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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Six Things Principals Are Thinking When They Get Pitched Edtech

October 20, 2017 in New Tech, Opinion

A guest post by Sara Shenkan-Rich, Principal of Woodrow Wilson Elementary School in Daly City, CA.


As a principal, I get pinged by edtech providers almost every day. Everyone has a new solution that is going to “disrupt” my school. Most of the time we ignore the emails and phone calls, but every now and again something breaks through the noise and catches my interest. When we talk to edtech companies to learn about what they have to offer, there are a few main questions that I am thinking about as I listen to their pitch.

1. Which of my million problems does this solve?

Being a principal means first and foremost being a problem solver. I have to tackle everything from getting substitute teachers in when someone is out sick, to dealing with discipline issues for students, to helping families connect with social services when they are in a moment of crisis.

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What Helps Students Master Reading?

September 26, 2017 in Learning


Ask 100 people if it’s important for a child to learn how to read, they’ll all say “yes.”

Ask them when a child should develop these literacy skills, there may be a little discussion about it, but it’s safe to say we all agree that by ages nine or ten a child should be able to read on their own. It’s called reading proficiency and it’s been a hallmark of our education system since its inception. Continue reading »

Kansas Bets on Blended Learning to Boost Reading Skills

September 20, 2017 in Company, New Tech

Reading is an issue that many communities are grappling with at the statewide level; in the past 5 years, 36 states have adopted legislative or funding programs specifically targeting improvement in early reading.


We’re very excited to be part of a unique and innovative approach by the state of Kansas called the Reading Roadmap, a collaboration between the Department of Education and Department for Children and Families that takes a very bottom-up approach to school support, and focuses on close alignment between what happens inside and outside the classroom.  Continue reading »

School Year Results: BookNook Makes Better Readers!

September 8, 2017 in Company, Learning, New Tech


The results of BookNook’s 2016-17 school pilots are in, and they show that our platform is making a difference in young readers’ lives.

With schools back in session in most of the country, teachers are beginning the annual ritual of assessing students’ reading levels. There are few pieces of information that are more important in determining how best to teach to students than understanding where they are with their reading. Unfortunately students—particularly students of color and economically disadvantaged students—tend to move backwards over the summer.

We can confidently predict what teachers will find: in the average American classroom, most students will not be reading at grade level. National statistics have been more or less stuck for over 20 years, showing that the majority of fourth and eighth graders aren’t reading at a proficient level, with a particular spike among students in traditionally disenfranchised communities.

After our first year of piloting BookNook as a school year intervention, we are excited to report that we have a solution that appears to significantly help students get back on track. We began with 6 partners in the San Francisco Bay Area in late October, and expanded to 22 in February/March, adding partners in Dallas and Atlanta. Even working across just a fraction of the school year, we were very excited by the results we saw by June.



Sara Shenkan-Rich, principal of Alvarado Elementary School in the San Francisco Unified School District was among our first 6 BookNook adopters. She had this to say:

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5 Things To Remember When Starting a New School Program

August 30, 2017 in Classroom Fun

As anyone who has launched a new school program can tell you, there is no guaranteed blueprint to success. Here’s 5 ways to ensure you stay on the right track.


1. Plan for the unexpected

You may think that you’re totally prepared to start your program but, realistically, you’re bound to run into some hiccups along the way. School schedules can change on a dime, staff can move to different classrooms, and the space you planned to use for your program may turn into the school’s new storage solution.

Remember, schools are complex places and even the most well thought out plans need tweaks throughout the school year. Continue reading »

BookNook Turns Back Summer Learning Loss

August 24, 2017 in Learning, New Tech

videogamesSummer Learning Loss—sometimes called Summer Slide or Summer Melt—is a phenomenon that educators know all too well. After spending the school year working hard and improving math and reading skills, an alarming number students go off on summer break and give up a big chunk of those gains.

Not only losing forward momentum over the summer but actually going backwards is a huge problem, particularly because numerous studies have shown that this phenomenon disproportionately affects economically disadvantaged children and children of color. Continue reading »

Shake Off the Summer: 7 Fun Ways to Get Your Kids Reading Again

August 18, 2017 in Classroom Fun

School is back in session, and some of your students kept up their great reading habits and others may have chosen to put their books down. Regardless of their summer reading, these tips will help to get them all in focused on reading this school year.


1. High interest texts

Read books that are going to keep your class engaged. These can be wonderful read aloud books (Need some ideas? Scholastic counts down the 100 best read aloud books) or something that the will appeal to students personal interests. Don’t be afraid to pull in nontraditional texts, such as magazines, comic books, or blogs. Continue reading »