13 October 2012

Introducing Principals to the Literacy Design Collaborative

This week I had my first opportunity to meet all the middle and high school principals in our district.  As the primary point of contact for a major literacy grant, it was important for these administrators to know who I am, and more importantly, to know about the ongoing professional learning experiences we are facilitating for their teachers.  Since we believe in modeling best practice, my colleagues and I decided to stage an argument about the content the principals would learn (In this situation, the content happened to be writing instruction and impact of writing programs in schools).  The argument was designed to set the context and engage the learners/readers in two articles with opposing view-points.  

I’m really happy to be back in the district working closely with teachers and schools, and for the most part it’s going well.  However, I do have one little issue.  My colleague and I don’t agree on the appropriate approach for writing instruction, so we need your help.  We are going to give you two different articles and ask you to help us decide an answer to this question—is it necessary to omit personal connection to produce good writing?  I don’t think it’s necessary to do so, but my colleague does.  Will you help us settle this argument by gleaning evidence from two texts?

My science colleague distributed The Writing Revolution, and I distributed In Defense of Freedom Writers but only after I talked about the power Manuel Scott’s presentation had on me a couple of weeks ago.   Then we gave each administrator a few text dependent questions to accompany both articles, set a timer for 20 minutes and then paced, re-read and watched as a room full of principals and associate principals read the two articles with their pens in hand.  Following the reading of the two articles, our social studies colleague continued the staged argument by telling the principals she didn’t agree with either of us—she was in the middle.  She then facilitated a fish bowl discussion to engage the principals in conversation around the two points of view conveyed in the two articles.  She charted ideas and the principals on the outside of the fishbowl recorded additional thoughts on sticky notes when it wasn’t their turn to talk.  A few struggled to keep quiet when they were on the outside of the fish bowl because they felt so strongly about what they had read.

These are the same conditions teachers are creating as they introduce a Literacy Design Collaborative (LDC) task to students in science, social studies and English Language Arts.   Before we went into the rest of our presentation on LDC, we told the principals the argument had been staged, and they got it.  They understood we had set the context for learning more about the content.  Teachers in our district, across many districts in Kentucky, and in several other states in the United States are utilizing the LDC tools to implement the Common Core State Standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical subjects.

We are using LDC because we see the importance of engaging students in meaningful and authentic reading and writing opportunities in every discipline.  Think about the response above--A few struggled to keep quiet when they were on the outside of the fish bowl because they felt so strongly about what they had read.   Exactly.  Imagine this happening in classrooms full of excited and engaged adolescents!
If you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time, you will know this is exactly why I left the state department to be closer to schools, closer to the teaching and learning that will make a difference in the lives of students.