Sunday, January 2, 2011

Supporting instruction: the literacy tasks

To succeed in higher education and demanding future jobs, all students must be ready to work with complex texts in many subjects. The Common Core Standards emphasize this point repeatedly, including separate standards for science literacy and history/social studies literacy and using exemplar texts from multiple disciplines. To support those Standards, the Gates Foundation is investing in a Literacy Design Collaborative (or LDC) strategy designed for use across grades six to twelve and in science, history, English, and other studies. That approach is outlined in the Supporting Instruction monograph, alongside the mathematics strategy I discussed in earlier posts here and here.

The LDC strategy starts from template tasks that teachers can fill in with curriculum content from varied subjects. For example, here’s a template task that leads to an argumentative writing piece:
Task 4 Template: [Insert essential question] After reading _______ (literature or informational texts), write an _______ (essay or substitute) that compares _______ (content) and argues _______ (content). Be sure to support your position with evidence from the texts.
In turn, that task can be filled in with content from varied disciplines.  Consider these three different versions:
English Language Arts What makes something funny? After reading selections from Mark Twain and Dave Barry, write a review that compares their humor and explains which type of humor works for a contemporary audience and why. Be sure to support your position with evidence from the texts.
Social Studies Do presidential policies really make a difference in the lives of Americans? After reading primary and secondary sources, write an essay that compares John F. Kennedy’s New Frontier social policies with Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society social policies and argues which had a more significant impact on Americans. Be sure to support your position with evidence from the texts.
Science Which is the better energy source? After reading scientific sources, write an essay that compares the chemistry involved in producing nuclear energy and fossil fuels and argues which is the better energy source for urban communities. Be sure to support your position with evidence from the texts.
All three tasks lead to student work that can be scored against a common rubric, allowing teachers to work together on shared scoring and ongoing discussion of how to help students move forward.  A central point of the LDC strategy is to make literacy a central issue both in classrooms and in teacher collaboration across the middle and high school years. ( Examples of other argumentative and informational template tasks are available here)

Those template tasks are the cornerstone of the LDC strategy. Around that cornerstone, there’s a further teaching strategy, and building on that foundation, there’s a vision of restructured overall curriculum—but those are topics best addressed in my next few posts.

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