Alabama Science Teacher Sets Higher Expectations Using Literacy Strategies

Strategies That Work Gene Bottoms

Reese Woytek Why did the deer cross the road? The usual answer to the joke is “to get to the other side.”

That question serves as a prompt for seventh-grade science students to start looking for answers through data-driven research and in-depth writing. Their teacher, Reese Woytek at Slocomb Middle School in Geneva County, Alabama, is using the instructional framework of the Literacy Design Collaborative (LDC). He received his LDC training in 2015. The Southern Regional Education Board is training teachers across Alabama, and Woytek’s experience is a perfect example of how LDC strategies can change teacher focus and impact students.

Woytek has six years teaching experience, graduated from Geneva County Schools and is a magna cum laude graduate of Auburn University. He has the high expectations of himself and his students that are necessary to plan LDC modules. In addition to teaching, Woytek coaches several sports. On his school website, he jokingly reports that his spare time is spent “reading actual books – you know, those paper things.”

Combining literacy and content standards

Teachers often struggle with combining literacy and content standards. Woytek successfully integrates science standards with state college- and career-readiness standards and developed an argumentative module named “Deer Biodiversity Essay.” Students research the problems in different species, as well as environmental changes, and propose a solution with evidence from the essay “Deer Crossing” and Internet sources. Below, he explains how LDC has changed the way he approaches teaching.

LDC changes what you teach.

“The framework for LDC modules helps me integrate scientific and engineering practices into my lessons,” says Woytek. “This focuses on obtaining, evaluating and communicating information, asking questions, engaging in argument from evidence, constructing explanations and analyzing and interpreting data.”

LDC changes how you teach

“Like a lot of science teachers, I used to give students a research paper, go over the rubric and expectations, schedule a research day or two in the library, and expect the paper to be done by the due date,” he says. “Now I am modelling correct writing techniques and planning the writing with my students, going into more detail on research methodology and holding my students to higher expectations  — because I am more involved in the writing process.”

LDC changes your students

“My students use to expect science class to be multiple choice tests, fill-in-the-blank worksheets and chalk-and-talk notes,” says Woytek. “With LDC modules and mini-tasks, students are transitioning from single sentence opinions to paragraphs, referencing research to support their ideas; and then to full-length assignments with multiple layers of cited research to support their claims.” 

Utilizing the LDC literacy strategies, Woytek has significantly increased the amount of support he gives his science students to research and write strong papers. For example, in the Writing Process Cluster, students begin with a “Stars and Dots” basic essay outline, go on to plan an introductory paragraph and body paragraphs; and revise, edit and produce a final draft with a concluding paragraph. Woytek models and supports his students with higher expectations — which helps them reach new levels of success in their reading comprehension and writing.

                                                    * * *

The Southern Regional Education Board provides middle grades and high schools in member states with intensive professional development in leading-edge literacy and math strategies that enhance students’ abilities to meet college- and career-readiness standards. The training is offered at no cost to qualifying schools in member states except Florida, Kentucky and Tennessee.* Pass this information on to your peers: superintendents, principals, math and literacy supervisors, and others who might consider offering this professional development to teachers. Contact us to share your successes. No-cost teacher training: We are offering training in your area now. Contact us to register your school team. * Training fees negotiated separately for direct contract states.