Fighting The Opportunity Gap: What Schools Can Do To Close It

January 31, 2019 in Blog, Learning

Fighting the Opportunity Gap​

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What is the Opportunity Gap?  The term “opportunity gap” refers to any significant and persistent differences in academic performance between different groups of students. Groups are based on categories such as ethnicity, race, gender, disability, and income. Opportunity gaps are typically measured by standardized tests and there are evident gaps in test scores among many different groups of students. Test score gaps often lead to longer-term gaps, including high school and college dropout rates as well as employment as an adult. The National Education Association has found that, “Despite decades of overall progress in narrowing the achievement gaps, disparities in educational outcomes related to poverty, English language proficiency, disability, and racial ethnic background still persist.”

Learn more about the students affected by opportunity gaps on the National Education Association website.

The Opportunity Gap in Regards to Reading: There are few instructional tasks more important than teaching children to read. The consequences of low achievement in reading are costly to both individuals and society as a whole. Low achievement in literacy correlates with high rates of school dropout, poverty, and underemployment (Snow, Burns, & Griffin, 1998; Wagner, 2000). The 2017 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) results show that more than 6 out of 10 U.S. 4th graders are not reading at grade level. For low income students in high-poverty schools that statistic jumps to 8 out of 10 students reading below grade level.

Up until the end of third grade, most children are learning to read. Beginning in fourth grade, however, they are reading to learn, using their skills to gain more information in subjects such as math and science, to solve problems, to think critically about what they are learning, as well as reading to learn for pleasure. Up to half of the printed fourth-grade curriculum is incomprehensible to students who read below that grade level, according to the Children’s Reading Foundation.

The National Research Council asserts that “academic success, as defined by high school graduation, can be predicted with reasonable accuracy by knowing someone’s reading skill at the end of third grade. A person who is not at least a modestly skilled reader by that time is unlikely to graduate from high school.” As policymakers, parents, administrators and teachers are searching for answers to help solve the reading gap, a single catch-all instructional program or method that is effective in teaching all children to read does not seem to exist yet. Though there may not be a one size fits all literacy curriculum, Bond and Dykstra’s research (1967/1997) has confirmed that regardless of the quality of a program, resource, or strategy, it is the teacher and learning situation that truly make the difference.

Importance of Early Intervention: The truth is, the opportunity gap starts widening before children even have the chance to enter the kindergarten classroom. According to The Children’s Reading Foundation, “The achievement gap happens when there is a preparation gap in a child’s earliest years.” Organizations such as First 5, The Children’s Reading Foundation and Avance believe strongly that educating families and providing high quality early childhood education are critical in closing the opportunity gap. 

Early identification and intervention with young students, who are struggling with reading, has been proven to help them gain the skills they need to close the reading gap between themselves and their grade level peers ( Vaughn, Wanzek, Marray, Scammacca, Thompson, Woodruff, 2009). Even when students are not reading words yet, you can predict who will have trouble by assessing their ability to identify letters and produce letter sounds. Though some students do not respond as quickly to reading intervention as others, it has been proven that the earlier a child has a solid foundation of phonemic awareness, the better off they will be as a reader long-term. Becoming a more fluent reader and acquiring comprehension skills will be easier for students who have acquired strong foundational reading skills and have the tools to work through decoding new words.

This issue does not just have an impact on our nation’s literacy rate, it also has an impact on our economy. Economic research by Nobel Prize-winners and Federal Reserve economists, in economic studies in dozens of states and counties, and in longitudinal studies spanning 40 years—demonstrate that the return on public investment in high quality childhood education is substantial (Calman, L., Tarr-Whelan, L., 2005). In The High/Scope Perry Preschool Study Through Age 40, they found that every dollar invested in quality early childhood care and education saves taxpayers up to $13.00 in future costs. These savings can be attributed to reduced costs from lowered crime rates, decreased welfare payments and less funds dedicated toward repeat students or special education curriculums.

How BookNook is Helping to Close the Opportunity Gap: BookNook is working hard to fight the reading achievement gap with decades of research on literacy education, technology powered by artificial intelligence and partnerships with some of the Nation’s leading educators.  The BookNook digital reading application provides scaffolded literacy activities for students at an individualized instructional level. A classroom full of students can all be working on tailored strategic practices, allowing teachers or reading guides time to oversee and check-in with those students who need additional support. BookNook has served 3,500 unique students in 13 states during the 2018-2019 school year alone and offers 800 lessons that are mapped to cover over 100 literacy standards. They have completely changed the way that educators, volunteers, and near peers address reading intervention for students.

Michael Lombardo, CEO of BookNook stated, “I believe that literacy is an economic survival skill in the 21st century. I believe that reading is both a human and a civil right. Solutions that work for a hundred, a thousand, or even ten thousand students are an important part of the solution, but the scope and seriousness of the early reading crisis demands a bolder, more scalable, and more sustainable approach.”

How Schools Can Work Towards Closing the Opportunity Gap: The Anne E. Casey Foundation, which published Why Reading by the End of Third Grade Matters and A Research update on Third Grade Reading suggests focusing on the below factors that contribute to third grade reading proficiency:

School Readiness – Help families prepare their children for kindergarten. Research continues to show that fewer children from low-income families (less than half) are ready for school at kindergarten entry, compared to three-quarters of children from families with moderate or high incomes. For children from low-income families, preschool attendance is one of the strongest factors in school readiness; attending a high-quality early childhood program also predicts higher levels of achievement at age 11. A followup study of the Abecedarian Project found that by age 30, participants were four times more likely to obtain a college degree than nonparticipants. Entering school ready to learn can improve one’s chances of reaching middle-class status by age 40. And a study of the Child-Parent Center program found a long-term return to society of $8.24 for every dollar invested during the first four to six years of school, including prekindergarten.

School Attendance – Missing school has negative effects on student success. A report by Johns Hopkins University researchers suggested that the national rate of chronic absenteeism is 10 to 15 percent, meaning that 5 million to 7.5 million students miss at least 10 percent of their school days every year. The premise that schools fail to detect high levels of chronic absence because of data issues was confirmed by a study conducted jointly by the Child and Family Policy Center and Attendance Works. Other studies confirmed that chronic absence has a negative effect on students’ academic performance and cognitive development, especially for children from low-income families.

Summer Learning – Prevent “Summer Slide” and provide programs and resources that help keep students engaged and learning over summer. Studies of summer learning programs in several different contexts all confirmed that high-quality summer programs can disrupt learning loss. Research on children from low-income families also offered new evidence that having access to books can decrease the effects of summer learning slide and significantly improve scores on state reading assessments; the largest effects were for the most economically disadvantaged children.

Family Support – Provide parent education that will empower parents to better support their children. Research published right before Early Warning helped explain how environmental factors like hunger, housing insecurity, parental depression and abuse influence the epigenome (the human “operating system”), making it more likely that specific genes will or will not be expressed. Other new research draws a link between the stress of poverty, hormonal changes and impaired learning ability. However, new research reveals that even after the epigenome has been modified by extreme childhood stress, the damage may be reversed. Furthermore, positive social-emotional experiences for young children, along with supportive family and community environments, reduce the likelihood of negative modifications to the epigenome that might impair learning.

High-quality teaching in home, community and school settings. New research underscores the importance of enriched home learning environments and parent engagement in preparing children from low-income families to succeed in school. A five-year study of more than 1,850 children and their mothers found that children whose learning environments were of consistently low quality were much more likely to have language and literacy delays before kindergarten, while supportive home learning experiences could help close the school readiness gap. The Alliance for Early Success (formerly the Birth to Five Policy Alliance) published a policy framework tool that provides options for improving learning, health and family support for children from birth through age 8, with a priority on children from low-income families and other vulnerable populations; a U.S. Department of Education guide for educators recommended strategies to help students in kindergarten through third grade understand what they read; the American Federation of Teachers published a summary of strategies for improving the transition from child care, preschool and home settings to school; and a report by the Center for American Progress proposed reforms to boost the effectiveness and efficiency of public investments in early childhood education.

Another way for schools to get more parents involved is to provide resources at the school, becoming a “full-service community school.” Full-service community schools help remove barriers by locating, partnering and coordinating local service providers that offer:

-Primary health, mental health, and dental care

-Family engagement, including adult education

-Preschool Learning

-Academic Enrichment

-Expanded after school learning time or summer programing


-Postsecondary education and career option awareness

Additional strategies from the National Education Association (NEA) for Closing the Opportunity Gap at Your School or District

In conclusion, the opportunity gap is a serious issue that has an impact not only on a child’s academic success during grade school years, but also their chances of graduating from high school and college as well as employment as an adult. Research shows that early intervention and providing resources to families help fight the achievement gap. Your school can help close the opportunity gap by offering parent education on how to help their child be prepared for kindergarten, hold families accountable for their child’s attendance at school, provide summer learning programs to prevent summer slide, offer parent education to help empower parents in supporting their child’s learning and work towards becoming a full-service community school that provides resources for families, encouraging them to be more involved with school and see school as a positive and helpful community for not just their child, but their whole family. There are countless organizations that are continuing research on this topic and searching for ways to better support students, their families, their teachers and their schools and there is an endless list of action items you as a teacher or administrator can take on to help fight the opportunity gap at your school. Spreading the word about the opportunity gap and how to close it as well as aligning yourself with like-minded colleagues and organizations is a great place to start. The opportunity gap is a complex issue, but consistent small steps towards closing it will add up.


About the author

Samantha Burke is a credentialed reading specialist that has worked with children in the San Francisco Bay Area for ten years. She enjoys creating innovative learning opportunities for students and resources for their parents through her tutoring company, Valley of the Moon Learning.



Bond, G.L., & Dykstra, R. (1997). The Cooperative Research Program in First-Grade Reading Instruction. Reading Research Quarterly, 32, 348–427.

Calman, L., Tarr-Whelan, L. (2005). Early Childhood Education for All: A Wise Investment. Retrieved from

National Assessment of Educational Progress. (2017). 2017 NAEP National Achievement-Level Results for Grade 4. Retrieved from

National Education Association. from Retrieved from

National Research Council. (1998). Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children. Edited by C. Snow, S. Burns, and P. Griffin, Committee on the Prevention of Reading Difficulties in Young Children. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation. (2010). Early Warning: Why Reading by the End of Third Grade Matters. Retrieved from

The Annie E. Casey Foundation. (2013). Early Warning Confirmed: A Research Update on Third-Grade Reading. Retrieved from

The Children’s Reading Foundation. School Readiness. Retrieved from

The Children’s Reading Foundation. Third Grade Reading Success Matters. Retrieved from

Vaughn, S., Wanzek, J., Murray, C. S., Scammacca, N., Thompson, S. F., & Woodruff, A. L. (2009). Response to early reading intervention: Examining higher and lower responders. Exceptional Children, 75(2), 165-183.

Wagner, D.A. (2000). EFA 2000 thematic study on literacy and adult education: For presentation at the World Education Forum, Dakar (April 2000). Philadelphia: International Literacy Institute.

Creating a Literacy-Rich Environment

January 10, 2019 in Blog, Learning

Creating a Literacy-Rich Environment

By Samantha Burke


About the author: Samantha Burke is a credentialed reading specialist that has worked with children in the San Francisco Bay Area for ten years. She enjoys creating innovative learning opportunities for students and resources for their parents through her tutoring company, Valley of the Moon Learning.

Literacy-rich environments provide opportunities for students to interact with print and literacy tools in a meaningful way. By creating a supportive environment that is literacy-rich, students have more opportunities to practice literacy skills including: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, comprehension, listening and speaking in authentic ways. The way a classroom is set up, the materials that are accessible and the way interaction with materials is modeled will influence how students engage with literacy in it. Here are some simple things you can do to help promote a literacy-rich environment  for your students. Happy Reading!


Have different types of age-appropriate reading materials available:

You never know what students might really take a liking to. Try incorporating a variety of books, magazines, newspapers, comic books and menus into your projects, games, play areas or classroom library.



Play games that promote reading: 

BananagramsSpot ItSequence LettersBoggleHedbanzStory CubesSight Word BingoTall Tales: The Game of Infinite Storytelling, and Reading Rockets has a list of games you can make yourself here.



Create cozy places to read:

Comfortable places to sit or lay with good lighting. You can add pillows, stuffed animals and even small lamps in your classroom to make it extra cozy.



Switch books out seasonally:

By changing up book options, children will be more interested in looking through books.  They will like seeing what’s new, what’s the same and what’s gone. The library and sites like Thriftbooks are great resources to help spice up your classroom library.



Incorporate reading opportunities into your classroom environment:

Label things around your classroom and school – better yet, have students help you do the labeling. For younger students you can add words and symbols to blocks, label items in dramatic play area, as well as add notepads or dry-erase boards to play area.



Introduce students to as much vocabulary as you can and give them opportunities to use their vocabulary:

Talk to them about experiences, ask them about their opinions, model using language that will help them better communicate with others.



Look for reading opportunities wherever you are with your students:

Walking around school, sitting in the library, on a field trip, waiting outside for dismissal, waiting in the lunch line.

I hope you find these tips helpful in creating a literacy-rich environment in your classroom. If you have any additional ideas please feel free to share in the comment area below!


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Engage your K-5 Students with These 5 Reading Tips

December 13, 2018 in Blog, Classroom Fun, Learning

Engaging students in meaningful conversations about what they are reading is so important in helping students get the most out of instructional time. Getting students engaged in reading and talking about what they are reading will encourage them to develop deeper comprehension skills, practice higher-level critical thinking skills and make connections with the text and each other. Several studies have demonstrated a positive correlation between behavioral engagement and achievement-related outcomes for elementary and high school students (Connell, Spencer & Aber, 1994; Marks, 2000; Newmann et al., 1992; Skinner, Wellborn, & Connell, 1990).

So what exactly is an engaged reader?

An engaged reader actively thinks about what they are reading- absorbing, reflecting and predicting. They are involved at a deep level and motivation is inherent. In this article you will find tips that will help you create a more engaging, student-centered approach in your classroom, while also maintaining structure.

What studies show

girlAs educators, we know that home influence plays a large role in students’ reading habits as well as motivation, and that many children enter the classroom at a disadvantage because of this. Research has found that helping students become more engaged with reading while at school can have a significant impact on their overall reading habits and skills. This is supported by a study done in 1999 by Guthrie and Schafer that was a secondary analysis of 1994 NAEP data:

Guthrie and Schafer (1999) found that engaged readers have much better text comprehension and reading achievement than do disengaged readers. Beyond that simple fact, however, engaged reading can overcome major obstacles to achievement. For example, low levels of education in the family and low income usually pose obstacles to reading achievement. Students with less-educated mothers nearly always score lower in reading comprehension than students whose mothers have more education. However, Guthrie and Schafer found that engaged readers who had mothers with a low level of education achieved more highly than disengaged readers who had highly educated mothers.  For example, a student with a less-educated mother who reads “almost every day” for enjoyment has a better reading achievement and text comprehension than a student who reads “never or hardly ever” but has a mother who is highly educated. A similar relation occurs for engaged reading and income. Low-income students (receiving free or reduced-price lunch) who were engaged readers scored highly on achievement tests. These engaged readers were comparable in text comprehension to students with higher income (not receiving free or reduced-price lunch), but who were disengaged readers (Baker, Dreher, Guthrie, 2000).

Studies like this demonstrate how significant a teacher’s influence can be on a child’s view towards reading.

Show genuine interest

Teacher laughing with studentAs a teacher I find it easy to get caught up in the motions and not take the time to truly engage students in a deep, meaningful conversation about what we just read. It’s understandable to try to increase the engagement of your entire class by moving quickly through post-reading questions. However, I’ve found that jumping from student to student and question to question tends to lead to less interesting dialogue and poorer engagement. This results in your students feeling a lack of interest on your part. Remember: quality over quantity. Your students desire not only to be heard, but to feel listened to. You can show them that you are listening to them by taking notes and asking specific follow-up questions. I promise you that if you do this, your students will feel valued, be more likely to share, and will give their answers much more thought.

“Heart connections”

Another way to show your genuine interest, is to encourage students to draw connections from the literature to their personal lives. These personal associations, often referred to as “heart connections,”  animate the readings and make them more relatable to students. This method will drive higher amounts of quality discussions with students while decreasing mediocre student answers. Because of time constraints, only a few students will be able to share out loud. This is why I recommend utilizing partner shares and written reflections to hold all students accountable and give everyone a chance to share their thoughts in some way.

Ask open-ended questions

Open-ended questions are questions that don’t have a right or wrong answer, which makes kids feel more comfortable engaging in conversation.  Open-ended questions also encourage more than just yes or no responses and provide the opportunity for a real conversation to be had. Some examples of book related open-ended questions are:

  1. Which characters in the books would you like to meet in real life?
  2. What part of the book did you think was the most exciting?
  3. How would you change the book’s ending if you could rewrite it?
  4. If you could be a character in the book for one day, who would you chose to be and why?
  5. If you could be friends with any character in the book, who would you like to be friends with and why?
  6. What do you think the author wanted us to take away from this book?
  7. Would you read other books from this author? Why or why not?
  8. Is there anything in this story that is similar to something that has happened in your life?  What was it and how is it familiar?
  9. Did any of the characters remind you of someone?
  10. Would this book make a cool movie? Video game? TV show? Why or why not?

You can always further extend questions by asking, “Why?” or “Tell me more.” If a student responds to a question by saying, “I don’t know,” you can respond by saying, “Well let’s think about it.”  Saying “I don’t know” might just be a reflex for the student, in which case just give them some time to think without pressuring them! If a student gives a short answer, you can say things like, “Tell me more about that” or “What led you to that answer/belief?”

Projects related to reading

Some young students get so nervous when the class is having a discussion. Which means that even though they may have some great questions in mind or answers to contribute, they are too shy or anxious to raise their hand, or may freeze up when the attention is on them. Combating an environment of anxiety starts with you, the reading guide. You can create a more casual setting for students to discuss reading by having them create brochures about where their book took place, write a letter as their character, create a board game, book board or poster about their book, create a test about the book(including answer sheet), write an advertisement to encourage other children to want to read the book or have students bring stories to life by creating a 3-D scene from their book. Projects on reading give students time to think and reflect on their thoughts on the reading and present them in an orderly fashion that makes sense to them.

Reflection Time

I know this one is a tough one. When you ask a question, give your students ample time to gather their thoughts and reflect. This is also a great opportunity for students to share feedback with their peers or in a small group before responding to the question to the whole class. As a teacher, it can feel uncomfortable waiting in silence, but students will greatly benefit from this reflection time. By allowing them to think of  meaningful responses that will spark an engaging dialogue, everyone wins.


One way to maximize reflection time is to ask your students to write their initial thoughts about the post-reading questions on a mini journal/notepad. Then have them break up into mini groups of 3-4 and share what they wrote down. The group can then share with the class what they discovered after conversing in their groups. Not only does this exercise encourage everyone to speak up, it also promotes collaboration and teamwork! I strongly recommend talking to your students about what reflection time is, and why it is important. I’ve found that explaining the benefits of reflection time makes students feel engaged and empowered.

Make it fun

If you make book discussions fun and engaging it will calm your students’ nerves and make the discussion less formal and more inviting. Below are a few ideas to spice up book discussions:

  1. Games that include questions about the reading are a great way to facilitate book discussions in a fun way. I’ve seen this done by creating a board game, dice game and even common reading questions written on a beach ball that you toss around the class and have students choose a question about the story to answer.
  2. If you’re starting a new book, it might be fun to add some decorations to the classroom that are related to the book or dress up like a character from the reading.
  3. Having other staff members at your school be a part of bringing a story to life really adds to the fun and also helps build community. With younger students, I’ve had our principal, secretary, school specialists and parents deliver mail, messages or packages to our class from characters from our stories.  I’ve also seen guests dress up as characters and come to a classroom for a Q&A session with students.
  4. Game show or trivia game – create questions related to reading, form teams and maybe even have some prizes!
  5. Change where you read – the school garden, field in the schoolyard, school library or perhaps a nearby park.
  6. Plan field trip around reading – if the story took place somewhere you are able to bring your students(or somewhere somewhat similar) this is a great opportunity to connect your students to the reading and their community.

Learn how BookNook helps engage young readers:



Baker, L., Dreher, M., Guthrie, J. (2000). Engaging Young Readers: Promoting Achievement and Motivation. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.

Connell, J. P., Spencer, M. B., & Aber, J. L. (1994). Educational risk and resilience in African American youth: Context, self, action, and outcomes in school. Child Development, 65, 493-506.

Marks, H. M. (2000). Student engagement in instructional activity: Patterns in the elementary, middle, and high school years. American Educational Research Journal, 37, 153-184.

Newmann, F., Wehlage, G.G., & Lamborn, S. D. (1992). The significance and sources of student  engagement. In F. Newmann (Ed.), Student engagement and achievement in American secondary schools (pp. 11-39). New York: Teachers College Press.

Skinner, E. A., Wellborn, J. G., & Connell, J. P. (1990). What is takes to do well in school and whether I’ve got it: The role of perceived control in children’s engagement and school

achievement. Journal of Educational Psychology, 82, 22-32.

University of Washington: Center of Teaching and Learning. Engaging Students in Learning.

Retrieved from:

For further reading on this subject, check out the below articles:

How to Encourage Students to Read for Pleasure: Teachers Share Their Top Tips

Let’s Stop With the Worksheets and Create Engaged Learners

Tell Us More: Reading Comprehension, Engagement and Conceptual Press Discourse

BookNook Shows Great Student Gains Over the Summer of 2018

October 31, 2018 in Company

Though the leaves aren’t changing in our Headquarters city of Oakland, CA, our team members in Maine, Baltimore, and New Jersey are experiencing the pinnacle of fall foliage. We’re seeing so many students already make progress with BookNook as they complete sessions, master standards, and move up their reading levels.

However, we wanted to take a quick look back at this summer, because during the summer, oftentimes students actually go backwards in their reading level, and experience what’s called summer learning loss or “summer slide.” Because of lack of practice and exposure to their daily instruction, students start forgetting what it is they were supposed to be working on and learning.

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5 Ways to Improve your Students’ Reading Comprehension

October 3, 2018 in Learning

Reading comprehension is how students process, connect and learn from what they read.  To attain strong reading comprehension, students must be a active readers. This means students are not just just decoding words, they are actively thinking about the content they are reading.  Below are five tips to help your students build stronger reading comprehension skills that will allow them to have a better understanding and gain more from what they read.

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10 Ways to Build a Stronger Culture of Literacy at Your School This Year

September 6, 2018 in Classroom Fun

What is culture of literacy?

Culture of literacy is how literacy is viewed and ingrained into the day to day routines of a community.  A school that has a literacy centered culture provides meaningful opportunities for students to read and write throughout the day with quality age-appropriate materials.  Building a culture of literacy is not just about teaching children how to read, it is about helping them develop a meaningful relationship and attitude around literacy.

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16 Great Back to School Books to Read With Your Students

August 14, 2018 in Learning

What books will you read your first week back?  The first books you read with your students give you the opportunity to discuss all those “Back to School” feelings and set the tone for the learning environment you want to create with them this school year.  I like a balanced mix of “Back to School” books and books that encourage values I feel are especially important in my classroom. Check out the list below for my favorite books to kick the year off!

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A Day in the Life of a BookNook Reading Guide

June 25, 2018 in Company

Ciara Joseph – People Ops at BookNook and Reading Guide Extraordinaire

I want to live a day in the life of a Reading Guide…

That’s what I found myself countlessly saying when I started my PeopleOps journey at BookNook.  I heard great things about our application that was created to support children’s reading. I was shown how it was being used in local schools, but needed to see it all happen in the flesh.  I had far too many questions. I was emailing and calling colleagues to find out more details about how our program worked, but still didn’t have a solid picture in my mind of what exactly a reading guide’s purpose was.

I wanted to live a day in the life of a reading guide. Just one day was all I thought I needed to gain a better understanding of what they actually did. That one day led to months of 45-minute sessions, genuine conversations, newfound respect for school officials, and a sad farewell.

My reading guide journey began in January. Buena Vista-Horace Mann needed a reading guide early mornings on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Because we have a great employee volunteer program, I decided that this would be a great way for me to help out in our community. My manager agreed, and the next day I headed over to BVHM to shadow another reading guide. 

The minute I entered the school I was reminded of my own elementary school.

It smelled the same, the people there looked familiar, the sounds of laughter and mix of English and Spanish filled the halls and school yard.  I was taken aback by a feeling – or a thought – that this is where I’m intended to be. In this very same school, on this day, at this time, a voice in my head just said “This is where you’re meant to be.”  I didn’t understand it, I thought maybe I was just overwhelmed with the happiness I felt from others at the school and was just happy to be somewhere that felt good. I met a few teachers that day along with the school coordinator and office administrators. Everyone greeted me as “Maestra” (Teacher). I remember feeling uneasy, because I hadn’t gained that level of respect yet. Also, I wasn’t actually a teacher, I was just an HR person volunteering at a school. But, I went along with it. I greeted other teachers in the same respectful manner and spoke to those I met about BookNook and our purpose at the school.  

Serving as a reading guide came naturally to me. I’m an avid reader and was excited to see how our app tracked each student’s reading development. As a mom of a 10 year old, I was happy that I’d be reading with students that were around my daughter’s age. The students were all shy to meet me and had many questions about the previous reading guide and why they had missed sessions. I explained the circumstances and how I’d be reading with them until I hired someone for the position.  Never did I think I’d get to spend the rest of the school year working with them. While the months passed, I unknowingly started to bond with the students during our reading sessions and that was something too that I didn’t foresee.

My early mornings started with my daughter and I commuting on BART from Oakland to San Francisco. The greatest thing about these mornings were that we’d have enough time to grab a cup of lavender tea and a danish from Cafe la Boheme right before school started for the both of us. If the weather was nice, we’d take our time walking down the streets of The Mission District and then up the hills of Noe Valley until it was time for us to part ways.

I was very enthusiastic on these mornings, to say the least. Knowing that I was in the same vicinity as my child, could walk her to school, then teach at a school in the same neighborhood I was raised in, ignited something in me. It somehow seemed to satisfy a thirst for something I never knew existed.

When arriving to BVHM, I’d sign in for the day, then checkout iPads from the school’s lab room. I’d then head to the assigned classroom I was to teach at that day. On Tuesdays, I had the pleasure of using Mr. Frank’s classroom. I now realize that I don’t even know the teachers by their last names. Another great thing about the school is most of the teachers go by first names and allow their students to address them as such. Cool teachers, very cool!

Mr. Frank reminded me of an older cousin. Very down to earth, passionate about teaching and making a difference in the community, funny, and full of life. I’d see him often outside of the classroom, walking the halls and chatting with staff or giving advice to past students of his while keeping a smile on his face and having a few laugh out loud moments. It was apparent to me that Mr. Frank was definitely someone the whole school knew and adored.

On Thursdays, I held reading sessions in the ever so popular, Mira’s classroom.

Mira, was the teacher that kids would come in before school just to see. The classroom was inviting. There was a special zen about Mira’s room that made me feel naturally at ease the minute I saw the succulents that covered the window panes and the cotton braided rug laid out on the floor. Student’s artwork filled the walls along with posters that made me think, “Wow, this teacher is Woke!” -Woke is an African American Vernacular English expression referring to an individual’s perceived or continued awareness regarding social and racial justice issues.

I noticed the attention to detail she put into classroom rules and daily lesson plans that also filled the room. I enjoyed seeing how she translated plans into Spanish and hearing how she spoke compassionately to parent’s in their native tongue.

Though I didn’t get much free time to chit chat with both teachers during reading sessions, I was happy to have had a few good short conversations with them before and after sessions. They both spoke openly about their love for teaching and how rewarding their role was at BVHM. They spoke highly of their students and special events going on at the school. They were all around very welcoming and complete advocates for the youth. Seeing how they spoke to students and how they treated them and their family reassured me that I was in the right place.

My students were split into two groups. My first group started at 8:00am and I was joined by two fourth grade boys. Those two boys were usually my caffeine shots in the morning. They came in with so much character, and Tuesdays served as the informative, “tell me what’s been up” days. We’d share stories before reading, going around a small table, sharing what we did over the weekend or what’s been going on during the week. Our conversations would go from English to Spanish and I’d find myself resorting to English everytime I forgot how to say a certain word in Spanish. Each time, they’d help put me right back on track! Later in the school year we were joined by two more students who added a nice dynamic to our early reading sessions. My second group would join me at 8:45am and was a nice mix of students from different grades. They too kept me on my toes with stories we’d share and them letting me know what new fads were in, or what popular video games I should be playing.

I was surprised to see how natural reading was for them. I was happy to see them take the lead and volunteer to read first, stop to help another reader, or offer words of encouragement to their classmates. They came in each morning eager to read, eager to learn, and eager to teach and learn from one another. We spoke openly after reading sessions and shared our true thoughts on the material we read and the overall layout of the application. The students were never shy to tell me what they enjoyed or disliked about the program and I was happy to know they were comfortable doing so. While reading, we focused often on expression and comprehension. Students who at one point were reading almost robotically slowly started to express the true nature of the sentences they were reading. They started to sit higher in their chairs. Sharpening their voices, clearing their throat before it was their turn. Some even took on voice impersonations and narrated as if they were performing a show for all to see. This too brought a sense of joy to me, to see kids on their own acting while learning and gaining a new level of confidence while doing that. When we worked on comprehension, we focused on explaining the story in our own words and then pulling pieces from one another’s perspective of the story. We answered questions together and talked about parts we may have not understood, then would go back and reread the page together for more clarity.

Through the months I was able to closely monitor each student’s reading and leveling results. I was happy to see that all of my students were making progress and reading at higher levels than when they started. The reward I felt in being there just twice a week has been huge and has greatly impacted me. I’ve gained a better understanding of the importance of not only reading, but having a reading guide available when needed. It’s taught me the true importance of having teachers in classrooms, teacher’s aides to help when needed, and volunteers that can step in when teachers are out stretched. Though I was only at BVHM for five months, I left feeling like part of the faculty there. The students and staff left an everlasting impression on me and as the school year ends, I’ll be sad to no longer be there.

Yet, I’m hopeful for the future and looking forward to crossing paths with everyone there again and hope to be able to volunteer there some time soon.

BookNook Spurs Parent Volunteer Program, Produces Great Results

May 21, 2018 in Customer Stories

About 10 miles south of the Wisconsin/Illinois border, Carrie Modra is hard at work with her students. As a  Woodland School District 50 educator for 8 years in her role as a Speech-Language Pathologist, Carrie is an integral part of the daily ins and outs of the school day at Woodland Elementary East. In fact, she loves it so much that she has gone back to school to get her second master’s degree in  School Leadership and works directly with her Principal mentor because of her passion for education.

For the completion of her master’s degree, Carrie needed to choose a topic for her internship project. After discussions with her principal about school goals and needs, Carrie focused on third grade reading.  She was very excited to involve parents in the project, so she utilized the Woodland PTA to recruit volunteers for the BookNook program. This allowed for teachers to recommend students to BookNook and have volunteers guide the reading as an additional weekly reading support. Recruiting volunteers can be difficult, but Carrie was hoping to learn a lot through this project, and it felt like a great opportunity.

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Technology in Education: Overcoming Barriers to Success

May 1, 2018 in New Tech

This post is the second part in a series we are doing on Barriers and lessons learned on implementing Technology in Education. Check out part one here.

Overcoming Barriers: Emerging New Best Practices

As daunting as the barriers may seem, current EdTech research is finding several ways schools can remove or at least address them in order to achieve technology integration.

Involve Teachers in Decision-Making

First, developing a shared vision and technology integration plan can help overcome the leadership barrier (Hew and Brush). “Probably the most important issue to consider when formulating a shared vision regarding technology integration,” they write, “is to address the specific relationship between technology and particular curriculum content areas because a commitment to the curriculum is a critical scaffold for technology integration.” Notably, they recommend that “the vision should not be created by just the school leaders. Instead, “teachers, in particular, should be involved in the decision-making because teacher participation has been found to be one of the ingredients for successful wide-scale integration of technology in a school district.”

Strategic Placement of Resources

If there’s a scarcity of resources, schools can “introduce technology into one or two subject areas at a time to ensure that teachers and students in those areas have adequate technology” (Hew and Brush). Technology integration almost never happens all at once, and it’s often the rush to scale-up that leads to bigger problems.

Changing Attitudes and Beliefs

One clear benefit to teachers is a school leader who provides ongoing professional development, encourages experimentation and improvement, and grants freedom to take risks and make mistakes. It is “more important to focus on the features of professional development rather than its types” (Hew and Brush).

The most effective professional development does the following:

  • Focuses on content (practical skills, specific knowledge)
  • Gives teachers opportunities for “hands-on work”
  • Is highly consistent with teachers’ needs

A New Vision of Assessment

Schools must find a balance between “considering how technology can be used to meet the current demands of standards-based accountability” and altogether reconsidering assessment approaches once technology is integrated into the curriculum. Teacher’s can’t abandon standardized testing entirely, but they shouldn’t have to invent whole new assessments to include technology. Computer adaptive testing, or tailored testing, is just one example of how the technology itself can help educators re-imagine assessment possibilities.

A Mentoring Approach

Theodore J. Kopcha advocates for a model of integration that uses “mentoring and communities of practice to support teachers as they develop skills, pedagogy and beliefs needed to integrate technology in a student-centered manner.” Mentoring, Kopcha writes, “has been found to overcome many of the common barriers to technology integration.”

For instance, mentors provide teachers with “just-in-time support while they integrate technology into lessons they are actually teaching.” Good mentoring begins with knowing teachers’ needs and setting goals collaboratively throughout the entire process of integration.

Technology as Part of School Policy

Veteran teachers Nancy Frey and Douglas Fisher integrated technology into language arts classes, then began creating a technology policy to monitor its uses. Soon, the authors realized that most “technology policies focused on prohibition” rather than teaching students to use it constructively. So they created a school-wide courtesy policy that included expectations of technology courtesy, thereby fully integrating technology expectations into the whole school’s standards of behavior.


For as many barriers as schools face when integrating technology, there are equally numerous, as well as creative, solutions. All require deep collaboration, clear planning, and ongoing professional development and assessment. Technology integration is never quick or easy, but it can be successfully planned and implemented.

See the Source List for this article Here

Announcing A New Funding Round—And More Importantly What We’ve Learned

April 13, 2018 in Company

About a year ago, we announced BookNook’s first fundraising round. A group of dual-bottom line investors, led by Reach Capital, bet on a company with a very rough alpha product, a handful of pilot schools, and a vision that technology could be used to make engaged, collaborative learning happen for small groups of students.

Ten months later, we are thrilled to announce the completion of our seed fundraising with an additional infusion of $2 million, jointly led by Better Ventures and the Urban Innovation Fund that included new funding from our existing VC investors and new investors Kapor Capital, Redhouse Education, and Edovate Capital.

Early stage startups are in many ways thought experiments—you set out to test a set of hypotheses about how your technology can help people and expect to learn a lot along the way.  If you’re doing things right, you spend a lot of time listening, keeping an open mind, and embracing your failures when you hear about what isn’t working.

So what did we learn in the past year?  And what are we doing about it?

Hypothesis #1: Small Groups, Big Results

What we hoped to prove: Our biggest bet—and what makes us different from everyone else in the digital reading space—is our focus on small groups as the unit of instruction.  Along with our advisor David Pearson, we believe that something special happens when students work together in groups of 4 or fewer—and there is a lot of research to back that up. Continue reading »

3 Things the Nation’s Report Card Is Telling Us About Reading, and 1 It’s Not

April 11, 2018 in Opinion

NAEP 4th Grade Reading Scores over time. Screenshot from NEAP/US DOE

This week, the US Department of Education today released the 2017 results of its National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) better known as the Nation’s Report Card.

In what has become a grim ritual for the past 10 years, the numbers show no meaningful improvement in achievement and massive disparities for students of color, students with disabilities, and students growing up in poverty.  There are of course some bright spots, but on the whole it truly is a story of “national stagnation.”

During what often feels like a time of political paralysis, when even wildly popular policies like the fix to DACA can’t get done, it’s easy to write this off as another example of something that’s just stuck in limbo.  But the truth is quite the opposite. NAEP is telling us three things loud and clear–but there’s one thing it’s not telling us.

1) The New Digital Divide is in Early Reading

While NAEP has been gradually (and somewhat painfully) shifting to an online assessment, this year was the first in which the majority of students took the digital version.  This mirrors the trend in state assessments, the majority of which are now also taken on a digital device.

There are several studies that have shown that students perform worse on tests taken online rather than on paper.  The reason most commonly cited is that students, particularly those from lower income households, have less comfort and familiarity with the devices they take the test on.

2) Device Access Isn’t the Issue

While there’s no doubt that affluent students have better access to technology, that gap is closing rapidly and the amount of time kids spend on non-television screen time has increasing dramatically –from 5 minutes a day on average in 2011 to 48 minutes in 2017.

A similar transformation is taking place as the ratio of students to devices at school continues to quickly drop.  In 2017, 50% of public school teachers reported that they have a device for every student in their classroom.

So if the problem isn’t access, then why is there a persistent gap in how students do on paper versus digital assessments?  It’s about how teaching happens–kids are mostly taught reading with paper books and paper handouts, and then tested with digital passages.

If we were going through the paper revolution, moving towards a future where people did less reading online and more reading on paper, this would make sense–but of course, it’s really the exact opposite that’s happening.

3) Money Matters

Whether it’s buying devices or training teachers and paraprofessionals on how to use them, school budgets are hurting almost universally.

Twenty-nine states still have not returned to pre-recession spending levels in education.  Nationally, we are spending $450 less per student than we did in 2008, adjusted for inflation.  In a typical elementary school of about 500 students, that’s a $225,000 budget difference.

Teachers are on the march in Kentucky in Oklahoma because of their unconscionably low pay, and it doesn’t seem like a coincidence that those states turned in some of the worst scores in fourth grade reading.  In 28 states, teachers are paid less today in real dollars than they were in 2000.  It’s no wonder that principals report budgets and their teacher morale worry them the most.

At some level it’s a minor miracle that NAEP has more or less stayed flat during a decade of decreased funding and rising poverty among schoolchildren.  While simply throwing money at the problem is unlikely to help, smart allocations of dollars to address the crisis in school funding would go a long way in getting achievement growth back on track.

There’s also one thing that we should not take away from the NAEP story, both for this year and the past 10 years:

What We’re Doing Isn’t Working

While there are many matters of reading policy that reasonable people might disagree with, the one conclusion is that we should all be able to agree on is that our current approach at both the state is failing our kids.

Reading is a human and a civil right, and the bedrock of a child’s ability to learn and engage with the world around them. Yet only 37% of American fourth graders tested as proficient readers and among students of color and students growing up in poverty that number drops to 20%.

While 2017’s numbers show an improvement of 4 percentage points over the past 10 years, these are not ‘stay the course’ numbers.  If we keep going at this pace, it will be the year 2052 before even a slim 51% majority of American children will be proficient readers.

It’s time for educators and policymakers to rethink their approaches to early reading, by investing more in teachers and schools and by embracing the digital text revolution. This will bring teaching practices into line with how the vast majority of written text is now consumed.

We get only one chance at this–if students don’t master reading at a young age they will face a host of hardships throughout their lives.  We owe it to our kids to do better.


Technology in Education: Barriers to Success

March 22, 2018 in New Tech

Back in 1986, Ohio educator and school administrator Howard Merriman bemoaned “the challenges brought by the incursion of technology into the schools.” He was talking about electric typewriters and programmable televisions, but 40 years later, the problem for schools remains the same, even if today’s technology is vastly different. As current educators try to adopt new technology, they should find Merriman’s impulse familiar as they ask themselves how schools can ensure holistic integration across all grades, subjects and teachers.

What Is Technology Integration?

It’s more than teachers and students using computers, or simply putting course materials online. However, it doesn’t mean having students on computers all the time, either.

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Guiding Your Student to Success: Effectively Using Talking Points and Discussion Questions

March 13, 2018 in BookNook U

This is the 1st post in our new series: “Guide your Students to Success” that will explain how to best use the instructional components within BookNook.

Asking questions that will lead your students to higher levels of comprehension and being more critical learners is not easy. Educators spend a lot of time crafting questions that utilize Bloom’s taxonomy lead their students from being able to recall information all the way up to be able to higher order skills of evaluating and creating. With BookNook’s built in talking points and discussion questions that have been designed by educators, you can ask effective questions using dialogic reading techniques that will increase your students’ comprehension of each text and make your sessions full of energy and student talk time.

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The BookNook Olympics

March 6, 2018 in Company

These past few weeks at BookNook HQ in Oakland, we’ve been in the midst of our own Olympics. And no, we’re not talking about the March Reading Madness we’re working on with all of the schools using BookNook. We’ve been working hard with Olympic athlete, Kristi Yamaguchi.

In 1992, Kristi Yamaguchi won Gold in Women’s Singles at the winter olympics for the US Ice Skating team. Since that amazing performance, Kristi has worked tirelessly towards improving literacy skill and achievement for students.  Enter BookNook, which is in the hands of thousands of students across 14 states. After speaking with Kristi about BookNook’s vision of improving achievement for students across the country in all types of educational settings as well as help students achieve their dreams by encouraging academic success, she agreed to have her books featured alongside BookNook’s already growing library of engaging texts for students.

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5 Creative Uses of Technology in the Classroom

February 20, 2018 in Classroom Fun

Considering the pervasiveness of smartphones, the concept of “technology in the classroom” isn’t without controversy. The jury is still out on whether or not kids should be allowed to or even encouraged to bring their phones to class.

However, research does indicate that when teachers use technology in fresh and innovative ways in the classroom, it’s actually quite beneficial. Giving lower-income students access to the technology they might not have at home helps bridge the achievement gap, noted one Stanford study. Furthermore, according to the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, integrating technology into a lesson plan keeps students engaged and on task. Here are five creative ways teachers can incorporate technology into the classroom in a way that students will connect with and enjoy.

Have Students Post Their Creative Writing Assignments or Essays in Personal Blogs

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Our new Leveling Feature adjusts reading level in between assesments

February 5, 2018 in Company

We’ve been hard at work here at BookNook on our new 3.0 release. One of the things that is really exciting for us is our new “Leveling” feature. Students will be presented with a passage of text, which they will be instructed to read through. As they make errors or self-correct, the guide can click or tap on each word and mark that word as such. Once the student is done reading, they will be presented with a series of comprehension questions.

At the end of the leveling session, the guide will be given a result: move the student up, stay the same, or move them down a reading level.

Check out the video to see it in action!

We’d love to show our hard work off a little more (yes it’s a #shamelessplug) – so grab some time with our team by requesting a demo!

Or, if you’d like to read more about the release, you can go to our BookNook 3.0 release page!

5 Tips To Encourage Reading During Winter Break

December 19, 2017 in Learning

With the holiday break fast approaching, our kids will have more leisure time while school is out! What better way to spend their time than curled up with a good book, or being read to by family and friends?


1. Make books special

Teaching your child the value, proper handling, and all they can gain from reading makes the practice of reading more desirable for children. If they learn to take good care of books and know that books can “take you places” and teach you new things, they will see books as holding greater value. Books make great gifts and stocking stuffers too!
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9 Fictional Families I’d Want to Eat Thanksgiving With

November 22, 2017 in Opinion

Two of the things that matter most in my life are family and food, which is one of the reasons why I enjoy Thanksgiving so much.

Even though the entire BookNook team has plenty to be thankful for this year, I thought it’d be fun to imagine what Thanksgiving dinner would be like with the characters from some of my favorite children’s books.

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