This quote from Stacey Riedmiller (@literacybigkids) and tweeted by our very own Instructional Digital Age Learning Coach, Katie Muhtaris, explains the steps we took regarding access to digital texts for our elementary students.
Barrington 220 students love to read, and they read a staggering number of books. Students in our elementary schools can check out up to 5 books in a given week. Students ready voraciously in their English Language Arts class throughout their PK–12 experience. Thanks to the work of our amazing teacher librarians, students read traditional print books and they also access digital texts through services like OverDrive, Follett Shelf, and more.
Current research, best practice, and teachers across grade levels understand the common wisdom that surrounding students with nonfiction and fiction texts supports learning concepts in every content area. Need to understand a concept like symbiosis? A teacher might direct you read a nonfiction textbook explaining the definition and implication in biology and then recommend Black Beauty for a fictional insight into how people and horses interact.
This growth in reading across all content areas requires more access to nonfiction and fiction texts both in print and digitally. At the elementary level, the Reading Steering Committee volunteered Sarah Dowdy (Grade 3 teacher at Arnett Lines) and Melissa deBruin (Grade 2 teacher at Grove) to join a subcommittee with Shawndra Shelton (District Technology Assistant), Kelly Pinta (Instructional Digital Age Learning coach at Countryside), Kathy Hempel (District Library Liaison), Becky Wiegel (Director of Elementary Teaching and Learning), and me (Director of Instructional Technology).
We engaged in research on the best practices of reading with digital texts to create a vision of what our students need from a digital text provider. The list for students includes:
- easy access to both fiction and nonfiction texts
- ability to annotate, highlight, draw, listen to, and share text
- display well on iPad
We then contacted the vendors as we researched the ever-growing crowd of digital text providers to find the best options for our students. Along the way, we realized no tool completely met the needs above. A couple of vendors met our requirements from a functionality perspective, but did not carry many titles. Some vendors did not have programs that worked well for students on iPad. Some vendors would only allow a certain numbers of texts to be checked out to students at a time. In short, no vendor has yet helped to bring order to the multitude of publishing companies for digital text industry in the same that Apple Music, Spotify, and Pandora have organized and brought standardization to digital music industry.
The group reached out to their peers on the Literacy Steering Committee, and over the last six weeks of the school year, several teachers used trials of three programs to engage students in reading digital texts. The trials allowed us to evaluate the impact of celebrations and challenges of each tool and help guide our decision.
We tested three options that offer many features we are seeking: Epic!, myON, and Actively Learn. Epic! offers a Netflix-like user interface that students love. Epic!'s algorithms match student interests with texts and engage readers. In our experience so far, students routinely chose and completed more texts while using Epic!. The myON service offers the widest library of texts coupled with the functionality we sought. Although myON does not have an dedicated iPad app, it can be used in the Safari app. Actively Learn provided the best in-text functionality, allowing our students to best meet and exceed our standards for literacy skills, but the access to texts and overall cost of the program brought concerns.
Here is a video highlighting some of the feedback from our teachers and students piloting the use of Epic!, myON, and Actively Learn:
Ultimately, our subcommittee, the Literacy Steering Committee, and our students valued myON as a digital literacy resource above all others. Carefully considering all the facts—including cost—we decided to move forward with myON for students in Grades 1–5 and Epic! for students in Grades 1–2.
Epic! and myON will join (not replace) OverDrive and Follett Shelf. OverDrive draws from our district libraries and the Barrington Area Public Library, and Follett Shelf will continue to offer the many titles we already own on this platform. Also, Epic! and myON will not replace RAZ Kids for our Kindergarten students or literacy support classes.
After this investigation, our subcommittee determined that, given the exponential growth in the number of resources focused on digital reading, we must continually evaluate the programs available to our students. Further, we will continue these efforts next year. We also hope to grow this project to include middle school and high school.
Here are directions for accessing Epic! and myON:
A reading app scoped for grades PK-3. Students can choose from a vast collection of books to read alone, or to have read aloud, there are a number of videos, audio files, and animations available as well.
- Navigate to www.getepic.com
- Follow the steps to create a free Epic! teacher account.
- Students join via classroom code.
- Start Reading!
- Epic! offsets the free teacher accounts by charging for home use by students, our Barrington 220 subscription will cover these costs.
Account set-up for teachers will be completed over the next couple of weeks. Student accounts will be active by August 15. The myON service is scoped for students in Grades 1–5.
Click here to see the log on process (directions contain a password).