A Publisher’s View on the Changing Instructional Materials Landscape

An interview with Anne Schreiber, Senior VP of Learning Strategies, Renaissance Learning

  1. Describe the mission of Renaissance Learning.

Renaissance Learning strives to accelerate learning for all, and the “how” is just as important to us. Our efforts have always focused on innovating to put the best data and tools in the hands of teachers, because teachers truly are the key to improving schools. Our products must work in the classroom, and ultimately—regardless of everything else they do to support instruction—they must also save teachers time. It’s a challenging set of principles to stick to, especially in times of such sweeping change in education, but this guidepost has served us well since our inception 29 years ago.

  1. How do you think the Common Core State Standards have altered what purchasers are looking for in terms of ELA/literacy instructional materials? Are they looking for different qualities than they did pre-Common Core? What’s stayed the same and what’s changed?

The Shifts that have come with Common Core have necessitated shifts in what we provide to the educators who use our programs. In literacy, educators want more help with effective use of content-rich nonfiction text to build background knowledge; regular practice with complex texts and academic language; and reading, writing, and speaking grounded in evidence from text.

While educators are looking for help with the Common Core Shifts, they need to continue to look for products that deliver on things that haven’t changed. For example, in the area of reading, the zeal around text complexity and text-dependent questions as major “shifts” of Common Core has had an unintended consequence: the importance of independent reading—also clearly in the Standards—is too often overlooked. As has always been the case; volume of reading matters; student choice matters; personalized student goals matter; helping kids find joy in reading matters, and practice matters. And, while all skills related to reading are important, comprehension matters most. At Renaissance, we’ve continued to keep these drivers at the forefront of our reading products while we work to innovate and give teachers tools to help students grow.

  1. In response to the implementation of the Common Core, you’ve begun creating text sets to facilitate literacy instruction. How would you describe text sets?

At Renaissance we’re defining text sets as collections of authentic reading materials, connected by topic and consisting of a range of text complexity levels. We are excited to introduce text sets into Accelerated Reader 360. Our text sets consist of between 3 and 12 titles per collection, depending on the format, with a range of reading levels spanning a specific grade band. Though the text sets are mostly comprised of articles, text formats vary based on article style, length, and narrative approach. They also vary by the visual information they include, such as maps, charts and diagrams, and other visual imagery. Down the line we will be introducing other text set formats. One format will consist of a popular Accelerated Reader fiction book title paired with several nonfiction articles.

Currently, we are creating text sets based on topics students find particularly compelling (e.g., money matters, technology innovation) or event-driven topics (e.g., Black History Month, Earth Day). Before long, these text sets, which are published each month, will be designated for a particular grade band (e.g., middle school) and will include a wide range of text levels within each grade band.

Teachers are able to integrate the Accelerated Reader 360 text sets—which include topics such as women’s history and celebrations—into their classroom curriculum. Not only do text sets help students build literacy skills as they gradually read more complex text with scaffolding supports, but these text sets also encourage students to develop key vocabulary and background knowledge about content-area topics.

  1. Why do you believe text sets are an effective structure for literacy instruction?

Text sets are part of an important strategy for building comprehension skills, as well as for teaching literacy in the content areas. The text sets we’ve already implemented in the product are among our most effective tools to encourage reading comprehension growth. Text sets help our readers to:

  • Read authentic text based on engaging topics
  • Engage deeply with an idea
  • Develop key domain-area vocabulary
  • Build comprehension skills while engaging in greater levels of complexity
  • Develop literacy skills based on reading across texts
  • Explore multiple genres and text types
  1. How can people access the text sets you create?

Our monthly text set collections can be found within Accelerated Reader 360 today on the home page. We will be adding our curriculum-based text sets and our fiction/nonfiction text sets in upcoming releases. Look for them next year.   To explore sample text sets and find training materials for developing your own, visit achievethecore.org.

  1. If you could give one piece of advice to fellow publishers/instructional materials developers to help them better meet the needs of the field, what would it be?

The conversation about implementing text sets is a great example of how we can combine all that we know about learning with the power of technology and teacher-focused design. In the end, this allows us to create materials that help all students experience growth and develop a love of learning. At Renaissance, we adhere to some basic principles of product design:

  • A focus on data. Information—from usage data and analytics to psychometric analysis to aggregated student assessment results—informs our products. And we share this data with our educators so they can make informed instructional decisions based on the data we provide.
  • Ease of use. Teachers have little time and even less patience to use products that are unnecessarily complex, are difficult to use, do not fulfill their promises, or do not solve important problems. Considerate product design focused on meeting teachers’ primary needs is always our goal.
  • Engagement and motivation. Our independent reading and reading practice products focus on motivating students with high interest, compelling, and fun content that sparks their interest in reading, in learning, and in the world. We also encourage students to “own” their learning by enabling them to set goals and select their own reading content.
  • Support for differentiation. Most US classrooms have a wide range of student growth and proficiency levels. We believe in providing teachers with information and resources to enable them to make informed instructional decisions around differentiation. At the same time, we offer leveled resources that will help scaffold students to proficiency.
  • Iterative development. Our product deployment processes are based on getting products out to the market quickly and to continuously iterate on product design. This type of development enables us to solve urgent problems for schools while also getting direct market feedback to inform the next product iteration.
  • Teacher focus. Most important is a singular focus on teachers, who, through their input and insights, help us create the products that will develop growth and success for all students.

 

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About the Author: Anne works on content strategy at Renaissance Learning. She has over 20 years of experience in educational technology, as a publisher, product designer, and educator. Anne led content, product, and instructional design efforts for organizations including Scholastic, McGraw-Hill, Common Sense Media, Curriki, and Channel One News. She has worked on award-winning products in reading, science, intervention, assessment, and professional development and is the author of several books for young readers.