Thanks to the extraordinary efforts of thousands of parents, caregivers, educators, tutors, AmeriCorps members, volunteers–and, of course, students–BookNook is proud to announce the results of our spring Distance Learning programs.
Like most in the field of education, we found ourselves facing a crisis we had not prepared for when schools began closing in March. Fears of students regressing in their reading proficiency due to a ‘Covid Slide’ compelled us to act quickly and decisively to keep students learning.
While our program was designed for synchronous, in-person learning taking place at school or in childcare settings, we were able to quickly move to a purely online format. By the end of April, we were able to migrate nearly 40% of our in-person learning students to regular online distance learning sessions.
Because BookNook collects and analyzes data in real time while students are online, we were able to measure the impact of regular usage of our program despite most of the schools and nonprofits we partner with not being able to conduct end-of-year or ‘post’ assessments on reading proficiency.
Among students who spent a minimum of just three hours using BookNook from April to June, 91% were able to maintain their level of reading proficiency, experiencing no Covid Slide at all. Better still, 57% actually advanced in their reading level during school closures, ending at a higher level of achievement in June than they were in March.
The average BookNook student gained three months of reading skills during school closures, keeping them more or less exactly on pace with what should have happened in a normal school year. Put another way, BookNook students made the same progress during Distance Learning as would be expected in the classroom.
This is particularly meaningful because the majority of our students use BookNook in the context of intervention. Our average student has been falling behind in reading by about 1/3 of a grade level per year before they start using BookNook, meaning that a typical third grader is about a year below benchmark when they start using BookNook.
When comparing our students’ previous rate of reading level growth to what they showed during school closures, we saw that our average student was progressing at a pace 2.4 times faster, more than doubling their pace of growth.
Of course, none of these results would have been possible without our partner families, schools, and nonprofits, spread out across 32 states now. We are grateful to work with so many people who are so dedicated to helping students become strong, confident, lifelong readers. Together we are making a real and measurable difference.
Equity has been one of BookNook’s core values since the very beginning of our journey. The phrase we use to define it is “We Are Our Community.” We talk about it that way both because we want our team to look like our users, but also as a reminder that when something we created becomes part of a child’s life, we by extension become a part of their community.
Recently we’ve asked ourselves some hard questions about the kind of community member we have been. Like many in the field of education, we come from a place of good intentions–our mission is to close the educational opportunity gap. On the surface, it’s easy to tell ourselves that what we are doing must obviously advance equity.
But the way we go about that work matters, and on deeper reflection we’ve come to realize that we have made choices with unintentional but very real equity consequences. We want to acknowledge that publicly and commit to taking concrete action to be a better member of the communities we serve.
The hard truth that surfaced is this: the way we structure our fees is not equitable. Like most edtech companies, we charge based on how many students are using our program. On the surface this seems logical, but when considering that the most common use of BookNook is intervention it means we are, in effect, charging the most to the schools and nonprofits who serve the most struggling students–populations that overwhelmingly skew towards children of color.
We also treat our Spanish Dual Language Learner and Summer programs as “add ons” at an extra cost, reasoning that not every school or nonprofit will want to use them, so not everyone should be charged for them. Again, the practical effect here is to charge higher prices to schools serving higher need communities.
So, starting this summer we are rolling out an equity-based pricing model. When setting out our fees for a school or nonprofit, will expressly and transparently take into account the relative privilege of that community. The higher the percentage of children who are eligible for the National School Lunch Program, the less we will charge. We will also include our Spanish Dual Language Learner and Summer programs as part of our base subscription, rather than charging extra for it.
We realize this will mean some of our partners will see an increase in what they are asked to pay to use BookNook, and that others will see a decrease. Considering the equity gaps that have been once again thrust painfully into the forefront of our national consciousness, we think that is exactly what should happen in the moment.
We’ve run the numbers on this (another of our values is “Data Rule Everything Around Me”), and we expect that the net effect with our current partners is that they will be charged less. We hope that some of those partners will decide to reinvest their savings to provide more reading supports to struggling students as part of their Covid Slide responses. But if they need to use those funds to provide other crucial services or to make up for budget cuts, that is more than understandable.
We realize that, like all actions taken individually, this alone is an insufficient response to the issues we as a nation must grapple with. So at BookNook we will continue to reflect on ways in which we can “be our community,” act on our values, and work with partners to do more for the schools, nonprofits, and students we serve.
We Are [Striving to be a Better Member of] Our Community.
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
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. (more…)
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.