The first time I sat down to make a Literacy Design Collaborative (LDC) task it took me two hours to even create a question I liked. It then took me at least fifteen hours to plan my entire unit that culminated in this task. It was a pain. I had to call my poor colleague about six times in the course of one coffee shop visit. I say unit and not module because I will also admit that I did not begin using LDC in the way that I was “supposed” to do it. I started by creating what I call mini-tasks. If you are someone who is in the LDC sphere right now it may mean something different to you. Let me explain a bit.
LDC is a framework for writing rigorous Common Core based culmulative assessments based on fill-in-the blank template tasks. I will begin by saying they are awesome, they are helpful, they are rigorous and they make my classroom a more rigorous, focussed, and effective space. In the framework however there are some things that make it time consuming and challenging, all be it worth it and useful. I often tell people it’s an investment in time. I have spent a lot of time designing my curriculum with LDC but it pays off in numerous ways in my classroom and in time saved later. The collaborative part of the LDC comes from the hope that teachers who are using the frameworks will create what the designers call modules, an entire unit, or a course of units that culminate in one of these template teaching tasks. Within the module a teacher designs lesson plans that are based on backward design and careful planning of lesson order to meet skills, state or district standards, and the Common Core. The collaborative calls these daily activities, reading strategies, lessons or what have you, “mini-tasks”. For me its hard to refer to my unit of study as a module, and its confusing for me to call my daily lessons or activities, mini-tasks mostly because I want to use that term for something else. For the purposes of what I hope to be a helpful post I am going to do just that.
When I write a mini-task I do not mean a lesson or skill objective within a LDC module. I mean a small template task that may take a day or two. A stand alone lesson that allows teachers and students to practice the kind of rigorous thinking and close reading required to answer a template task question without the necessity of fifteen hours of planning, template filling out, and hours of study and time for the students. Our LDC coach called what I am calling a mini-task “LDC light”. This is in essence what I did to begin my LDC journey. It was just too much to think that I had the time or the will to write out complete modules and do a good job at it.
LDC is based on a planning cycle of, what task, what skills, what instruction, and what results. The idea is to plan an entire “module” or unit based on these and outline the standards and instruction for every day’s lesson and objective to lead students to successful completion of the task and then to assess it using the LDC rubric. When I first began to use LDC it was a lot for me to try to revamp my entire curriculum like this. What I did at first was a mini-task. I chose one of the task templates:
Task 4: [Insert optional question] After reading ________ (literature or informational texts), write ________ (an essay or substitute) in which you compare ________ (content) and argue ________ (content). Support your position with evidence from the text(s). (Argumentation/Comparison)
My students were just beginning a unit on political typologies. They hadn’t had much background and we were going to move onto a much larger study of the political spectrum, large cultural issues, and the upcoming presidential election. I was not ready to combine all of this information and neither were they. However I did have them read the Pew Research Centers “Beyond Red vs. Blue: The Political Typology” report and take a typology quiz to identify what label they fall under. I then turned this LDC template into a “mini-task”.
Teaching Task: After reading the Pew Research Centers “Beyond Red vs. Blue: The Political Typology”, write three paragraphs in which you compare conservative and liberal viewpoints and argue whether or not your quiz outcome seems accurate. Support your position with evidence from the text(s).
This took me about fifteen minutes. My kids had a focus for what they were reading. I had them take two column notes that compared the two major political viewpoints and a summary section on how accurate they thought they quiz outcome was. I have used this quiz and report for six years prior to this. On this occasion the students were focussed and they read closely to identify things that outlined both of the two major political categories. They also made very strong connections to what they thought and how that would classify them. It took me very little time to read three paragraphs.
I still went through the cycle but quickly, I chose a task, I just made it based on one piece of reading/research instead of many. I thought about what skills my students would need. They would for sure need a note taking strategy to help them engage with and make meaning of the text while preparing to write their response. I planned out my instruction, chose my note taking strategy and had them take the quiz to spark interest and engagement. As for what results, the rubric that the collaborative uses is a good tool, but it does take some getting used to and some training for both the teacher and the students The rubric has seven scoring elements, focus, controlling idea, reading/research, development, conventions, organization, and content understanding. When I am doing a full LDC and we have been working for weeks on a task I almost always score on all seven, but for this mini-task all I was really interested in was content understanding. In this case I was using this mini-task to see if they had gathered what they needed about the two major viewpoints and that they had evaluated how they fit into those labels.
I will tell you that it was great. The first year I did LDC I did one of these every couple weeks and at the very least once a month. It was a fantastic way for me to get used to using the framework and to practice the four pieces of the cycle. It also invigorated my literacy instruction by purposefully planning in meaningful close reading strategies for each mini-task. I made a Mini-Task Planning Guide that was based on one I was given by my HSTW coach. I adapted it for my own planning.
I am in year four of my LDC journey and I have revamped my curriculum. In year two I moved to carefully designing the instructional ladder pieces of my units. (I will post about that soon as well.) I now do six LDC complete module units. I am in the process of changing them from the hard copy template I originally used to the new CoreTools method of online designing of the modules. (This tool, when you are ready for it, is an amazing life saver and makes creating modules much less cumbersome.) If you are new to LDC, or need an on-ramp to get into the framework or begin a new unit I would greatly advise using a mini-task for the first few attempts. In this way you can build confidence with both the task templates, reading strategies, and the rubric.