A Q&A with a Reading Coach/English Teacher
Update January 19, 2019: In this Q&A from January 2018, “CommonLit for Leaders” is referenced several times. That product has been renamed “CommonLit Formative Insights.” CommonLit Formative Insights provides administrators with the data tools to track student performance on all CommonLit assignments.
Kayce Giglio is a Reading Coach and English Teacher at Leon Schools in Florida. She has worked closely with the CommonLit team to help her district adopt CommonLit for Leaders. In this interview with Cara, Kayce reflects on her experience using CommonLit in her classroom with students and getting teachers across her school to implement the literacy resource.
Cara: How did you first discover CommonLit? What were your initial thoughts?
Kayce: Our district administration had us check out CommonLit, and as soon as I saw it, I was immediately blown away. We’ve been asked to combine short fiction and nonfiction texts with our curriculum and align them to questions that match our state test for years. It’s time-consuming, to say the least. So when I discovered CommonLit, I immediately volunteered to use it with my students.
Even though I don’t love assessing students with standardized questions, our team wants our kids to have the opportunity. It pushes them to be more careful and deliberate with their answers. We love the way the questions are written because they push deeper thinking.
Cara: What did your teachers think about CommonLit when you first showed it to them?
Kayce: Our teachers were very excited, especially with the immediate feedback and the data teachers and students get. It’s important that students can monitor their own progress, and CommonLit allows us to do that. Getting students involved in monitoring their progress early-on led to them reading more deeply so they could show they were improving.
Cara: Why did you choose to adopt CommonLit for Leaders?
Kayce: Our old program used to pigeon-hole students into a Lexile Level that was usually way too low for them. We chose CommonLit because it allows teachers to choose the best texts for students.
In the old program, some of my lowest performing readers were stuck in the 600–800 Lexile level (5th grade). In CommonLit, I could assign them articles as high as 1150–1180 (10th grade), and they were passing them! CommonLit is all about giving students challenging texts they’ll enjoy.
Also, CommonLit proved to me that if students can identify with what they are reading, they’ll enjoy it. Then they will perform better than what their “Lexile Level” is. CommonLit really allows teachers to push that level of rigor.
Cara: Why do you think students are engaging with CommonLit readings so much?
Kayce: The pieces on CommonLit are so interesting, I can’t say it’ll be interesting for every single student every time, but the pieces are really interesting. Many of them are inspiring, which is really good for the kids. We already know it’s helping them perform better, but it goes beyond that. It gives them exposure to new topics; this gives them a wide range of knowledge.
CommonLit may even help students discover what they want to do in life.
When kids get out of high school these days, they are expected to know what they want to major in. That’s hard when they don’t know a lot about the world or careers yet. But through CommonLit, kids can learn about different careers through the articles. They can read a speech someone gave or a psychology experiment someone conducted and realize “that’s something I’d like to do.”
CommonLit opens kids up to more experiences in the world and deepens their understanding of current issues.
Cara: How have you helped the teachers you coach incorporate CommonLit into their curriculum?
Kayce: The vast majority of teachers have embraced CommonLit and are excited by it. I myself have used it as I teach students from our lowest performers to our honors students, and I use it with all of them the same way. It’s well-suited for all my students’ needs.
Now, with every group of teachers, there is always going to be a few that are more resistant. To win them over, I recommend showing them how it aligns with what they’re already using. CommonLit now has themes, units, and text sets to help teachers fully adopt the curriculum.
The CommonLit Partnerships Team worked with us to find the right units for our teachers. We’ve been using the unit plans ever since they launched them last year.
Cara: Are you using CommonLit in a creative way that other educators could learn from?
Kayce: We have a target team of teachers who teach our lowest quartile of students. We track their progress in CommonLit as they go through our 9-week semesters. We give them a week to complete a CommonLit assignment. We want to set them up for success; so if they do it early and they get a score they don’t like, we reset it and let them do it again. What we’ve seen happening is a lot of students becoming more interested in making a good grade. They are becoming actively involved in their education. They can reset as many times as they want up until the due date.
We also celebrate successful students every semester. We hosted an ice cream social for students who had an average of 70% or higher in CommonLit during the first semester. The second semester they got a pizza party if they maintained a 75% average, and each semester we bring the average up to push them to achieve. We’re very happy with the number of students succeeding on CommonLit.
We are seeing a high-level of engagement that we’ve never seen in the past. Never never never! For the first time, kids are coming in and saying “I want to redo that assignment!”
It’s exciting for us to see, especially because these are kids who have been left behind by our educational system. They are kids that have failed year after year after year, and they don’t like school.
We are hopefully changing their minds by giving them opportunities to improve themselves, thanks to CommonLit.
Cara: How do you use CommonLit’s analytics to drive success in your school?
Kayce: CommonLit’s administrator dashboard makes it possible for our team to get together and discuss trends. We use that to decide which standards kids need the most help with, and we incorporate that into our teaching.
We also encourage teachers to look at the teacher dashboard to empower them to inform their instruction. I was never a big data person before. A lot of programs don’t make it that easy — it’s not right at your fingertips — but this data is good data. The kids like the data.
In fact, when I started using CommonLit last year I put the class data up on the board and showed them how they were doing. And I pointed out trends. And my students were like, “oh cool, let me see my name” — so even they enjoy the data.
My students are competitive by nature. They want to see their names in the green, not the red. And they like to know exactly which question they missed. They love that instant feedback, which is such a great best practice.
Cara: What advice would you give to schools that are looking to adopt CommonLit?
Kayce: To me, the biggest thing is being positive and excited. What excites me now is all the great changes that are coming to CommonLit.
Working with the CommonLit Partnerships Team is especially helpful; they are always open to suggestions or requests. I feel like we’re partners in this because CommonLit actually listens to us, which is important for our staff to know. My teachers made a list of texts they wanted to see, and CommonLit responded quickly with great materials.
CommonLit is more than just a great product, it’s also a team of experts we can rely on to support us throughout the school year, and I think that’s important for people to know.
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