Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Supporting all Teachers in Becoming Literacy Teachers

April 14, 2015

Today is Leaders for Literacy Day.  So, it’s the perfect time to highlight one of my favorite topics!

We know that reading, writing, speaking and listening are critical skills that students need—in whatever subjects they are studying, and no matter what career aspirations they might have. 

But first, I’d like to share some early memories of the impact literacy has had on my life.

My childhood was spent in rural Kentucky.  When I was done with chores, or on weekends if I got a free minute, I'd be over the edge of our field and down the hill. There was a creek there. And on the other side of the creek - you could wade across it – there was a tree with a carved out bough, and I'd sit in the tree and read until it was too dark to see – or until I heard my mother shouting from the edge of the field “Vicki…   Vicki…   Vicki Lynn!!”, and I knew the library was closing for the night.  

It was sitting in that tree that I traveled to other places, met new people, and enjoyed experiences not common to Falls of Rough, KY.  I was part of the healing power of friendship in the Secret Garden.  I met mythical beasts and talking animals in The Chronicles of Narnia.  And I traveled to another planet with Meg in A Wrinkle in Time. 

Literacy also opened other doors for me.  It opened up a world of knowledge and ignited a passion for learning that has guided my life’s work. 

Igniting this passion in students is something teachers are doing each day across this country.  We know the heart of learning is the powerful connection between teachers and students.  That’s the centerpiece of school success – a teacher forming a bond with students, triggering their hunger to learn, and guiding it in the right way. 

Strong bonds don’t form over easy tasks; they form when you’re working together on something difficult that matters.  That’s one reason why the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are so valuable – they bring teachers and students together to work on difficult and important goals that get kids ready for life and ready to earn a living.

We support the standards because they recognize the importance of literacy and place it at the heart of teaching and learning.  They make literacy and content equal partners so that students’ skills and knowledge build upon one another.  The introduction to the literacy standards couldn’t be clearer:

The Standards insist that instruction in reading, writing, speaking, listening, and language be a shared responsibility within the school... The grades 6-12 standards are divided into two sections, one for ELA and the other for history/social studies, science, and technical subjects. This division reflects the unique, time-honored place of ELA teachers in developing students’ literacy skills while at the same time recognizing that teachers in other areas must have a role in this development as well.

As teachers across the country have told us, the challenge of CCSS implementation is to make sure all teachers have the supports and materials they need to teach literacy in their disciplines.  This means supporting educators in learning new instructional approaches.  It also means ensuring teachers have access to resources that engage students in authentic literacy experiences.  The new resources should honor teacher expertise, not dictate to teachers.  And, it means helping educators connect with each other to share strategies and tackle obstacles together!

For all of these reasons and others, initiatives such as the Literacy Design Collaborative (LDC) are becoming powerful communities for teachers. 

I’ve highlighted LDC a few times in my Focus on Teachers blog series and other posts.  Today serves as another important reminder about why the work of LDC, and other similar organizations, are so important to our teachers and students.

LDC provides literacy resources and tools for teachers that are teacher-designed and freeLDC’s CoreTools hosts a repository of teacher-designed assignments and daily lessons.  Teachers can find subject-specific and interdisciplinary reading and writing assignments and related instructional plans they can adopt or build off of to use with their own students.  Many of the materials are classroom-tested and juried by a national panel of LDC teachers.

LDC is flexible, allowing for teacher choice and for teachers to contribute their expertise.  Through LDC’s CoreTools and resources, teachers can also choose to design their own LDC assignments and instructional plans. The LDC framework hardwires the Common Core literacy standards into assignments, but allows teachers to choose the texts and content they teach, the instructional approaches they use, and the products they ask students to produce.

LDC’s tools facilitate teacher sharing, collaboration and feedback. LDC CoreTools creates a platform in which teachers can work as individuals or in teams to adopt or design instructional resources.  Teachers also can request feedback on their work from other teachers or from a national panel of LDC colleagues.

LDC creates leadership opportunities for teachers.  LDC teachers have opportunities to earn national recognition for their instructional design. More and more LDC teachers are becoming part of the LDC national jurying team, sharing their LDC experiences through blogs and becoming LDC coaches and trainers.

Finally, and most importantly, LDC works.  There are a lot of new ideas in education, but what we all want are ideas that work.  Both teachers and researchers have found that LDC works. Since 2010 LDC has grown from a small pilot in 6 districts to engage hundreds of thousands of teachers and students.  Check it out for yourself: you can read what teachers themselves are saying about LDC and that research and case studies substantiate their experiences. 

And let’s celebrate all those who help literacy do for kids what it did for me - open up the world.

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