Teaching the Teacher: Lesson Planning and Powerful PD in One

By Suzanne Simons
Have you ever watched a child learn to tie shoes? It’s no coincidence that most children learn to tie their shoes (after much trying and failing) just at the point when they seek independence from adults. It all begins when they realize they need their shoes for important independent things like running and playing games on their own, and when their fingers finally have the motor control to be able to wrap and pull those laces tight.
Vygotsky called this moment the Zone of Proximal Development (ZDP), and teachers spend their days seeking each students’ ZDP in order to provide them with just the right scaffolding to acquire that new knowledge and expertise. These learning moments are often magical for both teachers and students in the way they combine apparent ease of learning with just the right amount of productive struggle.
Literacy Design Collaborative (LDC) tools work a lot like this shoe-tying analogy. They were developed to provide teachers with a way to intentionally create more of those extraordinary moments with their students by providing just the right amount of scaffolding for teacher planning. The reward in using these is two-fold. Students learn the content of the disciplines plus the literacy skills they need to acquire that content, and have fun while learning. Teachers learn new things about their own instructional craft and have fun collaborating with their peers.

Saturn Elementary School and LDC

Della and Tiffany are teachers at Saturn Elementary School in Los Angeles Unified School District. They began using LDC to teach close reading to their Kindergarten and fifth-grade students. Then they moved on to writing longer reading-to-text assignments that build enduring skills from one lesson to the next.
By meeting weekly in their professional learning community, these teachers discovered something far beyond lesson planning. They discovered that their weekly collaboration around their LDC planning work was helping them get “unstuck” as teachers.
“We were so used to doing things the way we always had and I think I was really stuck,” said Tiffany.“Working with my teaching partners has helped me become inspired again, because I’m learning so much while I’m doing my lesson planning.”

Student Instruction and Professional Development Tool

What LDC offers Della, Tiffany and teachers like them across the country is a system of tools that not only helps them provide more critical moments of instruction for their students’ learning, but for their own as well.
Using the LDC tools to plan for student learning builds teachers’ own skills, fosters teachers’ own developing teaching competencies, and it helps teachers have those same magical moments of struggle and learning that they are creating for their students. For these teachers, LDC serves a double purpose—nurturing learning in themselves while nurturing learning in their students.
LDC assignment templates are fill-in-the-blank prompts that teachers use to write sturdy, standards-driven assignment tasks for their students. Because the templates contain the cognitive demands highlighted and privileged in academic standards, teachers can be assured that their students will be thinking critically and deeply when working on an LDC assignment. And because the structure of the prompts requires that interesting content be combined with engaging questions, students thrill at the chance to learn new content with the right amount of support.
Teaching students is how a teacher also learns, and to continue doing this work well they must improve and refine their skills. They are needed in the classroom though, which makes going outside the school for professional learning a challenge. With LDC they can plan, teach, tie their shoes, guide students in tying their own and move together from one extraordinary moment to another. LDC is helping teachers learn while doing the regular work of teaching.  What could be better?
This blog is part of a series brought to you by Literacy Design Collaborative. Sign up for your free account a tcoretools.ldc.org/login. For more, stay tuned in April for the final published Smart Bundle, Getting Smart on Teachers as Collaborative Curriculum Designers, and the accompanying podcast and infographic. You can also check out additional posts in the series here:

Suzanne Simons is Chief Academic Officer at Literacy Design Collaborative. Follow LDC on Twitter: @LitDesignCollab.

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