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Literacy by Design

June 30, 2014

Social studies is all about making connections—connections between historical events, philosophies, and people. To do so requires building students’ ability to read closely, allowing them to pull information out of the text and apply it in new ways—all things that the Common Core emphasizes across many subjects.

Teachers across the country have contributed to a growing knowledge base of literacy-rich lessons that work across many subject areas. The Literacy Design Collaborative (LDC), a teacher-designed framework of Core-aligned lessons and assignments, has helped teachers deepen their use of complex texts and create effective writing assignments that build on students’ knowledge, rather than merely require them to regurgitate facts.

LDC lessons are built around modules—subject-specific reading and writing assignments that include daily mini-tasks that help build student skills and culminate in a larger assignment.  Teachers use Common Core-aligned templates to design modules that are rigorous, address targeted skills, include detailed lesson plans, and result in a writing assignment that can be evaluated using rubrics to assess the key skills and content taught.

In social studies, these modules focus on lessons and assignments that connect the Core’s emphasis on close reading and persuasive writing to social studies topics. The emphasis on primary sources helps bring to life the abstract concepts found in social studies—concepts like economics, human interactions, and the environment.  For example, one lesson connecting three major religions to a geographic site, Jerusalem’s Temple Mount/Haram Al-Sharif, prompts students to explore the connections between people and place. Another exemplar lesson from the LDC focuses on pollution in Mexico City, prompting students to work with a broad range of texts, from newsmagazines and websites to scholarly journals, to identify the causes of pollution and its effects on the city’s citizens.

Since social studies writing relies so heavily on research with primary sources, media specialists are also focusing on ways to help support teachers and students working with the Common Core. The American Association of School Librarians also offers a database of what it calls “21st Century Learner” lesson plans for writing that are crosswalked with the Core. 

For social studies teachers like Quinton Granville, who teaches 7th grade at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School in Atlanta, the LDC has helped emphasize the use of primary texts, close reading, and a wide range of writing assignments—essays, podcasts, and interactive presentations on tablets. The end goal? Making sure that all students can make convincing arguments supported by evidence, both verbally and in writing. In Granville’s class, that goal was put to the test when the Atlanta Journal-Constitution asked for student essays about the Common Core. An essay by one of his students, 13-year-old Chantel Simmons, was the only one the newspaper published that wasn’t written by a high school student. “It’s the kind of opportunity that matches with everything we talked about,” Granville says. “We don’t perform for the classroom, we perform for the moment—the moment you hope to see your hard work pay off.”

Read more about Granville’s class and Chantel’s essay here.
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