Celebrate Children’s Books Award Winners

Amazon recently announced the major literary award winners in Children’s literature. Here at MetaMetrics, we had the pleasure of seeing each of these titles as they were all submitted for Lexile measurement. These titles were selected and used as part of Scholastic’s Reading Counts! Program, which has been utilizing Lexile measures for several years. Reading Counts!is a Lexile-based independent program that tracks a student’s success on titles they read, in and out of the classroom. We are proud to be the de facto standard when it comes to such a well-known and widely-used reading program.

Scholastic selects these titles well before they are award-winners and incorporates them into the various levels of their program. Caldecott Winners such as A Sick Day for Amos McGee (AD760L), Interrupting Chicken (AD300L) and Dave the Potter (AD1100L-also a 2011 Coretta Scott King Award winner) were all included in the SRC! initiative. Moon Over Manifest(800L) was the Newberry Award winner which is presented annually by the American Library Association to the author of the year’s most distinguished contribution to American literature for children. Congratulations to all the winners! Celebrate their achievement by checking out these wonderful titles on our Find-A-Book website.

School Library Journal Offers Insight into the Future of Reading

The School Library Journal recently hosted their sixth annual Leadership Summit – 2010 The Future of Reading.  This year’s theme – exploring the ‘changing face of reading’ –  focused on a variety of topics, including how e-readers and digital texts are altering the way consumers access and digest information, the wide availability of content, and the role librarians play in the face of these rapid advances. 

One of our own partners, and a sponsor of the conference, Capstone Digital was present and discussed their own contribution to personalized learning platforms and its utilization of The Lexile Framework for Reading:

Meanwhile, Todd Brekhus, president of Capstone Digital, talked about establishing an online, personalized reading environment. He was joined by Barbara Rooks, formerly of Florida’s Hillsborough Public Schools, and Marlene Simmons of the Chicago Public Schools. The panelists presented a new digital reading model that engages students in their interests, establishes their reading level using the Lexile framework, allows for free choice in reading selection, and gives anytime, anywhere access to books. Discussion ranged from how a digital reading program could build student confidence to how librarians and educators could administer personalized reading plans.

The School Library Journal offers a more indepth summary here.  From the summary, it appears the conference touched on a wide range of relevant and pressing topics – everything from the use of multimedia and the use of animated and graphic texts in the classroom to reach reluctant readers, to leveraging social networks and mobility to expand readership, and even the need for a more robust definition and assessment of Internet literacy.  Be sure to take a look. 

It’s also worth mentioning that the School Library Journal is a great source for information on the world of publishing, new books, digital media, and the role of media in education.  In fact, we’ve added them to our list of sources on the right hand side of this blog.  If you’re not already reading, be sure to add SLJ to your list of bookmarks.

Augmented Texts:The Future of Digital Texts

Which do you prefer, the look and feel of the paper and print book, or have you already grown accustomed to the e-book?  If e-books are your preferred medium, you may have already run across the next advance in e-book technology.  Here’s the Wall Street Journal on experiencing ‘augmented digital texts’, that is, interactive electronic books and articles.    

The increasing popularity of e-readers has resulted in a rise in the number of active readers; and ease of access has many readers reporting reading more than they did just five years ago.  Electronic versions of text, however, are cheaper than paper and print versions and the rising popularity of e-books has proven a double-edged sword for publishers.  On the one hand, publishers are experiencing a wave of new readers and an uptick in the volume of sales.  On the other hand, the adjusted pricing model means that, for many publishers, an increase in digital sales actually means less revenue.  Publishers are struggling to create value in ways that make up that lost revenue.  One such possibility is to offer readers enhanced versions of electronic texts. And publishers are now experimenting with just how much consumers are willing to pay for additional, interactive content.  In addition to the prescribed texts, enhanced versions of popular books might, for example, offer audio and video support. 

Enhanced versions may be catching on: there were more than 4 million copies of Jane Leavy’s biography of Mickey Mantle, “The Last Boy: Mickey Mantle and the End of America’s Childhood,” sold.  The music industry offers an analog here.  The music industry has been producing enhanced CDs, or CD Plus, since 1998 and while there isn’t always a difference in cost between the ECD and the standard CD, the ECDs have proven much more popular:

“This is a period of testing,” said David Steinberger, Perseus’s CEO. “We know the audiences for the two products are different. How do you craft the right level of video? What is the right release schedule? If you assume this is closely analogous to what we have today in the market marketplace with hardcovers and paperbacks, chances are that you’ll miss some good opportunities.”

The ubiquity of e-readers and digital texts has presented educators with a fresh set of challenges as well.  Many classroom educators are struggling to integrate these valuable technologies into the classroom in ways that are neither disruptive nor irrelevant.  And many publishing and educational companies are working to do just that – to integrate new technologies with relevant content presented through a variety of mediums.  Inanimate Alice, for instance, offers a good example of the look and feel of augmented text and demonstrates the way that a wide variety of information can be incorporated into an interactive text.  This enhanced e-book takes you through the story of Alice and her imaginary digital friend, Brad. The four episodes offer progressive levels of interactivity, with the first episode offering minimal interaction, but increasing to a high level by the end of episode four.  The progressive level of Inanimate Alice makes it appealing to a wide range of ages and viewers. ‘Inanimate Alice,’ augments traditional storytelling through the use of images, sounds, text, and interaction and allows students to develop multiple literacies (literary, cinematic, artistic, etc.) in combination with the highly collaborative and participatory nature of the online environment.

Consumers of digital media, including students, stand to benefit immensely from the emergence and refinement of enhanced texts.  It’s a trend worth watching.  And we look forward to seeing how these new augmented texts are put to use in classrooms across the country

A Daily Newspaper for the Digital Age

The proliferation of e-readers and digital reading devices has permanently altered the way we access content.  With so much material readily available, consumers have come to expect that much of that content will be free.  Much has already been written on what that expectation has wrought and the way that ‘free content’ has upended the publishing and news industries.  The newspaper industry, for example, has been particularly hard hit by the abundance of freely available content; and most consumers now expect much of their mainstream news to be free of charge.  As a result, subscription sales have dropped, advertisers are no longer paying premium prices for ad space, and many century old papers have shuttered their doors. 

That havoc, however, may be short-lived and may just signal an industry in flux.  Publishers are looking outside the industry for ways to remain both relevant and profitable.  Apple’s iPad, for example, has demonstrated that consumers are willing to pay for good content – even in digital form.  As the New York Times reports, News Corp is teaming with Apple to create The Daily, an iPad-centered newspaper. The Daily will offer an app-like news atmosphere of rich media and photography built specifically around the iPad experience.  News Corp. is hoping that by changing the way they deliver content, they can resurrect the idea of a profitable daily newspaper:

With The Daily, the News Corporations can enter the digital newsstand business in earnest with a new product that was never free on the Web and in a format for which payments are easily made. When I am on a Web browser and I bump into a pay-wall, I reflexively pull back unless it is in front of something I really must have. But when I’m in the App Store on an iPad, I’m already in a commercial environment: pushing the button to spend small money on something I’d like to see or play with doesn’t seem like such a sucker’s bet.

News Corp.’s newest venture blends old practices with new delivery methods. They will still employ a news team operating behind the scenes and the news will be produced in the evening, much like a standard newspaper.  But the latest edition will be delivered the next morning – in a format specifically developed for the iPad – at the push of a button. 

This is a promising development for the news industry.  The Daily goes live January 17th.

Coming Soon: Google Editions

Access to digital content is about to get even easier.  It appears that Google is set to soon launch its e-book division.  Google Editions offers an alternative to the existing e-book market in that Google Editions is available through any internet-connected device.  Meaning, one needs only a web browser to access a Google Editions account, an account that does not rely on a specific device for access:

Google Editions hopes to upend the existing e-book market by offering an open, “read anywhere” model that is different from many competitors. Users will be able to buy books directly from Google or from multiple online retailers—including independent bookstores—and add them to an online library tied to a Google account. They will be able to access their Google accounts on most devices with a Web browser, including personal computers, smartphones and tablets.

This latest venture is especially welcome for small publishers and independent book sellers, many of which have been unable to afford entrance into the digital sphere.  For many, Google Editions may offer them a way to make their titles more widely available. 

More importantly, this is good news for readers everywhere.  In addition to the hundreds of thousands of titles Google is expected to make available for purchase, there are millions more that will be available for free.  Now all readers will be able to take advantage of digital content – regardless of whether they own an e-reader device or not.

Give the Gift of Reading

Just in time for the holidays, the International Reading Association has recently published their annual Teacher’s Choice list of new children’s books for 2010.  Teacher’s Choice selections are titles that students enjoy and that encourage children to read.  The list includes a number of popular titles – many of which can be found through Lexile Find a Book – including, Finding Lincoln (AD650L), Listen to the Wind (AD740L), Peace Week in Miss Fox’s Class (AD480L), Neo Leo (AD930L), and The Day of the Pelican (770L).  Be sure to take a look. You may even want to consider one of these titles as a gift for a young reader this holiday season.

The Latest in Digital Content News

Libraries around the country continue to struggle to meet the needs of patrons through the expanded use of technology.  That struggle just got a bit harder.  In recent news, many publishing houses are now placing restrictions on the lending of e-books to library patrons. In the past, we’ve commented on public libraries that are now offering e-book downloads to patrons using their library account.  Unfortunately, at a recent library conference, it was announced that major trade publishers have agreed to offer their e-book content for lending – but with restrictions. These restrictions limit the means by which patrons may access online content, in many cases requiring a patron to be on-site in order to download e-book material.  Additionally, availability is severely limited and some publishers are now requiring that only one copy may be checked out at a time. We’ve seen this before.  This type of enforcement is similar to the type of restrictions in place for music and movie sharing.

Not all publishers, however, are on board. Several will continue to provide access to their e-books without these types of controls. According to Springer-Verlag (an international publisher in science and technology):

“Libraries buy direct from us and they own the content,” says the publisher’s director of channel marketing George Scotti. “Once users download content, they can give it out, share, whatever. They own it. Some of our competitors are afraid to do this, but we say, free the content.”

That’s good to hear.  As the article states, library systems make up only about 4% of book sales.  It’s, therefore, unlikely that the lending of e-content would have a significant impact on the publishing industry.

In  related digital news, it was recently announced that U.S. News and World Report will discontinue its monthly print publication to move entirely to a digital model. The last print issue will publish in December. This is a major milestone.  U.S. News & World Report dates back to 1948.  The shift to all digital content signals major changes in the publishing industry – primarily in the dominant way in which we access and engage content.  It’s likely that other publications may soon follow suit- abandoning print altogether, and opting for a more flexible  and efficient digital model.

Beginning in 2011, readers can find the magazine electronically, on their iPad or Android-based devices – perhaps even lent to you in e-form through your local library.

Wall Street Journal Launches Book Review Section

Over the last few years, you may have noticed that the book review/publishing section of your favorite national newspaper has withered considerably, if not disappeared altogether.  Well good news for book lovers: The Wall Street Journal has launched a new pull-out book section.  The WSJ has never previously offered a publishing section, and it is already being compared to the book section of The New York Times.

This new publishing section is likely to continue as a work in progress, but as The New York observer reports:

The book review will be a pull-out section that will be inserted in one of the newly created sections for The Weekend Journal that will launch later this month. It is unclear how many pages will be dedicated to the new book review, but one source said it will be “significant,” though it’s uncertain if that means it will surpass The Times‘ usual 20-plus pages for its weekly Sunday Book Review, or if it will be in the same ballpark.

 Tough times for print media have already forced many major papers like The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, and L.A. Times to eliminate or scale down their book review/publishing section.  That’s why it’s so good to see a major print outlet fight the trend by offering a section dedicated to the world of publishing and books.  Check out the online version here.

Do E-readers Inspire More Reading?

Last Wednesday’s The Wall Street Journal reported on the rise of e-readers and the fact that many Americans may be reading more because of these new technologies.  As the National Endowment for the Arts has reported, the last few years have seen a decline in the amount of time spent reading, particularly among Americans ages 18-24 who report reading zero books over the last year.  That’s why it is encouraging to see that out of 1,200 e-reader owners, 40% now read more than they did when they had access only to print material.  With Forrester Research estimating that 11 million Americans will own an e-reader by the end of September, we can infer that the percentage of Americans reading regularly will likely rise.  And Amazon reported that customers buy 3.3 times as many books after buying a Kindle.

But are we truly reading more?  It may not be quite that simple.  Are the statistics misleading, obscuring the fact that people may buy these gadgets and impulsively buy a number of e-books in the excitement of trying out their new toy? Did they initially buy the e-reader simply because it was the hottest new technology out there? Even On Our Minds blogger, Ivy Li reported that while she was an early adopter of e-readers, and has since constantly filled her spare time with reading, she isn’t reading more and certainly not as well!  Though the portability of the e-book devices is certainly attractive, reading in short spurts may prove difficult for total immersion in certain texts. She admits she ‘book-hops’ and gets caught up in the millions of books available for her to buy.

It’s too soon to tell what long-term impact e-readers will have on our overall reading habits.  Consumers appear to have a strong desire for digitized content, whatever the delivery device.  It’s our hope that Americans continue to read in increasing numbers – whether through electronic devices or in print.

Reading Between the Lines

Incoming freshman have already been warned of the long lines they’ll likely face as college students – lines for dorm showers, lines in the cafeteria, lines for athletic event tickets, even lines for the relative quiet of the library’s study rooms.  One line they may no longer have to stand in is the line for purchasing textbooks.  Breaking from the traditional pattern of purchasing textbooks from the campus bookstore at the beginning of the semester and then selling them all back a few months later, many students are finding new options.  Whether checking out textbooks from library reserves, purchasing used books from other students via the internet, purchasing online textbooks for a fraction of their traditional costs, or even using open-source texts, students are finding creative and cost-effective ways to obtain the course content they need.

As Eric Gorski of the Associated Press explains:

Like the music and media businesses, the textbook industry has been revolutionized by the Internet.  Although used books have long been an option for students, the Web opened up a world of bargain hunting beyond the campus bookstore.

A robust online marketplace of used books and recent inroads by textbook rental programs give students more options than ever.  The prospect of digital books and slow-but-steady growth in free online ‘open’ content loom as developments that could upend the textbook landscape and alleviate the perennial problem of rising prices.

As we’ve mentioned before, e-readers have been growing both in number and usage.   That ubiquity has not gone unnoticed. Many publishers have already begun the work of making e-content more widely available; and a number of retailers have developed business models around the idea that students may no longer be satisfied purchasing the materials they need from one expensive retailer.  Companies such as Chegg, BookRenter, CollegeBookRenter, and textbook publisher Cengage Learning, to name just a few, have all taken notice of this trend and are now renting textbooks directly to students.  Other companies have gone a step further and ventured into the open-source textbook market. (more…)

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.