Students can monitor their own reading growth in myON, and educators can view and download reports.

 

Anyone who’s familiar with Netflix knows the online video streaming and rental service lets users rate the movies they watch, as well as their level of interest in various genres, and then delivers personalized recommendations based on this information.

Now, Capstone Digital—a division of Capstone Publishing—has launched a new online service that aims to do for literacy what Netflix has done for consumer entertainment, with the hope that this approach might spark students’ interest in reading.

The myON reader system is a personalized digital reading environment that functions like Netflix’s “Suggested For You” section. After screening the abilities and interests of K-8 students, myON suggests titles based on the students’ Lexile levels and the topics that most appeal to them—and this process is further refined each time a student rates a text he or she has read.

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“We actually have students take an interest inventory, similar to if you were going on to an eHarmony or a Netflix and saying, ‘I’m looking for a match,’” said Todd Brekhus, president of Capstone Digital.

The books that myON suggests, which also include audio that can be turned on or off as desired, are 50 Lexiles below to 100 Lexiles above students’ reading levels.

“Because the books have audio with them, students can read and listen to books that are above their [reading] level, or they can read books at or below their level,” Brekhus said. “The theory … is [based] on [enabling] kids to get to the material that most interests them.”

He added: “We want kids to find books, because they’re typically not looking for books—that’s not their first choice [for entertainment]. The basic theory is that if you motivate kids to read, and you find them books that they’re interested in and that are challenging but not too challenging, they will read more and they will continue to read … and that’s a key goal.”

Capstone’s newest effort goes beyond other online reading environments in its attempt to personalize each student’s reading experience—but it’s also part of a larger trend by educational publishers to offer their material to students digitally.

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“Digital is becoming more and more of how this generation is growing up, so we looked at it as a great way to get electronic books in our kids’ hands,” said Carl Harvey II, a librarian at Indiana’s North Elementary School who has used the new myON service. “It can really help to pinpoint some targeted books we can use for instruction.”

Today’s students are considered “digital natives,” born after the internet was established, and their first choice for education or entertainment typically isn’t a book—at least not in its traditional form.

The eBooks being produced by companies like Scholastic Education and Capstone Digital introduce other interactive elements to the materials, in an effort to re-engage students in reading.

“It’s a more full visual experience for young learners, being able to match text and image,” said Rose Else-Mitchell, senior vice president and publisher of Scholastic Education.

Scholastic’s BookFlix pairs together classic stories with nonfiction in a digital eBook format that can be used in a learning context or for personalized reading. The books, geared toward students in pre-kindergarten through third grade, are organized by themes. As with Capstone’s offering, the digital books include full audio—but despite its name, BookFlix doesn’t include a customization engine that can make targeted reading recommendations.

BookFlix is “used really effectively in both preschool and primary [classrooms] on a whiteboard. I call it the most giant ‘Big Book,’” said Else-Mitchell. “It’s great to see it in a primary classroom in that context, especially with a teacher who’s very agile with a [whiteboard], because [the teacher is] able to … bring up the games, then bring up the vocabulary, and have the kids read or repeat together.”

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BookFlix includes sounds and visual effects to correspond to the text on each page.

“It’s so engaging that children want to go back and reread, which, as we know, is a great skill for the students to become much more fluent,” Else-Mitchell said.

Both Brekhus and Else-Mitchell agree that the goal is not to replace traditional paper books, but instead to stimulate an interest in reading.

“I think there’s always room for both. One of the things we hear from a lot of our school-based customers is they want the BookFlix library as well, because [students] like to go from the computer experience and maybe take the book home,” said Else-Mitchell.

“It’s amazing to watch these kids see these books on the screen and then run over to the shelf to find more,” said Brekhus.

Brekhus said the different features of the eBooks help get students interested, but it’s the content that keeps them coming back.

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“I think there’s an opportunity to bridge the gap here from print to digital, [with] audio and interactivity, and that’s kind of exciting,” he said. “I think kids in general want things that move and sound and interact, but at the end of the day a good story wins you over.”

The digital reading environments flip the traditional model of the library, because there is no asset management required; students have anytime, anywhere access to the material as desired. The services, which are available for purchasing on a subscription basis, also include tools to track each child’s reading growth. For example, students can monitor their own reading growth in myON, and educators can view and download reports.

Harvey said the anytime, anywhere access to the digital books is a huge factor, adding that his school plans on subscribing to myON throughout the summer so students can log in and read from home.

“I think part of what makes it a little different is the book is right there, so it’s not like you have to go find the book someplace else to read it,” he said.

Berkhus was enthusiastic about the possibilities that home access offers.

“We’ve seen an incredible opportunity to connect to the home. … What happens to a community when you open up over 2,000 books to every elementary and middle school child in the country? What will be the impact on reading?” he asked.

For now, myON reader includes access only to Capstone titles, but the company is working on content partnerships with other publishers as well. The platform is browser-based and works on any device that runs Flash; an iPad version is in the works, and Capstone hopes to launch it this summer.

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