Changing the way kids read — and how teachers create, share and teach.
INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero
After spending the decade before founding Curriculet as the founder and principal of two KIPP schools, there were two major problems Jason Singer wanted to solve. “First and foremost, I want students to spend their school-age years falling in love with reading and making it a lifelong passion,” says Jason, but “In fact the opposite is true. By the time students graduate from high school roughly 20 percent of them read for pleasure. So much about Curriculet seeks to solve this problem,” he says of the digital reading platform. An interactive layer of curriculum along with an intuitive digital reading platform makes reading more engaging and convenient for students. Students get feedback as they read which keeps them engaged and persisting throughout the text. Rich media annotations create critical connections with other forms of media and give teachers the opportunity to jump out of the text and provide students ‘right-time’ instruction as they read. “We believe
We believe providing this richer more engaging experience will fundamentally revolutionize the reading lives of kids.
providing this richer more engaging experience will fundamentally revolutionize the reading lives of kids,” says Jason. “If we want students to fall deeply in love with reading, we have to make sure that teachers put books they will love into their hands.” Their new book purchase model gives schools the ability to buy texts for a 3-month period at a fraction of the price. “It makes it more likely that schools and teachers will choose to teach more contemporary and relevant literature they wouldn’t have taught before,” he says. “Books purchases are no longer bound for the book room. As an administrator, there were too many moments when I declined a teacher’s request to purchase and teach a great contemporary novel out of fear we would spend $1500 or more and see it languish in the book room. With our new short term purchase program, schools will spend $300 and be free to choose a different text the following year.”
Victor: What else can you tell me about its development history?
Jason: We began working on the vision and design of Curriculet while I was still a sitting principal. Curriculet was literally born in the trenches where real teachers and administrators were trying to drive student achievement and help kids fall in love with learning. I believe everything about this product reflects its origin story.
Victor: Anything else our readers would find interesting about your own background that informed your current approach?
Jason: Everything really. I am a lifetime educator and entrepreneur. If you believe in the 10,000 hour rule then you can appreciate that I bring tens of thousands of hours to bear on solving this problem.
As an English teacher I wrestled with all of the inadequacies of printed books: never being sure that students actually read them, watching struggling and reluctant readers fall into the quagmire of a difficult text that didn’t give them immediate feedback about their level of understanding, and failing to deliver data driven instruction because data about reading and levels of understanding was nearly impossible to come by.
As an administrator, there were countless moments in which I yearned for technology tools that would enrich more than just my Math classrooms. Above all else, we needed great tools to drive our literacy efforts. At the time, there was almost nothing in the market.
I should also add that as an administrator I watched teachers work incredibly hard and use every free minute to help their students. We passed on purchasing countless tools that did very little to actually drive instruction and a love of learning and required teachers to invest time they didn’t have.
For those reasons, we have kept Curriculet a remarkably simple and intuitive tool that replaces mundane tasks like photocopying, grading multiple-choice questions, and managing book inventories.
Victor: What’s your 60 second pitch to someone on what exactly it is, benefits?
Jason: Curriculet is an e-reading platform for schools that allows educators to put the questions, quizzes and annotations they would normally place in worksheets directly into the text. Any text, any content. Curriculet changes everything with real-time feedback and right-time instruction for students – and easy, instant and creative collaboration for teachers.
Victor: Do you have any direct or indirect competition?
Jason: In the narrow space of providing a digital reading platform we have several competitors: Subtext, Actively Learn, and Lightsail. That said, we stand alone in several very key areas.
We are the only digital reading platform through which schools can purchase books for 3, 6, and 12-month circulations at prices as low as $0.99 per text per student.
We are also the only platform teachers can use to create interactive layers of curriculum for any text and share them with each other over email and through social media. We strongly believe that the best curriculum published everyday is done so by teachers. Creating a platform through which they can share their amazing curriculum is an important investment in the talent and brain trust of teachers everywhere.
Victor: Any highlights about test marketing it or starting out; any interesting feedback or reaction to it?
Jason: Universally, teachers have loved the simple, elegant, and intuitive experience we provide through Curriculet. They immediately understand the power of curriculets and the promise they hold for changing how they teach reading and how they can improve the reading lives of their students.
The most intriguing response to the power of the platform has been the incredible work Summit Public Schools has done using Curriculet. Every SPS student reads on Curriculet 20 minutes a day, 4 days a week in addition to using for classes that range from English to History to Spanish. In the three months during which we piloted short-term book purchases of HarperCollins titles with them, they have purchased over 5500 books. That is stupendous.
Victor: What else can you say about the value and benefit of Curriculet?
Jason: Curriculet comes from people on the front lines and hits all the notes we have long desired in a digital literacy tool. Curriculet drives student engagement in reading while increasing their accountability. It makes it incredibly simple for teachers to create dynamic interactive learning experiences for their students. Curriculet saves teachers time by eliminating tasks that don’t drive student achievement and replacing them with tools and data that do.
Victor: Anything else in the works? Additional products, features, other angles?
Jason: There is much to do to make Curriculet an even better product. We are constantly working with teachers and students to improve it.
This Spring we will release our iOS and Android apps as well as our truly awesome Summer reading program. Readers should sign-up for an account and follow us on Twitter (@curriculet) and Facebook for updates and the release of new products and features.
Victor: Your thoughts on education in general these days?
Jason: This is an incredibly exciting time for education. More than ever before the potential to deliver amazing learning opportunities for students of all different learning styles, abilities, and backgrounds is greater than ever before.
Technology tools and platforms like Curriculet are making it possible for the best teachers in the country to produce and share their amazing curriculum with teachers everywhere on platforms that allow even beginning teachers to deliver that amazing curriculum with relative ease.
There are brilliant examples of impactful ed reform coming out of nearly every corner of the education landscape including charter and traditional public schools, teacher unions, and community agencies and programs.
Victor: Any guidance or advice to educators these days?
Jason: Look in the mirror each morning regardless of how challenging it was the day before and feel deeply proud. I think about Taylor Mali’s great poem “What teachers make?” nearly everyday. This is the hardest and in many ways most amazing work done in any given community on any given day. You are doing work that lifts up children. There is nothing more powerful than that.
Investing in your own excellence and sanity is required. The greatest challenge of our work together is that we are not making widgets. We are educating and raising up children. The many mistakes we make are born on the backs of children we deeply love which means we must invest ourselves constantly in the lifelong pursuit of being better at educating them.
We must also be at our best when we are with them which means we need to pursue rest and outlets that make us happy, relieve our stress, and keep us inspired.
Victor: Anything more you’d like to add or emphasize?
Jason: Just a deep heartfelt thank you to every educator reading this. At Curriculet, we have deep and abiding respect for everything you do and hope our tools and platform simply give you the opportunity to do it better and more easily.
Victor Rivero is the Editor in Chief of EdTech Digest. Write to: [email protected]