Ditch the dinosaur
Chris Margolin
October 3, 2017

Since the onset of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), much of the focus in reading has shifted to informational texts. Close reading has become essential for all assignments, and many teachers have turned claim-based essays, for each piece of reading, into formative assessments. ThinkCERCA, a personalized literacy platform, has provided an avenue for these brief essays, as well as helping students to strengthen their annotation, summary, and paragraphing skills. Articles are filled with informational text and written in a way that keeps students focused and willing to do the work for each lesson.

Mona Dotson is a teacher at Thomas Jefferson Middle School in the Vancouver Public School District. Her students enter her classroom each day and after greeting her, immediately begin working on an opening writing activity. The activity gives a preview of what the students will focus on for the day, including the learning target. As students finish their work, they share with partners, discuss as a whole group, and then move into their assigned reading groups.

Dotson has leveled her students based on their reading levels in ThinkCERCA's program. While the articles vary from level to level, the subject matter remains consistent, which means class discussions rely on subject matter, learning targets, the standard and an essential question. Groups read the article to each other, stopping at each of the vocabulary words, and to ask questions of their peers. The students' second read is focused on annotation and close reading. They highlight important sections (guided by questions within the lesson), leave comments on what makes that content important and discuss their reasons among the group. They are asked to come to an agreement on the section, and leave the same annotation for each highlight.

When the class comes back together, they use the essential question to generate discussion. Since groups have read different texts, evidence varies and raises the interest level of all involved.

Too often, teachers find themselves with bored students and boring lesson plans. This approach and platform has helped us break out of the doldrums of the rote-memory-dinosaur lesson and introduce relevant, new content that keeps students interested and moving toward their learning goals.

Chris Margolin is a curriculum specialist with Vancouver Public Schools. He oversees Secondary English Language Arts, Advanced Placement, Running Start, and College in the High Schools. He spent 12 years as a high school English teacher, working not only with students, but as a member of the curriculum team, designing unit plans, and developing the district's Creative Writing program.

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