The Literacy Design Collaborative


Five years ago, we launched a grant to the Literacy Design Collaborative (LDC). Actually, it was called Literacy by Design.  It became a collaborative when teachers across the country began to iterate and work with the original design team on their products—classroom-ready assignments based on “templates” that let teachers innovate on top of a strong lesson.  Each template task focuses on skills students need as we shift toward the Common Core and asks teachers to develop high-quality plans to teach those skills well. An original template task looked like this:

Template Task 21: [Insert optional question] After reading ________ (literature or informational texts), write  ________ (a report, essay or substitutes) in which you analyze ________ (content), providing examples to clarify your analysis.  (Informational or Explanatory/Analysis)

How does Shirley Jackson’s choice of words and phrases in “The Lottery” impact the tone of the story?  After reading “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson, write an essay in which you analyze the impact of specific language on the story’s tone, providing examples to clarify your analysis.  (From LDC Exemplary Module Collection: 6th grade)

The original 29 template tasks were really prototypes to see if we could get social studies, science and English teachers on the same page and actually excited about teaching literacy as part of the Common Core.  We knew that there would be adjustments, but we wanted to know if the notion of a template assignment would work if we let teachers “fill in” their own text and instructional strategies.  I think what made LDC so meaningful for teachers was the notion that it wasn’t a fixed “fidelity of implementation” system in which they had no room to be creative. But it also wasn’t “anything goes.”

Over the past few years, Vicki Philips and I have written a few articles about the work. This past year, LDC became a non-profit to carry the work further than we could if we continued to organize activities from the foundation.  CoreTools, LDC’s web-based support for teachers, started this past February and includes a new bank of standard-by-standard and grade-by-grade template tasks. For example, Reading Standard #9 (Grades 9-10):

R9-10.9. [Insert optional question] Write ___(product) in which you analyze ____(seminal U.S. documents of historical and literary significance) to explain how ____(authors) address related themes and concepts.

What do Hamilton and Madison view as the role of a government regarding “factions”? Write a response in which you analyze two Federalist papers, No. 9 on “The Union as a Safeguard against Domestic Faction and Insurrection” and No. 10 “The Same Subject Continued” to explain how Hamilton and Madison address related themes and concepts.

These templates are tighter and more “bite-sized,” yet have the same qualities of the original 29—a relentless focus on the skills we are asking students to acquire without taking out all of the creativity that teachers bring to instruction.

Imagine if a school or a district began to use these template tasks for teaching and formative assessment. And then the district began to use a completed set of tasks for a benchmark assessment, or a group of teachers used these to produce student work that could be discussed during their PLC time. Then the state began to mirror these types of questions on the test in a summative way. Alignment, finally!  Wouldn’t that be novel if students take summative tests that have actually been aligned to what they’ve been taught!

If you haven’t seen the latest work from the LDC, they will be featured at the Southern Regional Education Board’s Networking Conference in July.  When I saw this recent blog on LDC implementation in Dothan, Ala., I was reminded of how far we’ve come with this work!

 – C.