Who Says I Don't Like to Read? Sparking a Love of Digital Books Across Detroit

EdSurge | Feb. 23, 2017 


By Deborah L. Winston, Ph.D. 


Change, it seems, really is inevitable. After more than a century of operating as the Detroit Public School system, in 2016, our district was re-named the Detroit Public Schools Community District (DPSCD). With the new name came new expectations, and a new emphasis on literacy.


To best tackle the challenge of improving student literacy, the district’s academic leadership team sought to help all content area teachers in motivating, engaging, and sustaining student interest in reading. Yet we needed to do so while also addressing teacher concerns around delivering unfamiliar literacy content, over-enrolled classrooms, and an overwhelming range of student needs.


After considering several products, myON was ultimately selected. The digital platform allows students to personalize their learning by selecting digital books matched to their Lexile level from myON’s digital library, which contains thousands of titles across many genres, as well as books written in Spanish. The program tracks how much students are reading and at what level. Most importantly, students can select books that peak their interests. The product allows students who need remediation or acceleration opportunities to soar, and teachers can personalize students’ learning to support their established classroom instruction.


During the 2015-16 school year, the district won a grant allowing our K-3 students unlimited access to myON’s digital library. By the spring of this year, all students will be able to read digital books 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We want to share how our district's implemented myON and the success in reading engagement we’ve seen so far as a result.


First things first


After selecting myON, an inventory of the available technology in our schools was taken. After gathering this information, our next steps included properly allocating funds to fill in the technology gaps across the district. The district provided one or two laptop carts, containing 30 laptops per cart, to many of the schools in need. These additional laptops, coupled with the original devices, made it possible for most students to have access to myON whenever needed.


Prior to rolling the product out to schools, administrators were given professional development around how to use the product. We realized that principal buy-in would be critical to the success of this project and we got it. Many of the principals felt that because the digital library allowed students to progress independently, myON would help to further teachers’ efforts to differentiate instruction. The literacy director also provided data and research about how the product would support teachers rather than supplant their current curricular materials.


It was critical to the district that teachers not view the implementation of myON as yet another program adding to their already full plates. Teachers were told that after students took their initial placement test, they would be able to log on to myON independently and that children had the capability to monitor their own progress using age-appropriate tools.


After providing professional development to school administrators and central office staff, professional development was set up for teachers across content areas. Teachers who attended these sessions often became their school’s contact person and were equipped to answer many of their colleagues’ questions. Online support was made available through central office technology and the literacy staff, as well as myON representatives.


Celebrating Success


Although myON is still new our district, since adopting the platform, the district has seen the number of books being accessed and read by our students increase dramatically. An early snapshot of K-3 students indicated that students had read more than 67,000 books and logged more than 13,500 hours of reading during the first three months of implementation. I have personally spoken to children who have mentioned, without being prompted, that they love the digital library and having ready access to books.


To generate even more excitement about myON, during the Christmas holiday, a reading contest was conducted. During that period of time, two students (both boys incidentally), read the most books of all children who had access to myON: a whopping 72 combined hours. These two students were awarded prizes and one student, along with his family, was introduced to the company’s president when he visited his school. To the district’s delight, a local news outlet featured the positive story. Students enthusiasm for reading--even over a long break--is a testament to myON’s power.


The district’s teachers, across content areas, have also been overwhelming positive about myON. When myON was first introduced, teachers were told that the district purchased the product primarily to help students read more and to develop students who were enthusiastic about reading. Teachers were assured that despite being able to generate multiple reports through the program, their role in tracking this data would be minimal. After all, the district’s goal was to allow students the opportunity to enjoy self-selected reading, and that is something teachers agree is happening more and more. 


Deborah L. Winston, Ph.D. has been an educator for more than thirty years. She currently serves as of Deputy Executive Director of the Office of Literacy for the Detroit Public Schools Community District.


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