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Educators embrace digital literacy platform

In his 18 years of teaching, second-grade teacher Rick Mace (pictured) has seen a few educational trends come and go.

But an online literacy platform called myOn® has pushed his students into happily reading thousands of books in class and at home, and has increased their reading proficiency at the same time.

“It blew me away,” said Mace, who first started myOn® last fall at Cherry Road Elementary School in the Westhill Central School District. “I started to realize it was like having a gold mine.”

Mace shared his experience Dec. 13 with about 30 teachers, school media specialists and administrators who attended an all-day workshop in Liverpool at the Main Campus of the Onondaga-Cortland-Madison Board of Educational Services (OCM BOCES).

The OCM BOCES School Library Systems have partnered with Capstone Publishing, Inc., to provide its myOn® digital reader to educators in 23 districts across Central New York. Educators who attended the Dec. 13 workshop will be able to use the product for free through the end of the school year.

Mace began the program last fall, encouraging his second-graders to log in, find books that suited their interests and challenge themselves to gradually read at higher levels. The system is personalized, which means students find books about their favorite topics, add to their favorites, offer reviews, monitor the growth of their reading level and continuously find new books to read on any digital device: phone, tablet, laptop or desktop.

At the workshop, myOn® presenter Laura Healy called it “Netflix for books.” In Mace’s class, each student read 128-593 books between November and June, with notable increases in their overall reading level.

“This could be a real game-changer,” Mace told his colleagues. “I think it’s an amazing tool, and I’ve never seen anything like it before.”

Educators who attended the workshop said they liked the idea of students being able to find books on topics they like, which often gets them reading in the first place. They also liked the note-making tools and the audio narration function, which has a natural – not robotic - voice. A few noted the excitement of having an entire classroom “set” of books online, rather than having students share a few books or ordering them through their school library and lugging them around.

Others, though, worried about how many children would have access to computers, or if the 5,500-plus core collection has enough titles to choose from. Capstone says it adds 75-100 books per month and offers other private collections for an additional fee.

“I’m very excited,” said Colleen Woodworth, a K-6 reading specialist at Grimshaw Elementary School in LaFayette. “It would be really easy for me to incorporate this into our daily schedule.”
The OCM BOCES School Library Systems began the myOn® digital library pilot program in May and, because of its success over the summer, decided to extend the program into the school year so students and teachers could use it in their classrooms and determine if it is worth a long-term investment. Over the course of the summer, nearly 46,000 books were opened and more than 23,500 books were completed by Central New York students from 53 different schools.
OCM BOCES School Library System Coordinator Doreen Bergman said she is excited to continue the program.

“The summer program was focused on reading for fun, and we are now we want to show teachers how easy it is to use and how they can use it for any type of curriculum or instruction in the classroom,” she said. “We all know that reading online is the wave of the future, so anything we can do to make that experience exciting for students, teachers and parents is worth looking into.”

Scenes from the OCM BOCES workshop: