New Tools for Personalizing Literacy

Creating collaborative, creative learning spaces through myON's interactive online platform
By: | Issue: September, 2014
January 16, 2015

Students today are innately comfortable with digital tools, and one way to enable personalized literacy instruction is through these tools. Close-reading techniques, student-submitted writing responses to book-specific prompts and other practices are made possible through a new digital platform. This web seminar, originally broadcast on May 28, 2014, featured an innovative superintendent who implemented this platform in her district to foster a more personalized learning environment, as well as the president of myON, who described the solution in more detail.

Lisa Snyder
Lakeville Area (Minn.) Public Schools

Our children will experience a very different world with very different expectations than we experienced. As educators, I believe it’s our obligation to prepare them to be successful for what their future is, not for what ours was. We can’t do that by hanging onto old methodology or outdated approaches that no longer engage or motivate our students, let alone prepare them to be ready for college, or a career, or just to live in a globally connected world. In the 19th century, the education system was disrupted by a radical shift from supporting the family-production economyÑ i.e., farming or servicesÑ to a manufacturing and industrial-based economy.

As the industrial age dawned, the view of the role of public schools simply changed. A new strategy was born. They leveraged the technology of the times, which was motorized school buses that could make longer-distance travel possible. One-room schoolhouses were soon abandoned in favor of buildings of multiple classrooms organized by grade levels. Schools were then expected to produce students ready not to go to the farm or to help with the family business, but to be ready to work in factories, to be ready to produce, organize and duplicate products or services. But we’re not in an industrial economy anymore. We now find ourselves in a global informational economy.

Our disruptive technology is online learning and digital tools. It is once again time to reinvent our schools by embracing these tools and by aligning our education to meet the economy’s needs. We need to provide opportunities for students to stretch their creative muscles, and we need them to work collaboratively with people of diverse backgrounds around the globe. Memorizing facts, sharpening pencils, writing in cursive, sitting in rows, listening to a teacher’s lecture are all rapidly disappearing from our nation’s classrooms. They are quickly being replaced by digital tools and content, collaborative project-based learning, and flexible learning pathways facilitated by master teachers. Students now check their grades online, upload their homework, learn a new concept or skill on YouTube, seek help from friends through social media, and follow their teacher’s tweets. As much as we may struggle as adults to keep up with the ever-changing digital tools, apps and devices, our children find them intuitive and easy to use. If a child is seven, they have never experienced a world without an iPhone; if 10, they’ve never experienced a day without a social network. To have the tools they love to use at home come to school excites and engages them.

At home they may use them for gaming, watching music videos and chatting, while at school they can leverage these same tools for learning, reading, collaborating and creating. Digital tools and resources are helping teachers teach 21st century skills, as well as creating ways to personalize the learning. This is a dream come true for educators who struggled for a long time to meet the needs of every learner in their classroom. We have many personalized learning options, including the use of our myON digital library. We believe this will unleash our student passion and motivation, and we already see higher levels of engagement. We have done a tremendous amount of professional development around innovation and how to build an innovative culture, because unless you embrace that, which is really not the traditional culture in public education, you will not be able to make these transformations. Allowing teachers to take risksÑas long as they’ll take the data and study the results and make in-course changes if they need toÑis really essential. What will the future hold? What is the vision of public education? I think the exciting thing for us in this digital transformation is that we get to create it. We are at an exciting crossroads in education.

Todd Brekhus

The idea behind myON is: How do we personalize the literacy experience for every child, every classroom, every school and every district? Personalization is about finding every learner’s key interest in reading and literacy. In order to do personalization, we obviously have to engage the individual learner. All myON users have access to over 7,000 digital books from more than 50 publishers. In order to personalize, you can’t be restricted on access. And this can’t be a small point when we are thinking about digital libraries of the future, digital classrooms of the future and digital book libraries in the homes of the future. If children are restricted to two checkout books when they come down to the library, or if they are restricted to the bins of books in the classrooms or only those 20-30 books that might live on the bookshelves of their home, it’s not enough.

So we have busted that model of thinking. The access is unlimited. The access is unbound. Every child has access to myON anytime, anywhere. The next thing to happen is the collaboration that develops between student and student, between student and parent and between student and teacher. In myON we have been able to create a platform of measuring reading that no one else can do right now. We’re adding time, we’re adding elements of choice, we’re adding the elements of connecting to the right type of book at the right time. We’re adding data elements about when books were opened, when they were finished, how they were rated, how they were reviewed. And then the district, the parent, the teacher and the student can see all of that access data.

Another key piece for myON has been about student engagement and comprehensionÑmaking sure that they are connecting to the content in their own way, and having students take ownership in rating and review. It’s not just about a quiz score. It’s about connecting to the content and having this measurement to see if their ability is growing. When we look at the future of reading and the online personalized environment, we want to move beyond just the aspect of a library or books. Think about the ideas and the opportunities for connecting to the next set of tools that might occur in a collaborative classroom. Imagine a book that has a layer that is personalized to each student.; it’s hard to get this in a print book because you don’t want to have kids highlight and mark up every book, which can be very expensive and quite complicated. So we are adding a new Literacy Toolkit which will include adding sticky notes, the ability to create shapes, highlighting capabilities, and a reading journal so that students can read and organize in a way that connects the collaborative tools.

What is important about myON is more than just its library of content. It’s more than just the assessment and the measurement. It’s about what takes place between the child, the classroom and the teacher, and that the student becomes a deeper reader because he or she has the tools to do so.

To watch this web seminar in its entirety, please go to

Interested in edtech? Keep up with DA's Future of Education Technology Conference®.