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Newsela Tackles the Reading “Engagement Gap”

You know Newsela. It’s the “must-have” teaching tool for reading differentiation in every 21st-century teacher’s toolbox. Since their launch in 2013, Newsela now serves 13 million students and over 1 million educators. In fact, the text differentiation guru has grown 60% over the past year alone. And according to CEO Matthew Gross, they’re just getting started.

Completely revolutionizing the way students access and interact with texts, Newsela has their sights on a new challenge: engagement. According to a recent Gallup student poll, about half of our students feel engaged at school, and one out of every five feels “actively disengaged.” And it’s taking a toll on the classroom. Currently, 39% of teachers are satisfied with their jobs.

“We’ve been listening to teachers, and we keep hearing the same thing: our reading experiences in schools are just not landing with students. Especially textbooks,” Gross mentioned to Education World, “Which led us to the fundamental problem: In school, students are consuming content that looks nothing like their real-world text experiences.”

And so, Newsela is setting out to create a new category of product, aiming to tackle the elusive Reading Engagement Gap—the disparity between how students engage with the texts they access for school, and how they engage with everyday digital content. Newsela’s new Instructional Content Platform will combine three things: “personalized, accessible content with integrated assessments and new insights into student learning.”

“We started asking ourselves, ‘What’s changing about reading in the digital world? Where’s the gap?’” Gross continued, “And we realized that when students access texts online, they are interactive, they are at grade-level.... Is it really any wonder that we lose students in the classroom with traditional texts?”

Newsela made huge waves for Common Core educators at the end of last year with the addition of The Library: their extensive collection of historical primary sources, biographies, and famous speeches. The next phase of their development will not disappoint.

“The main vision of this expansion is to have Newsela at the core of your classes.  We want to replace the textbook.  We’re including more content, in easy-to-access bundles aligned to your curriculum, your standards,” said Gross, “You’re also going to see a lot of new features layered on the texts themselves, making them more interactive...all beginning this fall.”

Gross stressed the element of accessibility for teachers and the ease of alignment, adding that this next brave phase in Newsela’s development has been a part of their mission from the very beginning: getting kids engaged in reading, embracing a rigorous and accessible academic atmosphere, and keeping the classroom up-to-date with our world’s ever-changing digital landscape. He also hinted at future “augmented reality” elements of the Newsela experience, suggesting the “game-ification” of the texts with more interactive quizzes and expanded layers of interaction.

Gross says keeping the experience of the student at the center of the work is an essential inspiration to their innovation. “We’re online, we’re seeing tweets of teachers and parents...pictures of their students reading...this is what motivates us.” 

And we get it. When you see tweets like these on a daily basis, how can you not get excited?

Exciting Update!

At the ISTE Conference in San Antonio, Texas on June 27th, Newsela announced three of the new super cool products coming this fall:

Newsela’s new “Units” will include organizing commonly taught topics in teacher-friendly ways, high-level guiding questions, and PRO Text Sets, which “pair specific articles with tips and strategies for teachers.”

“Power Words” will allow students to get word definitions as they read, at their reading level. “The words highlighted in articles are high-frequency and high-utility (known as ‘tier 2 words’, so students who master these words will be well prepared to read complex texts across a variety of subjects.” Included with this new feature is a series of vocabulary practice activities, as well as the ability to create a personal word wall.

Finally, Newsela will be expanding its elementary content for younger readers: 3 new articles a day!

 

Written by Keith Lambert, Education World Associate Contributing Editor

Lambert is an English / Language Arts teacher in Connecticut.