A Q&A with a District English Curriculum Specialist
Roxanne Friday is the English Curriculum Specialist for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. Roxanne has worked closely with the CommonLit team to effectively implement the program across the district. In her interview with Rob, Roxanne reflects on the product and on working with CommonLit’s team.
Rob: Why did you first decide to introduce your district, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS), to CommonLit?
Roxanne: Our district has been intensively working around disciplinary literacy for about three years. So, this meant that we needed high-quality text sets built around thematic units that included lots of different genres and complexity levels. CommonLit does that very well. It’s very teacher-friendly. I introduced it to a few of my teachers to try it out. They loved it and started using it right away!
Rob: How has CommonLit helped you promote best practices?
Roxanne: We know that the best way to learn vocabulary is by learning words in context. The more often students are exposed to the language of that theme and discipline, the more those words become ingrained in their own vocabulary. CommonLit’s thematic units make this possible because these text sets will often expose students to domain-specific words several times.
There are also great text-dependent questions and writing prompts that were worthy of my students’ time and attention. I love that the questions are based on standards.
Rob: Is there any group of teachers that CommonLit has particularly helped?
Roxanne: It was one of the first resources that I showed my 10th grade English teachers to help them improve their students’ literacy skills. In North Carolina, 10th graders take a high-stakes exam at the end of the year. CommonLit is helpful because it gives my teachers and students the chance to practice the skills that they needed to have.
Rob: So how did teachers react to CommonLit?
Roxanne: I can tell you that they absolutely love the text sets and the text-dependent questions. They love how easy it is to find a text that fits a specific theme, genre, or topic. They can pick and choose what they want to use — it’s not a scripted curriculum where they have to start on page one. I also appreciate how they can implement CommonLit in addition to what we provide as a district.
Rob: How has CommonLit affected instruction in CMS?
Roxanne: In our district, we’ve been shifting from teaching the story to teaching the skills. While CommonLit has great literature, it really is skills-driven, so this has helped us a lot. We are constantly thinking about how teachers are approaching grade-level texts through close-reading and deep questioning. CommonLit also has great question prompts that help our teachers facilitate strong academic discussions. It also gives our students a lot of practice with different genres; this makes it different from most textbooks.
Rob: You made the decision to bring CommonLit to CMS to deliver professional development for your ELA teachers. Can you describe the process of working with our CommonLit team?
Roxanne: Last spring, we invited CommonLit to lead a training for our newest teachers. This was a chance to show them how to use CommonLit and plan lessons effectively using tools on your website. We knew that they needed extra support planning lessons and needed text sets that were readily available. We also wanted to minimize the work that they had to do in searching for resources, since new teachers can often be overwhelmed, given all of their responsibilities.
Then we invited the CommonLit team back to CMS to work with all of our ELA teachers before the beginning of the school year. We wanted them to have the chance to hear from the team, learn more about how great the resources are, and see the new things that CommonLit had developed. We also wanted to give CommonLit the chance to meet our teachers and hear more about how they used the resource last school year.
Rob: How did teachers describe the sessions with CommonLit? Were there any consistent takeaways that you heard from those trainings after you spoke to teachers afterwards?
Roxanne: The teachers were very excited to have the resource and to know that the resource won’t go away in the future. They can use CommonLit and know that they’ll never have to pay for it. So, they were very excited about that piece, as we all are. But also, our teachers believe that the content on CommonLit is very timely and appropriate. They appreciate the supports that you have for students who may not be on grade level.
Rob: I imagine that you work with quite a few education companies (including textbook companies and ed-tech companies). Can you describe what it has been like to work with our team?
Roxanne: You reached out to us when you saw that a lot of teachers in CMS were using CommonLit. The whole partnerships team has been very collaborative, asking “What do you need?” “How can we make the product better?” and “What do your teachers want to see?” It has been awesome because the CommonLit team really cares about our needs. All of the tools are really helpful and seeing all of the data on teacher and student use of the software is invaluable. CommonLit’s Partnership team has always been there to support us and are always ready to answer questions at a moment’s notice. It’s really been a great partnership for us.
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