The critical literacy skills required to make an effective argument, what we call a CERCA, are the most important skills in college, the workplace, and increasingly, in our personal lives. Every student—regardless of readiness level—should learn to read critically and express their point of view effectively. According to decades of research, teaching students how to make Claims, support their claims with Evidence, explain their Reasoning, address Counterarguments, and use Audience-appropriate language is the most effective way to improve achievement on assessments and prepare students for post-secondary life.
ThinkCERCA was built upon an ever-growing body of research as well as years of practice and continuous learning conducted by our design team. Our approach continues to evolve and improve with feedback from our students, teachers, administrators and parents, but we also looked to courageous educators and academics as we were crafting our platform and instructional designs.
Perhaps the most influential research behind ThinkCERCA comes from the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research. Their 5 Essentials research on continuous school improvement offered us a framework for thinking about how to improve learning in schools. Unlike other literacy approaches, we recognize the role schools as organizations can play in scaling best practices that improve the cognitive experiences of students.
Another influential University of Chicago study (see page 50) we looked to revealed the positive impact shared core practices, argumentation, and writing can have on a student’s ACT scores. Writing across subjects five or more times per month compared to less than five times per month had the single greatest impact on student achievement. The data also showed discussion, debate, and collaborative classroom activities practices like peer editing are the keys to success in all subjects. Let’s take a look:
|English Class Practice||Rise in English Score||Applied Using ThinkCERCA|
|Rewrote a paper or essay in response to comments||0.19||✔|
|Discussed how culture, time, or place affects an author’s writing||0.27||✔|
|Explained how writers use tools like symbolism||0.35||✔|
|Improved a piece of writing through collaboration with a class or with partners||0.38||✔|
|Debated the meaning of reading||0.22||✔|
|Across all classes, the students wrote papers defending their point of view of ideas five or more times (compared to less than five)||0.39||✔|
|Reading Class Practice
||Rise in Reading Score||Applied Using ThinkCERCA|
|Discussed how culture, time, or place affects an author’s writing||0.19||✔|
|Debated the meaning of a reading||0.17||✔|
|Math Class Practice
||Rise in Math Subset Score||Applied Using ThinkCERCA|
|Discussed possible solutions to problems with other students||0.29||✔|
|Used a graphing calculator to complete an assignment||0.31|
|Science Class Practice
||Rise in Science Subset Score||Applied Using ThinkCERCA|
|Used laboratory equipment or specimens||0.16|
|Wrote lab reports||0.12||✔|
|Generated their own hypothesis/claim||0.18||✔|
|Used evidence/data to support an argument or hypothesis||0.21||✔|
|Found information from graphs and tables||0.19||✔|
Our lessons are also built upon other proven methods for developing students’ language and literacy skills. Here’s a sample of the research that continues to influence our design and approach.
Much of the best thinking on literacy and cognitive sciences is captured in this guide, which was the culmination of a collaboration across multiple organizations and individuals, including Eileen Murphy Buckley, the founder of ThinkCERCA.
This practice guide has been a go-to for our team as we build out supports and develop content for English language learners.
NAEP offers insights about the impact of practice on student outcomes. Once again, the data shows that discussion and writing are key factors in reading improvement. For example, students who reported that they more frequently discussed interpretations of what they read scored higher on the 2013 NAEP test.