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Experiencing the Impact of the Literacy Design Collaborative in Boyle County, KY

December 10, 2013

Our team recently received an email from David Young, Assistant Superintendent of Boyle County Schools, Kentucky.  Boyle County was one of the first districts, back in 2010, to help co-design and pilot the Literacy Design Collaborative (LDC) framework and tools.

After sharing a brief history of how Boyle County was introduced to LDC, David enthusiastically reported  “…. I wanted you all to know that we are seeing a measureable impact because of LDC.  We see results not only in classroom visits, but on our state assessment which is based on the Common Core.  LDC is an incredibly effective instructional vehicle – in our opinion, THE best vehicle by which to teach the Common Core Reading and Writing Standards.”

It is a terrific testament to the work of Boyle County educators and the LDC contributors from across the country.

Through the evaluations of Research for Action, we’ve been closely following LDC’s overall implementation and impact across districts during the past few years. Of course, David’s email piqued our curiosity about the specifics of Boyle County’s LDC experience.  How are they successfully landing LDC in their schools? 

In a subsequent conversation with David, he reflected on some of the district’s key strategies, both intended and unintended, when they decided to take on LDC. 

“When we were asked to be part of the LDC co-design process, we knew we needed to recruit some of our most experienced and respected teachers first,” David explained.  “We wanted to test the tools in the context of a strong classroom to see what they looked like and what impact they would have there.”

For that first year, Boyle County had six teacher volunteers— four high school and two middle school teachers in English/Language Arts and Social Studies.  Working with LDC trainers to understand the framework, the teachers began to try out the LDC template tasks to design their own CCSS-aligned reading/writing assignment for their courses.

“From the first LDC teaching task they designed and implemented in their classrooms, our teachers reported that the kids were more challenged than from the regular assignments they gave,” said David.  “They were challenged to think differently, read more closely, write more concisely.  The teachers also realized how much pre-planning they needed to do to create an effective assignment.”

The first group of Boyle County teachers spent approximately 1½ years with LDC.  At the end of the pilot phase, they had an opportunity to “drop it and not do it anymore,” explained David.  “And the teachers told me, ‘We can’t stop.  We have to continue with LDC.’  They gave us the green light.”

It was this enthusiasm and buy-in from the first group of teachers that the Boyle County administrators built upon. 

In the following year, the District went from 6 teachers to nearly 25 teachers with every English, social studies and science teacher at the middle school signed up.  David credits the “blanketing of the middle school with LDC” for both the school’s and the overall district’s dramatic improvement in student reading and writing skills evidenced by recent statewide assessments. 

At the high school in Boyle County, LDC scaling involved several teachers, but wasn’t as systematic across the building as in the middle school— that is, until recently, when the impact of LDC at the middle level showed up on state and other assessments.  Nearly all high school teachers in science, social studies, and English are now participating – and teachers from other departments, like a career studies and agriculture, have signed on.  To accelerate LDC implementation there, the district created a short-term plan to get more LDC tasks going in more classrooms.  The LDC-trained teachers wrote tasks and lessons for those new to LDC to give them models to follow and to guide them along.  

In David’s words:  “The teachers new to LDC bought into it because of the messengers—they were teachers they respected who were working as hard as they were working.  And, they knew that administrators in the building were backing it.”  Recently, the high school also has seen improvements in student on-demand writing on both the ACT and state assessments.

“Teacher engagement is certainly a large part of why LDC is working.  It is hard to take just small steps—starting with 6 teachers out of two schools.  If we tried to be bigger, faster, however, we would have seen results but I don’t think we would have had the teacher buy in,” David summed up the Boyle County approach.  “If I leave tomorrow the teachers will still keep doing LDC.  It doesn’t hinge on me. It is part of the way they teach now.”

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