Getting Struggling Readers on Grade Level
For the past 10 years, Albertia has been enthusiastically helping some of the most at-risk students in North Carolina. She teaches at a Title I high school with students that predominantly struggle on state reading assessments. The students she serves have a vast array of learning needs. Even though this sounds daunting, she loves her students, and she loves teaching them how to become better readers.
Last year, the real obstacle for Albertia was finding good materials that engaged her students and made planning manageable for her. Many of the other programs she tried were difficult to navigate or contained texts that did not engage her students. After experimenting with several different tools that did not match her students’ needs, she conferred with her instructional coach, Roxanne, who introduced her to CommonLit.
Albertia was excited because CommonLit helped her students think about reading in ways they never had before. This was the first resource that allowed Albertia to tie different texts from a variety of genres and to connect them with a single theme. “The only way to get enough literature to assess a theme unit is to do it the CommonLit way,” she said. Previously, if Albertia wanted to plan a strong unit around a theme, she would have had to scour several different online resources.
“I needed enough grade-level texts to provide plenty of practice for my students,” she said. “I usually had to find texts from five different places and put them all together myself. Who has time for that?”
Now with more time on her hands, she can assess student growth and find compelling new texts for them.
For too long her students had negative associations with reading because for them it meant reading boring or seemingly irrelevant texts. This shifted when Albertia created a highly-engaging unit on satire using CommonLit’s genre filter.
“Satire is not something people have on their list to teach kids,” she explains, “yet it is so necessary for teaching them to recognize the differences in literal and figurative language.” With texts like “Hermann the Irascible” and selections from The Onion, her students not only excelled at learning the nuances of language but were intrigued by them and ready to learn more.
When her students struggled with nonfiction, she was able to captivate them with a text on how power can influence the human mind: “The Stanford Prison Experiment.” When they struggled with canonical literature, she assigned them excerpts by Mark Twain. Albertia was able to find texts that her students could have fun with but also met North Carolina’s state standards. At the beginning of last school year, her class average was in the low 60s, but by the end of the year, her students were performing in the mid-to-high 80s.
This school year, she will be working with a program that helps incoming freshmen who are performing far below grade-level. She’s confident she will be able to bring them up to grade-level with CommonLit in her toolbelt.
Ever the team player, she hopes more teachers will start using the program next year. “It’s great that CommonLit worked for me in my class, but we need to go mainstream with it. If we want to bring up our whole school’s performance, we all need to start using CommonLit.”