Maestro Javier is an 11th and 12th grade teacher in the city of Guadalajara, Mexico. He’s been teaching for over five years. Last school year he used CommonLit as a tool that allowed two students to achieve their dreams. Here’s his story:
Maestro Javier, why did you decide to become a teacher?
Two reasons: one selfish and one altruistic. The first reason is that I like to learn and this way I learn new things and I also learn from the students. Secondly, I like to help young people and it gives me satisfaction to see how they evolve; to see how they arrive and to see them leave with a greater capacity to ask questions, to debate and to learn something new. I enjoy it very much.
What kind of resources do you have in your school?
The school is still under construction, and it is a public school, it is a high school of the University of Guadalajara. The books in the library are just arriving. They are being cataloged and assembled, I haven’t seen the library yet and it is not being used yet. In terms of technology, we have five buildings and four have internet connection. There are three computer rooms with 40 computers each, but they are used for Technology class, if another teacher wants to use them, we must ask to reserve it.
What motivates you to continue using CommonLit?
If we had to do it ourselves, it would take months to get it done, but with CommonLit everything is already there, so that you can apply it and guide the students.
1. The content is well structured and differentiated by level. I like that there are very interesting resources and they become more and more complex for high school students. I also like that they can be read in 10 or 15 minutes. They are so interesting that I myself read them with great interest and they spark my curiosity.
2. The questions are very well designed and have a good length, because the students do them in a short period of time. If they were longer, they would not like to answer long and boring question sets.
3. The data that the platform gives to the teachers. We can know that some students did not identify the central idea, or do not know how to give evidence and that helps us find readings that allow them to learn better.
4. I like knowing what kind of questions the students have wrong or right and so I can follow-up better with each student and the group. This allows the work that one must do to take less time. If we had to do it ourselves, it would take months to get it done, but with CommonLit everything is already there, so that you can apply it and guide the students.
5. The other thing I really like is the ability to link to Google Classroom, it is easy to download and so you can work faster.
How would you describe your students?
In general, they are students from the lower middle class and arrive very behind. Our school is four years old, and many people don't know us. There are also two other schools very close by and all the people look to attend those schools and not our school, so we receive the students that are not accepted by the other two schools. They arrive with very low reading comprehension skills.
Approximately 50 - 60% of my students would like to continue studying, even demanding careers such as medicine or engineering, but at least 20% are already working or already have children and just want to finish high school and that's it.
What do your students like most about CommonLit?
They like the material and are entertained by the readings, and they even have conversations around the texts. You can see that the lessons are made for students, and they encourage dialogue and reflection. Another thing that they like a lot is that they are quick to read and so they can comment and do the exercises in one class. They also consider the platform to be user-friendly, in general, from the very beginning.
Tell us about the success story you wanted to share.
I have the case of two students who had applied to public universities twice and had not obtained the necessary scores, so I offered to help them prepare.
My hypothesis was that they did not know how to take a standardized test, that they lacked the strategy to answer these questions but when I did a practice test with the guide provided by the university I realized that the problem was not the strategies to answer the questions, the difficulty was that they did not understand what they were reading. They receive 3 sample tests from the University; the first two are short and the last one is long. I remember that out of 18 questions they only got 5 right. So, I used CommonLit for three months with readings and guided reading questions and asked them to do the assessments on their own. They would answer the assessment questions at home. Based on these answers I gave them vertical reading strategies. That is, we would look at the structure like, introduction, titles or subtitles and discuss what we thought the reading meant from the title and then read it.
We spent two months working together with the readings I assigned from CommonLit, and at the end of 2 months, I could see the first results. I noticed that the student who did the most lessons, responded better and improved the most. Then in the last month, they could already understand and comprehend the exam and could solve the last guide, which was the most complex. An interesting thing I noticed is that the Math sections had also improved. That surprised me a lot.
They took their exam and even I was nervous, I didn't know if the strategy had worked, but the surprise was that they both passed the exam, they increased their scores and they both got into the University!
What would you recommend to other teachers about CommonLit?
That they use the platform, that they explore it and above all that they get to know it. What CommonLit can contribute to their teaching practice is wonderful, because it does what it would take one a long time to do, getting information for us that we don't know how to get, even as a teacher you learn, you don't just teach the students. A confession, I was terrible at standardized tests, and now because of my master's degree in educational research and because of CommonLit, I was able to improve my own reading comprehension.