In a high school that lacked the time and resources required for teachers to plan and collaborate regularly, the need for a schoolwide literacy solution that kept grade-level school teams on the same page was crucial. With ThinkCERCA, teachers at Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences were able to truly collaborate across content areas to personalize literacy instruction so students could take ownership of their learning and growth. As a result, the English classes that regularly used ThinkCERCA grew their scores by an average of 3.4 points on the ACTs compared to 2.1 for the classes that did not use it regularly.
How can school teams unite to prepare students for new assessments?
While the leadership team knew and understood that literacy was crucial for student success, it was difficult for the faculty to find a common set of practices to focus on when disciplinary needs were so different. Not only did they need a solution that could work across ELA, science and social studies, it had to work with their CTE program and physical education classes as well. “One of the biggest barriers to cross-curricular collaboration was finding the time to sit down in grade-level teams and discuss what and when each course was covering various concepts,” said the school’s lead ThinkCERCA teacher. With ThinkCERCA, teachers were able to align behind a common literacy framework, CERCA, which eliminated confusion as students moved throughout content areas. They also used the framework to introduce ninth grade students to key literacy concepts and vocabulary, which laid the necessary building blocks to prepare students for new CCSS assessments, ACTs, and SATs. “We needed to establish a routine for our staff and students that fostered collaboration across subjects and accountability for growth,” said principal William Hook. “Having a touchstone program ensured that students were getting constant feedback on their writing and practicing the skills that would prepare them for college and career.”
“ThinkCERCA allowed our staff to focus on building the skills that were necessary for all levels of our learners. The framework, tools and curriculum made sure we were allocating resources in the most efficient way—spending less time creating lessons that might work versus spending more time personalizing feedback that students need for growth.”
— Principal William Hook
How can schools with limited access to technology prepare students for the fundamentals of critical thinking as well as college and career?
The first year of implementation, all enrolled freshmen began using ThinkCERCA in English class to introduce them to standards-aligned literacy concepts. Although they only had access to two first come, first serve computer labs, the school found ThinkCERCA’s supplemental curriculum easy to integrate into classroom practice at least once per week. When they didn’t have access to a lab, teachers used ThinkCERCA offline via classroom SmartBoards or by printing lessons for students. Even offline, students were able to read and engage with a leveled text, develop evidence-based arguments, and have peer-to-peer discussions using the CERCA Framework as their guide. Since year one, the school has expanded ThinkCERCA to all grades, established a dedicated computer lab and two Chromebook carts for ThinkCERCA, and developed internal roles and processes for collaborating across teams and integrating ThinkCERCA into curriculum units.
How does ThinkCERCA help meet the CCSS and achieve growth on assessments?
Because of Chicago Ag’s increased focus on literacy, the English classes that regularly used ThinkCERCA grew their scores by an average of 3.4 points on the ACTs compared to 2.1 for the classes that did not use it regularly. Students also self-reported feeling more prepared to take the ELA section of PARCC because of their work with the platform. The school’s lead ThinkCERCA teacher states that verbal and written responses have improved, students are doing a better job conducting close reads, and their writing skills continue to develop.