Special Report
Reading & Literacy

Startup Aims to Customize Classroom Book Selections

By Brenda Iasevoli — November 09, 2016 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

After 22 years of teaching middle school in a Chicago suburb, Mindi Rench switched to an elementary school this year. So, in order to build a top-notch classroom library for her new class of 3rd graders, the self-proclaimed bibliophile found herself having to swap out her young-adult novels for picture books.

Rench sought book suggestions from fellow teachers. She raided used bookstores and asked friends and family for donations.

Then, from a friend’s Facebook post, she read about an online book-subscription service and app called Readocity that aims to tailor books to children’s interests or a teacher’s particular needs. Rench signed up. Each month, she gets three brand-new books chosen by the company’s reading coaches for $25 per month. (The subscription price has since been raised to $35.)

“You get reading experts helping you to figure out which books are good for your particular grade level, or which books will keep your particular students, with their wide range of interests, with their noses in a book,” Rench said.

While it deals primarily in print books, Readocity presents yet another example of how digital technology is changing literacy instruction in schools.

The startup, which launched in mid-September and so far has about 60 subscribers, was co-founded by a product developer and a former high school English teacher with the goal of leveraging technology to help parents and teachers make more-customized book selections for students and classrooms and share information about students’ reading progress and interests.

“Imagine a first-year teacher and everything she is up against,” said Meenoo Rami, the former teacher who co-founded the company. “She is learning how to teach while juggling classroom management and navigating the systems of a school. On top of it, she has outdated books that don’t reflect the diversity of her classroom or maybe she has no books at all. We want to help that teacher build her classroom library.”

Teachers who sign up for Readocity fill out a questionnaire about reading needs and interests of their classes. Then, every month, they receive “a personalized bundle” of books selected by the company’s curators, an all-volunteer team of teachers and librarians. The company buys the books through wholesalers to cut costs. Educators often think of technology as taking power away from teachers, said David Rose, a lecturer at the Harvard Graduate School of Education who specializes in new learning technologies. But programs like Readocity, he said, can make teachers more powerful.

“Interest-driven reading is a very powerful way to get kids to do a lot of reading,” he said. “The key is to have kids reading high-interest texts at demanding levels that will build comprehension and vocabulary.”

But Rose cautions against relying exclusively on services like Readocity. “Technology can get smarter and smarter about kids, but we also need kids to get smarter about themselves,” he said. “We don’t want computers or apps to drive student interest. Students need to know what they want and how to find it.”

‘Interest-Driven Reading’

To fill holes in her classroom library, Rench wanted lots of different types of books. And she wanted books representing diverse characters: ethnic and racial diversity, students with disabilities, and children from many different backgrounds.

She appreciated that, in the first shipment from Readocity, the company sent two picture books and one early-reader chapter book, demonstrating that Readocity understands her 3rd graders will be making a gradual change to more sophisticated books.

And the books in the two shipments Rench has received so far represent diversity in many senses of the term. There were books by diverse authors, including a Korean-American and an African-American. There were books of poetry and picture books featuring characters whose lives were different from her students’.

Rench plans to let parents know about the Readocity app so book talks can continue at home. Parents who download the app get a notification when a book has been shared in class, and they are able to see the teacher’s talking points.

The app also allows parents to share individual children’s interests and grade levels and get book recommendations. Parents can then share with teachers what their children are reading at home.

“We know that accessibility to high-quality books has a direct correlation to improved reading ability,” Rench said. “Anything we can do to further that process is a step in the right direction.”

A version of this article appeared in the November 09, 2016 edition of Education Week as Startup Aims to Customize Classroom Book Selections


Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
Attendance Awareness Month: The Research Behind Effective Interventions
More than a year has passed since American schools were abruptly closed to halt the spread of COVID-19. Many children have been out of regular school for most, or even all, of that time. Some
Content provided by AllHere
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Ensuring Continuity of Learning: How to Prepare for the Next Disruption
Across the country, K-12 schools and districts are, again, considering how to ensure effective continuity of learning in the face of emerging COVID variants, politicized debates, and more. Learn from Alexandria City Public Schools superintendent
Content provided by Class

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Reading & Literacy Spotlight Spotlight on Literacy in Education
In this Spotlight, evaluate the possible gaps your current curriculum may have and gain insights from the front-lines of teaching.
Reading & Literacy Opinion Teachers, More Than Programs, Make for Great Reading Instruction
Let's focus on specific teaching practices, not confusing labels like "balanced literacy," write Irene C. Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell.
Irene C. Fountas & Gay Su Pinnell
5 min read
Children reading books in front of books.
iStock/Getty Images
Reading & Literacy Creator of 1619 Project Launching After-School Literacy Program
The 1619 Freedom School, led by journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones, will make its curriculum a free online resource in 2022.
4 min read
Collage of an American Flag.
Collage: Laura Baker/Education Week (Images: iStock/Getty)
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Reading & Literacy Whitepaper
Scaffolding to Achieve Grade-Level Literacy
In this whitepaper, Curriculum Associates National Director Kandra James explores how scaffolding, the use of instructional techniques an...
Content provided by Curriculum Associates