Engaging Advanced Readers with CommonLit
Tabatha’s decision to become a teacher can be traced back to her experiences as an undergraduate in New York. She was living there during 9/11 and felt moved to help others. Her professor inspired her when he said, “If you want to help people, you should be a teacher.”
Over the past 14 years she has worked in several different grades and subjects in schools across the United States. Now, she teaches at a high-performing middle school in South Carolina. This past year, she taught a group of 8th grade students who were already reading well-above grade average, and so one of her challenges was finding rigorous texts as high as the 12th grade reading level. She needed to stimulate and challenge her talented readers.
One day, while scrolling through Pinterest, she was ecstatic to discover CommonLit. “I showed it to my co-teacher and she loved it! Then I showed it to my Reading Specialist, and she loved it!” Tabatha said. “She then shared it with the rest of our school and I know a lot of teachers are using it now.”
Tabatha was especially excited because she teaches novels like Animal Farm, The Odyssey, and The Book Thief. Instead of just teaching those books in isolation, she could build entire units around them by weaving in supplemental texts from CommonLit. Creating novel units that incorporate nonfiction articles is a best-practice for enriching the student reading experience. “It’s wonderful because we already have these units from prior years, so when we find CommonLit texts we can add more and cover standards that we hadn’t hit before.”
Engaging her students became an easier task now that she had the ability to find quality texts at various grade levels. One of her highest-level readers, Caroline, was able to grapple with a challenging high school poem: “Death Be Not Proud.” The poem is rigorous because it was written by John Donne in using difficult syntax and words like “thee” in early Modern English. “It took her a bit, she had to come to me and go line by line through the poem. But she persevered because she was motivated to perform well on it.” For students like Caroline, the poem’s challenging assessment and discussion questions were critical to increasing her understanding of the poem.
Tabatha got chills: “The whole class was silent...”
Another tool Tabatha enjoyed using was CommonLit’s related media suggestions. Blending videos into lessons was particularly helpful for captivating her students. Her students read “RFK’s Speech Following the Death of MLK” and watched the corresponding video. This footage of the speech captured the moment when an entire crowd of listeners learned the tragic news of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s death. Even though it was a historical speech, her students felt transported and shared similar reactions with the audience in the video. Tabatha got chills: “The whole class was silent. I think being able to watch, listen, and follow along with the text, all while answering guiding questions, is what made that level of understanding possible.”
Most of her students achieved mastery (80% scores or higher) with that lesson. With results like that and the ability to engage all of her students, particularly those reading at advanced levels, Tabatha says she will “definitely use that lesson next year!”