Six years ago, I joined a team of six teachers in Fayette County to work with a new literacy program called Literacy Design Collaborative.
LDC provides a framework for teachers to build challenging lessons to teach both literacy skills and subject content. Our team attended six days of training to learn about LDC and develop units for our classrooms. This was a lot of time out of the classroom away from students. In retrospect, though, I can honestly say that these days were the best investment of time that I could have made.
The past few years have brought so many changes to Kentucky education that teachers are using cheat sheets to keep track of what all the initials mean. Examples include the new Kentucky Standards (KCAS), a new teacher evaluation system (PGES) and new ways of measuring school success (SRC).
Kentucky teachers are not alone in feeling overwhelmed. Many states across the country have adopted new standards and systems aligned to the Common Core State Standards. These reforms have generated both controversy in the public and confusion among teachers. Education Week reported that, nationally, fewer than half of teachers feel well-prepared to teach the new standards.
As in other states, the KCAS includes a complex set of skills and content with recommendations about what students should be able to do at each grade level — and this includes building literacy skills across the curriculum.
As a social studies teacher of more than 20 years, I, along with many of my peers, am struggling to meet the goals of the new standards.
All teachers need tools, supports and resources to change classroom instruction in order to meet the new expectations. Many earlier initiatives took class time and returned very few content gains for social studies, so teachers are wary.
But despite the challenges, I see the value of the new standards for me and for my students.
Happily, LDC provides a strong tool that helps me teach both content and literacy.
This model of teaching literacy in social studies changed my teaching style. Writing suddenly fit. While I struggled to get it right in my classroom, and my students struggled to learn a new type of writing they had not seen in their school careers, we grew and changed together.
The turning point came for me when I read the first drafts of my students' papers and discovered that they were as good as many of the final papers that I had collected the year before. According to a 2013 national survey of 3,324 teachers using LDC, I am not the only one with this experience: Four out of five teachers who took this survey reported that LDC had raised their expectations for student writing.
Teaching in this new way pushed me to teach my students to become better writers. Most science and social studies teachers haven't been trained to teach kids to write. While I always assigned papers, I didn't know how to teach students to write well. LDC has made me a better teacher of writing that prepares kids for college or careers.
LDC has had the greatest impact upon my students of any of the literacy methods that I have used in my teaching career. It has intensified focus on literacy in my classroom and contributed to increased understanding of social studies for my students.
Again, I am not alone in my experiences. The LDC teacher survey found that more than three-quarters of teachers reported that, when they taught with LDC, the majority of their students developed literacy skills and increased their understanding of subject content.
Not only does LDC meet the requirements for our state, it also integrates beautifully with the teacher evaluation system. For me, it has been the glue holding all of these pieces together.
I see amazing connections and possibilities that will forever change both the way that I teach and the way that my students learn. The question is: Will teachers and the public embrace the new standards and systems to raise the bar for all students?