The focus at two Kentucky school systems on strategic unit planning using Literacy Design Collaborative (LDC) across content areas helped lead to:
- Tichenor Middle School being named a “High Progress School,” meaning it ranks among the top 10% of schools in Kentucky showing the most rapid growth
- King Middle School improving from “Needs Improvement” to “Progressing,” missing “Proficient” by two points
- Mercer Senior High School moving from “Needs Improvement” status to “Proficient,” going from a 39 percentile ranking to a 77 percentile ranking in just one year
Tichenor Middle School (Erlanger-Elsmere Independent School District)
“When you think about it, LDC and MDC are just good instruction,” says Bryant Gillis, principal of Tichenor Middle School (TMS) in Erlanger, Kentucky. To make that good instruction pervasive across content areas and grade levels, TMS partnered with Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) and the Kentucky Department of Education to make literacy-rich instruction an essential part of school culture.
Dr. Kathlyn Burkhardt, superintendent of Erlanger-Elsmere Schools, describes LDC as a transformative practice for her district. She says that one of the greatest impacts is “that both the students and the teachers are more excited about the instruction. Students are definitely more engaged in their learning.” Additionally, a major benefit to Erlanger has been how well LDC fits into their professional learning communities.
Dr. Burkhardt observes: “More teachers are sharing their ideas more freely and are actively assisting one another on a regular basis through formal PLCs and informal conversations.” She also noted an increase in teachers’ confidence, as they now have additional tools and expertise to utilize in their daily instruction. Because of the improved work products and learning processes taking place in Erlanger, Dr. Burkhardt believes “implementation of LDC (and MDC) has been the main initiative in improving instruction and increasing student learning across the content areas.”
Principal Bryant Gillis agrees that the change in instruction has been dramatic. “We were looking at changing the whole climate of the building. When I first came to the school, we had to pay because we went over our allotted paper copy amount. We were using a lot of worksheets. Now, students are reading and then writing about what they read. I observe students highlighting and marking up their papers in the science and social studies classrooms on a consistent basis—even in the math classrooms. Our students have learned to read actively to understand word problems and better navigate their textbooks. That is all coming from the LDC work.”
Eighth-grade English teacher Nicci Magee has always maintained high expectations. Now, through completing LDC modules, her students’ expectations of themselves have risen. “The students have to analyze text to complete their assignments,” she says, “and learn how to read for the most important information to complete the task. This has totally changed their outlook on reading itself, and I know it has changed how they learn in science and social studies and in reading classes.”
At Tichenor, reading has become a central strategy for learning. Nicci says using LDC across subjects is one key to success. “Our students know what they need to do to understand what they are reading.” Now, students use note-taking strategies to help organize their thinking and prepare for “the big essay.”
For example, many know to use double-entry journals to help them collect quotes and make connections to what they are learning and will have to write about. “The result,” she concludes, “is students know what the expectations are in every class because there is consistency to how students learn from their reading.”
King Middle School (Mercer County Schools)
Terry Gordon, principal of King Middle School (KMS), says LDC has made a positive impact on instruction by changing the way teachers plan: “Our staff is doing more meaningful, collaborative planning as they design tasks and create modules. Our students are doing higher-order levels of reading and writing. Test scores are now above the state average.”
While Mr. Gordon is happy with the rise in test scores, he also sees an important shift in the types of assignments students are completing. “Students are now using critical thinking skills by forming opinions and backing up their assertions with evidence from the text. Teachers expect more from the students than from the portfolio prompts we used previously. Students are enjoying the process, too.”
Terry believes good timing is one reason LDC has had such an impact at KMS. “Our school has struggled with writing. We had never been above the state average. We could not continue doing what we had always done because it was not working.” He and his leadership team saw the new English language arts and literacy standards as an opportunity that could lead to lasting change. He says that with the new standards, “We needed a school-wide change in our approach to literacy.”
In LDC, he saw an approach that complemented their plan to increase rigor. To make this approach work, Terry made sure to select the right people and provide the time needed for deeper levels of planning. He chose teachers from each content area and each grade level to receive the initial training. The expectation was that these teachers would work with both grade-level and content area teams.
He emphasizes the importance of giving teachers the time needed to complete the work. “By having the right folks and giving them time, we could then expect our staff to do the work with LDC. This year, our district has given us paid time after school to allow our folks to work in their departments. By doing so, we expect our departments to work together to dig deeper using LDC.”
Knowing that his teachers were dealing with a myriad of new initiatives and programs, Terry kept the process reasonable. He says, “We worked mainly with the tasks the first two years as folks began the process. Keep in mind that teachers across Kentucky and other states have a lot on their plates right now. I didn’t push the modules until we had data to see results from our efforts.”
After the first year, writing scores at King were above the state average. The second year, they were static. Terry says that “was evidence of the need to push the use of LDC and the creation of modules by those who feel out of place teaching writing. This year we are making a concerted and intentional effort to move our staff to teaching LDC with modules included.”
To sustain and spread the work, KMS constantly celebrates success. According to Terry, “Our reading scores have risen each year. Our writing scores are above state average for the second year. We had a first- and second-place NASA essay contest winner, and we had the best conservation essay contest submissions ever as a school. Now that reluctant teachers are seeing the success of others, the use of LDC has taken off. We see only great things ahead for our students when it comes to reading and writing.”
Mercer High School (Mercer County Schools)
While teachers recognize the importance of strong literacy skills, content teachers are often concerned that literacy-focused modules will take precious time from content standards. In fact, Mercer High School social studies teacher Andrew Ashford demonstrates that when done strategically, using complex texts to build literacy skills can deepen learning. “My focus has become more aligned with developing students’ analytic skills and applying them to primary sources to teach concepts rather than using more traditional Q & A note-taking sessions,” he explains.
Andrew doesn’t lose sight of his content. “When planning, I ask myself how these documents and assignments teach students what they need to know to think more critically and understand how and why the world works the way it does.” He is impressed with the results, and not just test scores. “A majority of students are more articulate in their writing skills and are able to recognize point of view, bias, and accuracy when interpreting various texts and visual sources. This change may be attributed to more accountability on students to develop their own understanding and interpretation of the material.”
Building capacity requires the type of planning described by Principal Mallisa Hutchins of Mercer High School. “We had at least two English teachers going to training the first couple of years. Then, we sent a couple of social studies teachers to LDC training specific to them. Next, we allowed the teachers who had been trained to share out and help other staff members begin to implement LDC. Teachers within our social studies and English department became ‘the experts’ on our staff and have helped guide the other teachers.”
While Mercer has always done writing across the curriculum, LDC has strengthened the way non-English teachers approach disciplinary literacy. Mallisa concludes, “We are already seeing gains across the board in test scores and expect this upward trend to continue as more teachers become experts in LDC.”
Partnership with Southern Regional Education Board (SREB)
Both districts partnered with SREB as part of their LDC journey. Principal Bryant Gillis of Tichenor Middle School says, “The SREB coaches did a great job coming back in the school, setting timelines, and saying, ‘Okay, let's try it here, let's start here.’ Now it's taken off across the curriculum. We've been very pleased with their guidance and what's been going on. Some of our teachers were invited to present at the LDC national conference in Charlotte last summer.”
SREB support does not end when teachers develop and teach their modules. Currently, Ms. Magee is working with SREB coaches to highlight the connections between Kentucky’s new evaluation program, Professional Growth Evaluation System (PGES), and instruction using LDC. “We're taking components of the PGES and showing how they match the LDC module—and how, by teaching with LDC, we are becoming exceptional teachers.”
Through this process, SREB coaches continue to support Ms. Magee’s great work. She explains that “now we're looking at our modules and developing them and finding ways to improve our tasks and mini-tasks to ensure that everything connects.”