Using The C-E-R Method Across Disciplines

This piece was co-written by Matt Gallon, Middle School Dean and Science Teacher, and Gus Polstein, Middle School Humanities Teacher

The middle school years are imperative to developing the skills that students will need to find success in high school, college, and beyond. We strive to help students develop strategic thinking routines in order to foster problem-solving and critical thinking skills. Several years ago, the Middle School Science Department implemented ideas from Supporting Grade 5-8 Students in Constructing Explanations in Science: The Claim, Evidence, and Reasoning Framework for Talk and Writing by Katherine L. McNeill and Joseph Krajcik into the way they approach labs in their classes. They found success and, this year, we have incorporated this model across disciplines. Students are becoming well versed in how to develop and support a claim or argument in not only their science labs, but also their thesis-driven essays in the Humanities.

As part of a chemistry unit in eighth grade science class, students conducted a lab in which they calculated the density of several liquids and objects and then observed where they all float relative to one another when mixed in a column. The goal of the lab was to answer the question: does the density of each substance determine where a liquid will float in the column? After completing the lab, students used the scaffolded claim, evidence, and reasoning (C-E-R) organizer to write a well-supported response to the lab question that used specific data they collected and concepts from class and their text. The organizer provided the students with sentence starters and tips for writing each section. After filling out the organizer, students wrote a two paragraph lab abstract that summarized the reason for conducting the lab, the central question asked in the lab, the procedure used to answer the question, and the results of the lab. The completed C-E-R organizer provided the students with their second paragraph of the lab abstract that describes the results of the lab and the answer to the lab question. This scaffolded system helps the students to see how the C-E-R framework provides a well-organized and detailed results section to their lab abstract.

In English 6, students used the CER model to analyze how a character had changed throughout the book in As Brave as You by Jason Reynolds. Students filled out the C-E-R graphic organizer for the question “How has a character from As Brave as You changed throughout the book?” The same model was used when students were asked to write a compare-contrast essay on two of the religions they studied after our exploration of the five major world religions in history. The clear guidelines and steps on the graphic organizer helped students work through the information and form a statement with a clear claim that was supported by evidence on both assignments.

8th Grade Programming for Winter 2019

As educators, it is our obligation to educate our students in the traditional content areas, but also the whole child to ensure our young people ready to take on the challenges, both inside and outside the classroom, of high school and beyond. I am incredibly proud of the programming our 8th graders are experiencing outside their core classes.

As I wrote about in the fall, our 8th grade girls wrapped up their work with Michelle Cove of MediaGirls. The organization, whose mission is to to teach middle-school girls and  young women to discover their self-worth and harness the power of media for positive change, worked with the girls for eight weeks. The partnership was successful, and I have been so happy to hear the positive reactions students had in relation to this work. Several of the girls have expressed interest in continuing their involvement with the program outside of School. The boys have recently embarked on their own study of the path to becoming good men in their Life Skills class. We explored stereotypes around masculinity and began watching the 2015 documentary The Mask You Live In. This documentary follows boys and young men as they navigate America’s definition of masculinity. If you are interested in learning more about the documentary, please click here. I look forward to this work continuing through the winter.

We are thrilled  to continue our 8th grade Inspirations program again this year. For this project, students will choose a person who inspires them or creates passion in their life. Students will then make a formal, five to eight minute presentation to the Middle School community (including students, faculty, administrators, and parents) about their person and how he or she inspires them. The schedule for the presentations was sent out in November and is also attached to this email. All the presentations will take place in the theater at 1:40p.m. I hope you will join us!

I am happy to announce that the 8th grade will be attending the musical Ragtime at Wheelock Family Theater on Thursday, February 7 at 10:30 a.m. as their cultural arts outing. The musical, which is based on the E.L. Doctrow novel and tells that story of three groups of people in New York City at the turn of the century, will feature our very own Edan Zinn. The show addresses challenging issues of race and identity and, as such, Wheelock Family Theater provides a Performance Preview Guide.  We will be previewing the subject matter before we see it, and we also will be processing our reactions to the show afterwards. The show explores how we treat those different from us and confronts the realities of discrimination, while also providing hope that we will soon reach the day when, as Dr. King so eloquently said in his “I Have Dream Speech,” all people “will not be judged by the color of their skin, but of the content of their character.” In a year when our School is focusing on empathy, this show feels especially important.

We believe all of the experiences outlined above help to fulfill our mission of developing “lifelong learners who are informed, engaged, and ethical citizens and leaders in our diverse world.”

Spread Kindness

The following was delivered to the Middle and Upper School student body on Monday, October 29, 2018.

A few weeks ago, I spoke to the Middle School students about Matthew Shepard on the anniversary of his death. For those of you who don’t know, Matthew was a college student at the University of Wyoming when he was killed in a hate crime for being gay. Shepard’s death became a rallying cry for the LGBT community and eventually inspired the federal anti-hate crime law that bears his name. On Friday, Matthew’s ashes were interred at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC among notable Americans such as Woodrow Wilson, Helen Keller, and George Dewey. Dennis Shepard said on Friday “Matt was blind…He did not see skin color. He did not see religion. He did not see sexual orientation. All he saw was a chance to have another friend.” And in his remarks on Friday, Rev. Gene Robinson of the Episcopal Church concluded by saying “gently rest in this place, you are safe now. And Matt – welcome home.”

While we have come a long way since Matthew’s death in 1998, the events of this past week, including the shooting this weekend at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh that left 11 people dead and many others injured, show that we are still fighting a war against hate in this country.

The faculty and I take our roles of educating you all seriously. We know it is our job to teach you how to be writers, mathematicians, scientists, and readers. However, it also part of our job to teach you to be emphatic young people who will show kindness and respect to all you encounter on in life’s journey. This is why we have our Core Values. This is why we ask you to only use kindness toward each other at all times, because we know how we treat each other is the most important thing. Today, I ask that you go out of your way to do one kind thing for a classmate, a teacher, or a coach. As Aesop said “no act of kindness, however small, is wasted.” Do it for Matthew. Do it for the victims in Pittsburgh and for all of those who have suffered from hate, intolerance, and discrimination. I believe we can make the world a better place one kind act at a time. It can start today, and it can starts with you.

Remembering Matthew

Today marks the 20th anniversary of the death of Matthew Shepard. As you may know, Matthew was a college student at the University of Wyoming in Laramie, Wyoming when he was killed in a hate crime for being gay. His murder brought national attention to hate crime legislation at both the state and national levels, and eventually led to the passing of the Matthew Shepard Act in 2009. Matthew’s parents, Judy and Dennis Shepard, also began The Matthew Shepard Foundation ( The foundation’s mission is to “empower individuals to embrace human dignity and diversity through outreach, advocacy and resource programs. We strive to replace hate with understanding, compassion and acceptance.”

As part of my Monday Memo to the faculty last week, I shared an article entitled The Book of Matthew from Teaching Tolerance ( The piece outlines the lasting legacy that Matthew’s death had on our culture and society and suggests ways that schools can honor him and share his story. At our morning meeting today, I spoke to the Middle School students about Matthew and his lasting legacy.

I have a distinct memory of Matthew’s death, which occurred when I was in high school. However, it was not until college that I really had a full understanding of the effect his death had on our society. The Laramie Project, a play by Moises Kauffman and member of the Tectonic Theater Project that explores Matthew’s story and the reaction to his death, was the focus of my capstone projects as a double major in English and Theater during my undergraduate work. During that time, I was immersed in Matthew’s life and his death, and it has had a profound effect on me ever since. It has shaped who I am today as an educator, an administrator, and a father.

We highlight our core values of respect, honesty, kindness, and responsibility in all that we do at Brimmer, and I feel that the nation’s reaction to Matthew’s death in 1998 was one key element to the shift to emphasizing character education in schools. In a year where Brimmer’s theme is on empathy and ethical thinking, talking about Matthew is especially important and poignant. I hope today you will take a moment to talk with your student about Matthew so that his memory will live on, and so that we can prevent tragedies like this from ever happening again.