Support your brain by supporting small press literature

As Summer, sadly, draws to an end, the thought of finishing those last books on your Summer reading list may be hard to manage—the malaise of heat only matched by the languor of picking up another tomme published by one of those big publishing houses. It has become commonplace for the “big books” of summer to emerge from the gargantuan publishers with books as meandering as when Dickens was paid by installment (though let’s not be so trite as to call these books Dickensian). These are, indeed, great books, but they are based on a model where the author gets paid a substantial advance for a book that seems to necessitate a weight equal to the gold paid. And, some might say, these books all seem a bit familiar, a bit safe, and a bit expected. Yet, as reported by The Atlantic in the age of the 7-figure book deals, small presses are providing great literature often noted for their beauty, brevity, and creativity.

In non-fiction, Graywolf, based in Minneapolis, has published such books of essays as Leslie Jamison’s Empathy Exams or Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts. In poetry, Graywolf has published 3 Sections, Vijay Seshadri’s Pulitzer Prize winning book, and Citizen: An American Lyric, Claudia Rankine’s important and timely book on race in America (See how instructors have used Citizen in the classroom).

Other notable small presses—though there are many to explore—include Algonquin Books, based in Chapel Hill, NC, which published Julia Alvarez and first published Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie; Dorothy, based in St. Louis, which publishes authors who are women, and recently published such devastatingly beautiful books as Joanna Walsh’s Vertigo and Nell Zink’s Wallcreeper; Tin House Books, based in Portland, OR, which has sponsored great writers for decades in its magazine Tin House. So explore, and escape into those last days of Summer with a creative and thought provoking new book by one of these presses that helps keep contemporary literature alive.

Helping More Readers Read More

We’re always excited about anything that gets students reading more.  That’s why we were so pleased to see this recent write-up, in Publishers Weekly, reporting that Capstone Digital now has over 700,000 students reading through myOn.  MyOn provides students with access to thousands of digital titles targeted to their own individual reading level (based on their Lexile measure) and interest.  Best of all, because myOn has embedded an assessment into the reading experience, students are continually provided new titles as their reading level grows.  And because myOn is available online, students are assured always-on access; meaning they are not limited to reading only while on campus.  And interest continues to grow:

Since its launch, myOn has helped increase the circulation of digital titles. In communities like Charleston, S.C., which has adopted the platform, the library circulation for digital books was more than 30 times that for print books. Said Brekhus, “Making the books accessible anytime, anywhere allowed children to read more books digitally than they had access to in print.”

Congratulations to Capstone on achieving so much in such a short period of time.  We’re proud to partner with an organization so dedicated to getting more students reading everywhere.

Pushing Through to the Top

Interesting take over at Scholastic Math Hub on what the common core portends for the publishing world.  Hung-Hsi Wu, a math professor at UC-Berkeley, has argued that the common core offers a unique opportunity to publishers – the opportunity to recreate far more effective mathematics textbooks, textbooks which capture which capture the depth and richness of the new standards.  Specifically, Wu is hoping for textbooks that capture the inter-relatedness of all math content:

Preparing to teach proper school mathematics is not about learning a craft, but, rather, a discipline that is cognitively complex and hierarchical.  Each topic, no matter how basic, is essential to some future topic.

Wu’s right.  And the interconnectedness of each strand is well illustrated by the Quantile Framework, which not only places student and task difficulty on the same scale, but also provides the prerequisite skills for each and every math skill and concept.  We share Wu’s hope that the common core will provide the impetus for richer and more comprehensive math textbooks.

Year Round Learning: the Freedom of Digital Access

We’ve mentioned the proliferation of e-books in the marketplace and the profound impact they are already having in the sphere of education.  Recently, the School Library Journal also made note of this trend, and explored its implications in schools and libraries across the nation. As SLJ reported, “…a majority of elementary school librarians said they either will (18 percent) or may (46 percent) purchase ebooks in the next two years.”  This shift could bring significant changes to the way students and parents access the resources their school provides. 

Checking out books from the school library will start to take on a new meaning as more teachers and parents insist on 24/7 access in school and at home.  Instead of waiting for library day at school, students can log in at any time…and browse digital bookshelves.  In some media centers, children may be able to borrow Nooks and iPads to take home.

And digital libraries would be free of the constraints of the traditional school year calendar.  We’ve long been proponentsof increasing students’ access to books, particularly during the summer months.  Unlike a conventional library system, access to ebooks provides students with the resources of their school’s library year-round, and at the touch of a button.

SLJ also points to “states and school districts [that] are starting to make deals with ebook companies to provide yearly subscriptions to thousands of students at a time.”  As most states face dramatic budget cuts, such deals may make increases in book selections possible for school libraries that could not otherwise afford to expand their collections. 

As we pointed out, Capstone Digital launched its myOn readerearlier this year with great success.  This personalized reading platform provides access to thousands of ebooks and incorporates the power of the Lexile Framework for Reading – not only providing students always-on digital access, but allowing them to read targeted text within their area of interest.

Publishers, like Capstone Digital, and many others, are making great strides in ensuring that students have access to books year round.  Digital access means that students across the socio-economic spectrum are free from the constraints of calendar and location and have the ability to keep reading and learning all year long.

Barnes & Noble Kicks Off the Annual Summer Reading Program

Last month Barnes and Noble announced the start of their 15th Annual Summer Reading Program.  “The free Summer Reading Program kick[ed] off in Barnes & Noble stores across the country May 24th and continues through September 6th…Children in grades 1-6 can earn a free book just by reading eight books and turning in a completed journal sheet.”  Barnes & Noble hopes this reading program will keep kids motivated to read during the summer months.

We’ve often discussed the importance of reading throughout the summer to avoid the dreaded summer slide. While all summer reading programs are to be commended, Barnes and Noble’s program will enable students to select a reading list that will incorporate targeted reading at their level. By using Barnes and Nobel’s Lexile Reading Level Wizard which estimates a student’s Lexile measure and generates a book list based on their selected interests and reading level.  Students can then select eight books from this reading list, download a journal from Barnes and Noble, and begin their summer reading adventure with books that offer just the right amount of challenge. 

Be sure to take a look.

E-books Take Root

Here’s more evidence that e-books along with their augmented cousins – books with audio and visual and animated support – are here to stay:

Book titles reached 945,026 in May 2011, increasing by 47,000 over April 2011 (5 percent month-over-month increase) and by more than 740,000 since Kindle’s first anniversary.

eBooks with embedded audio and video clips increased by 290 in May 2011 (their 11th month in Kindle Store) and their number reached 600. Magazine titles increased by 8 to 94 while newspaper titles increased by 3 and reached 167. U.S. newspapers’ count was at 81 and international at 86.

Publishers are responding as well.  Capstone Digital’s myOn Reader program, which allows students to read targeted texts on topics of their choice, was recently released to much fanfare.  One thing seems clear: the market has made its preference clear and the publishing industry will look very different just five years from now.

Bookish: Personalizing Reading

Publisher’s Weekly announced today that Bookish, a new digital-platform for readers, will launch this summer. Like many user-driven sites, Bookish is built around collaborative filtering and will offer book recommendations to users through their profile preferences. This is very similar to sites like Pandora or Netflix, which offer suggestions based on the user’s experiences and personal preferences. Backed by large publishing names such as Simon & Schuster and Penguin Group, Bookish will be editorially independent and offer readers suggestions from all publishing houses.

“The more information readers provide the more customized the recommendations can be,” Penguin Group CEO, David Shanks said, noting that Bookish is aimed at helping readers identify books they may like from the tens of thousands published annually.

Users will be able to purchase books in print and digital formats through the site.

As we approach the end of the school year and the onset of summer, it is always encouraging to learn of new technologies that support reading. Be sure to visit our own book site, Find a Book, to create your personalized summer reading list!

Lexile Measures Added to Saddleback’s Hi-Lo Books

Saddleback Educational Publishing has joined the growing list of publishers who offer Lexile measures for their books. By adding Lexile measures to their award-winning hi-lo titles, Saddleback is helping students at lower readiness levels enjoy reading by targeting their interests and school assignments to books at the right level.

According to Tim McHugh, Saddleback’s vice president of sales and marketing, “We strive to provide educators with the finest quality curriculum materials. The addition of Lexile measures to our hi-lo books offers educators valuable information for matching students with resources that will best support positive reading experiences and the development of important comprehension skills.”

Saddleback publishes some of the most popular hi-lo books for struggling readers, including the “21st Century Life Skills” and “Urban Underground” series. Those titles that have been assigned Lexile measures are now available in the free “Find a Book” search utility, which allows readers of all ages to build custom book lists based on their interests and ability level.

Series Dominate Book Sales

In recent publishing news, Publisher’s Weekly released some recent stats regarding last year’s children’s book market. It seems that 2010 was your year if you were an author with an enticing series.  Publisher’s Weekly states, “Eighteen books for children and teens sold more than a million copies last year: all of them were from authors of big franchises…” This includes the fifth installment of Diary of a Wimpy Kid, The Ugly Truth (1000L, series 910L-1010L). Another popular author, Stephenie Meyer made the list with her novella, The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner (680L, Meyer titles 640-720L). Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games trilogy pulled in sales from all angles last year. Her third installment, Mockingjay (800L), series 800L-820L) was released in hardback simultaneously with the audiobook. The e-book version was released six days prior to the print release and topped sales in that category as well.

Publisher’s Weekly also collected e-book sales figures for the first time in 2010. The major series also ruled this arena and pulled in the biggest sales figures – an indicator that the population of e-book readers has started to expand from adults to a younger generation of readers.

Check out our Find-A-Book website to locate these popular titles and other series for your own students.

Washington Moves Toward Digital Texts

We’ve written at length about the shift from print to digital media in higher education. Many universities are now seeking ways to ease the financial burden of higher education for its students. One route that Washington State has opted to take is to offer more online classes with online resource material. According to this report in The Chronicle of Higher Education, Washington state’s current textbook bill is financed through the state legislature, which has been facing financial hardships. The state currently has a half million students taking courses at their 34 two-year colleges. The idea was to create very accessible and affordable resources for students through online portals. The savings alone made the idea a winner. “We believe we can change the cost of attending higher education in this country and in the world,” says Cable Green, director of e-learning and open education at the Washington Board for Community & Technical Colleges.

The state received a matching grant of $750,000 from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to help begin development on low-cost online resources for the two-year colleges. The state is taking an ambitious approach to providing affordable education to their students, regardless of the obstacles they may encounter along the way. This is probably just a glimpse at what could be a revolutionary approach towards the future of higher learning.  If students are already receiving their texts digitally, it’s easy to imagine younger students receiving individualized texts targeted to their own reading level.  Personalized learning systems offer a world of possibilities to the world of education.  The wide availability of digital texts bring those possibilities that much closer to reality.

MetaMetrics is an educational measurement organization. Our renowned psychometric team develops scientific measures of student achievement that link assessment with targeted instruction to improve learning.