The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards and the Literacy Design Collaborative (LDC) have teamed up to build a new course for all LDC CoreTools users to “Differentiate for All Students.” This is a natural collaboration due to the symbiotic relationship that exists between quality teaching and the LDC tools and resources. The National Board’s Five Core Propositions are the qualities and characteristics of practice that highly effective educators share. LDC provides a system that supports teachers in practicing these qualities in our work in concrete ways. The LDC tools and resources provide a practical way to enact the Five Core Propositions. This course, along with the larger LDC suite of courses, provides a bridge between the Five Core Propositions and a teacher’s daily life.
The “Differentiate for All Students” course provides examples, questioning strategies, and other tools for thinking about instructional design in relation to students. LDC provides a clear design process that supports teachers in cycles of planning, implementing, and assessing high-leverage literacy lessons in any discipline. These lessons and content scaffold to more rigorous multi-day assignments driven by college-ready standards. National Board’s Standards help teachers address the variety of student needs in a classroom in order to support them in successfully meeting high expectations. The partnership supports teachers in planning high-quality assignments and delivering instruction, framing the learning, and reflecting on the students and on teaching practices at every step of the way.
As a National Board candidate, I have found that the LDC tools and resources make it easier to decide which assignment to teach and focus upon for the candidacy work. The assignments I selected for my portfolio are moments in my instruction and in my students’ learning that I explored deeply through the written commentary; using assignments designed with LDC tools and supports helped to ensure that my portfolio reflects learning that is deep, rigorous, and meaningful to students. LDC resources and tools maximize both teacher’s and students’ learning when time is such a valuable resource. Just as candidacy work is connected to daily practice, so is the professional learning and support LDC provides.
The activities, examples, and questions posed throughout the course guide thinking through different aspects of mini-task design and customization. Special attention is given to the strategic use of the differentiation and reflection optional fields in the National Board Mini Task Template. Here, the course guidance is distilled into a series of questions that encourage strategic implementation of the Five Core Propositions. This process clarifies the relationship between thinking about students and instruction throughout the LDC design process and the reflections during the candidacy process.
Since 2012, I have been a task designer. I love it. Designing tasks and engaging with students in the kind of thinking work that a well-crafted task evokes has created powerful learning experiences in my classroom. As Richard Elmore states, “Task Predicts Performance,” so I figured I could do the rest of my module in my head and move forward. I’d think through the skills as I drew up my calendar for the upcoming weeks, and I was back in my usual planning process. It wasn’t until a few years later that I really understood that I was missing half of the substance of the work. I used mini-tasks; there were formative checks, but I often didn’t use them to stop, reteach, and really respond to my students’ needs in intentional ways.
This is because I viewed skills in a generic sense. For me, “enduring” was connotated as a generic strategy and not the actual definition of an enduring skill, or a skill that students would need across multiple disciplines. I mistakenly viewed them as only a note-taking strategy or ability to have a conversation. I didn’t link the skills list to the specific thinking and reasoning demands of my task, standards, or discipline. What a revelation when I first saw the language of my focus standards echoed across the skills list. Now, we weren’t just doing the thinking work of the standards for the task, but that thinking was the thread connecting every skill cluster and created the focus for each enduring skill. That was the shift for me. I finally started to see what it was I didn’t know. And, so my learning with LDC went deeper.
Shortly after, I had an opportunity to work with several professional learning communities (PLCs) in my building. We decided to place student work at the center of our conversations. We used a protocol to analyze student work from a previous lesson each time we met. As we went through the questions, I began to hear the same questions emerge in our discussions that I had asked myself numerous times when building a mini-task. Again, here was a piece of the LDC design process that I already had in my schema, but I hadn’t attached it properly. It was like looking at the mini-task template under illumination. I saw sections and relationships in ways I had previously thought of as non-essential. Like using the scoring section of the mini-task template to intentionally outline what I was looking for in student work—before I actually taught the lesson! This was such a shift from my usual approach where grading occurred after the fact and always in isolation. I now had colleagues to discuss expectations with, and I began to shift to a scoring mindset and really think about where I wanted students to be at different moments of the instructional sequence.
This personal journey reinforces for me the recursive, or spiraled, nature of this work: Task, skills list, instruction. Go a little deeper and try again. With the addition of the National Board course and template, I find my learning has gone deeper yet again. The next phase of my journey is using the National Board resources to go even deeper in my understanding of mini-tasks. The final piece of this partnership trifecta is the National Board Benchmark Minitask Collection. Here LDC has merged its recently launched Benchmark Mini-Task Collection with the National Board template. A Benchmark Mini-Task is a mini-task focused on a single reading standard—R1, R2, or R4—that uses a gradual release of responsibility instructional method to help students develop key literacy skills. Benchmark Mini-Tasks are designed to be used several times throughout the year, in a module or on their own, to help teachers monitor students’ development of those skills. Because they were meant to be used again and again, they are flexible enough to be used with different content and in different disciplines. The original collection was developed in partnership with David Pearson and his team at UC Berkeley. Now, they can drive the next phase of your journey to intentionally trace student skill development, at your specific grade level, across the year.
Ultimately, the heart of this work is equity. We create equity in our classrooms by getting to know our students and framing our instruction around their needs, interests, and community. The same is true with the National Board and LDC. Both work to create equity in learning experiences and opportunity for all students and for all teachers, as well. Through virtual courses, resources, and learning opportunities like these, we can all engage in meaningful ways with thinking that pushes our practice forward, so we can do the same for our students.
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