lot more work at the beginning of LDC implementation, but it pays off,” Larry said.
The school began implementing LDC in hopes of increasing student engagement and test scores. Larry and his team of teachers from various disciplines attended the SREB High Schools That Work conference. At the conference, they heard schools “from California to Florida” talking about their successes with LDC. “If it can work all over,” he said, “it can work in Bismarck – and it has worked.”
Now that LDC is being fully implemented at Bismarck High School, Larry and his teachers have realized that “we’re all literacy teachers – we teach reading and writing” in any discipline. The whole school is involved, both in the creation of mini-tasks and modules and in the LDC spirit of rigorous, responsive teaching.
The work that Larry and his teachers’ have done has paid off: In the 2014-15 school year, the school was ranked in the top 1% of schools in the state and was one of 10 schools to receive an “A” rating on the state rating system. Individual teachers improved as well: one teacher’s class scores rocketed from 70% literacy scores on the eleventh-grade Arkansas state assessments one year to 90% literacy after using LDC modules.
Meghan Ables was named 2016 Arkansas Teacher of the Year, in part because of LDC implementation in her teaching. Abigail and Meghan discussed what LDC implementation looked like in her classroom. Meghan was part of the team that pioneered LDC in her school.
The school’s initial goal was to close the gap between economically disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged students. Teachers were wondering what they were missing when trying to reach these disadvantaged students and LDC provided them with the tools to reach them. The products students were asked to write became more authentic, which drove student engagement. The literacy gap between disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged students fell from 51% to 24% in one year of LDC implementation.
The students saw the difference, too. In her English classes, Meghan pushed her students harder than they had ever been pushed before. She stated that her students would say things like “This isn’t Advanced Placement (AP), why are you giving us AP tasks?”, but by the end of the year, the we-can’t-do-this mentality was gone and the students were more engaged in academic discourse. “Raising the bar” in assignments and expectations gave students who were dismissed as “never able to pass” the chance to shine.
In working with the other teachers at her school, Meghan observed that LDC encouraged teachers to think critically about why they were teaching the lessons they were teaching. “You can’t just do the same lessons you’ve been doing forever,” she said. LDC helps teachers focus on the connections between the task students are asked to do and the content they’re supposed to be learning. Since implementing LDC, Meghan has seen a tighter connection between lessons and ideas. “Trying new things makes you a better teacher,” she said – and LDC makes you try new things.
Like Larry Newsom, the principal and administrators at Stuttgart High School set aside time for teachers to plan their LDC lessons. “The success we had would never have happened without our administrators,” Meghan said. All the teachers would sit down to collaborate on the module and mini-tasks for the semester. They’d get a lot of different ideas and plan together for their students. Then they’d analyze student work. The continual cycles of planning, teaching, and reflecting had a big impact on the school. According to Meghan, thinking through the process that way is essential: “We should reflect every day on how to be better teachers.”
“The success we had would never have happened without our administrators”
When asked what her favorite thing about LDC was, Meghan said that is was the “freedom and fun as a teacher” that it provided. Meghan stated that LDC has helped expand her teaching repertoire and gave her the feeling that her work was building toward something meaningful. It has also allowed her to flex her creative muscles – she shared that creativity is absolutely essential to implement LDC successfully. “There’s no reason why LDC can’t work in any content,” she said, “as long as you’re creative in the process.”
“[Teachers] come to me and say ‘This is the best thing we’ve ever done,’” Larry said, and as a teacher Meghan would agree: “[The first year of implementing LDC] was my favorite year as a teacher!” Larry and Meghan both emphasized that the power of LDC is not only that, when used successfully, it can improve student achievement and engagement, but also that it can enrich teachers’ skills and fuel purposeful collaboration within the school community.