In our on-going series profiling EdTech start-ups outside of Silicon Valley transforming K-12 education, we now turn to literacy learning (our prior post on “Data-Driven Start-ups” can be found here.)
In assembling this post, I am reminded of an attendee at our very first Educelerate Meetup (all the way back in June 2012!), a Chicago Public Schools teacher named Jeff Scheur who was digitizing a game to teach grammar. Meeting with Jeff some months later after he had moved to the Bay Area to pursue his start-up NoRedInk, I resonated with his observations on the relatively crowded market for math apps. As Jeff explained, this stemmed from the fact that math was second-nature to all the programmers-turned-aspiring edupreneurs in Silicon Valley and thus stood out as an idea they could hack together — but there was no reason literacy and grammar learning could not be similarly rendered online.
Fast forward to today and one of the continued short-comings of Silicon Valley’s “Software Eating Education” model is a relative underfocus on reading and writing. While NoRedInk has achieved great success after leaving Chicago for Silicon Valley 1)Of note, New York also boasts several rapidly scaling reading start-ups in Newsela and LightSail, which have cumulatively raised over $45 million in capital from nearly every edtech venture fund and what seems like nearly every software billionaire., there is just as much innovation occurring across the rest of the country. After all, Renaissance Learning and its Accelerated Reader team are headquartered out of Wisconsin, Edmentum’s various literacy focused products work from Minnesota and Texas, and Cambium Learning’s Reading A-Z is based in Tucson.
Here are five dynamic innovative new literacy focused ventures delivering real educational outcomes from the rest of the country:
Actively Learn (Seattle)
Actively Learn is an online literacy platform that helps teachers activate, support, and reveal student thinking so every student can read for depth. The company’s approach assists teachers in practicing 12 strategies (e.g. cultivating metacognition, asking higher-order questions, etc.) that change how deeply students understand texts.
They also offer a large content library that supports literacy across subjects, where teachers can select from thousands of novels, articles, textbooks, poems, and other texts, many of them with pre-created instruction. Teachers can also upload their own content and instruction via PDF, Google doc, or website. As seen in the product shot to the right, Actively Learn also offers assignments with embedded questions and annotations. These questions are designed to stop students while they read to monitor comprehension and focus attention. Annotations can be teacher-created notes or student-created annotations that can be shared with the class for discussion. Finally, the platform also generates data reports where teachers can track student vocabulary lookups, proficiency across standards, reading time, writing, and answers to questions.
These innovations have been supported by the Gates Foundation and National Science Foundation, who have further helped ensure that over one million students and teachers across the country have experienced the benefits of Actively Learn.
Altis Reach (Chicago)
As shared by CEO Andrew Morrison, Altis Reach is an innovative online language and literacy intervention program designed to help struggling readers rapidly achieve meaningful growth. It provides targeted, explicit and engaging instruction and practice in all key areas of adolescent literacy, including Phonics, Vocabulary, Comprehension and Fluency. The program is designed for students in grades 4 and above who are one or more years behind grade level, including reluctant and struggling readers, English language learners, and students with language-based learning deficits.
Designed for maximum efficiency, it is authored by some of the leading experts in literacy education and proven effective in schools around the country, including Dr. Timothy Shanahan, Dr. Timothy Rasinski, and Dr. Shane Templeton, all nationally-acclaimed literacy experts for struggling students and students learning English as a second language.
Reach does not merely provide practice drill and feedback like many other technology programs. Through high-quality animations and videos, Reach delivers real reading instruction and then supports the student just like an instructor or tutor would sitting one-on-one with his or her student. For example, if a student struggles with understanding a passage, rather than simply providing the answer, Reach uses adaptive technology to guide the student back to the text, narrowing when necessary, and ultimately provide the student with additional strategies to help him or her extract meaning from the passage.
Finally, to help ensure that the students who use Reach stay motivated and engaged, Reach combines highly-effective, research-based instructional strategies with cutting-edge motivational and gaming techniques, state-of-the-art technology, customizable avatars with virtual economies and rewards, rich media, and high-quality original art, video, animations and music. Districts across the country are using Reach and are experiencing significant, dramatic gains among their most at-risk students.
- High Quality Curriculum: CommonLit’s library of news articles, poems and short stories includes authentic digital content from partners like NPR, Smithsonian Magazine, and more. The library is organized by theme, difficulty level, topic, genre, and standard to make it super user-friendly and searchable by teachers.
- Actionable Data: With a free account, teachers can access a dashboard that shows trends in student reading and writing progress. Teachers can use these visualizations to craft instructional next steps to better address student needs.
- Supports for Struggling Readers: CommonLit offers individualized supports for struggling readers and English Language Learners. Students are supported with additional features like Guided Reading Mode and the Accessibility Toolbar.
As told to Steven Wellvang, who leads Educelerate North, Matt Hardy and Dan Flies co-founded and have kept Kidblog in Minneapolis, flourishing into a profitable company, but they know their real value comes from within the classroom. As Matt described, their value is ultimately predicated upon three core beliefs:
- Writing Matters: Writing is hard; teaching writing is even harder. Written communication significantly impacts professional and personal life, but too many academic writing exercises are contrived or isolated. Kidblog’s mission is to create authentic writing experiences for a real audience.
- Community Management is Essential: Writing is meant to be read. Kidblog helps authors reach an audience and engage with readers through comment threads moderated by teachers. As “community managers,” teachers take an active role in building digital citizenship skills within the classroom and beyond. Flexible privacy settings let teachers decide how broadly students’ writing is visible. Kidblog’s is simple enough for the youngest learners, yet customizable so students in middle and high school can establish their own “branding” and style. Year-over-year, students build a rich digital portfolio that documents their learning and growth over time.
- Delivering Value: Kidblog has reached millions of students around the world with individual teacher-paid subscriptions. Teachers of all subjects use Kidblog, because any learning experience is worth celebrating and communicating. These passionate teachers often pay out-of-pocket. So about a year ago, Kidblog launched Admin Pro, a school-supported licensing model allowing all students in all classrooms to benefit from the unique learning experiences Kidblog provides. Within that first year, Kidblog’s sales grew 300% as schools leverage student publishing as a way to achieve ambitious district-wide goals and academic initiatives. Kidblog is committed to supporting students throughout their entire learning journey.
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|1.||↑||Of note, New York also boasts several rapidly scaling reading start-ups in Newsela and LightSail, which have cumulatively raised over $45 million in capital from nearly every edtech venture fund and what seems like nearly every software billionaire.|