District Administration | June 2017
From an interview with Todd Brekhus, President of myON
A systemic, schoolwide approach to social-emotional learning can help reach every child.
What was the reasoning behind wanting to link current events to reading literacy for K8 students?
The main reason is that we saw a gap in the current products on the market that are addressing news. We felt that some of the products that are out there for elementary and middle school students were more like aggregated articles written for adults and not with the sensitivities of writing for a school-age audience. There are really some challenges with sensitivity in the classroom when you’re reporting on a terror attack in London or the situation in Syria.
How does your news program work?
myON News Powered by News-O-Matic provides five articles per day written for students at three different levels 52 weeks per year. Every article is read and reviewed by child psychologists. Every article is written with kids in mind. I think for the first time we can really provide a very easy way to join news literacy and English language arts, social studies and sciences all together in a daily model with links to real books published by reputable partners around the world. Every article is also linked to real nonfiction and fiction books. This way students can dive deeper into subject matters that interest them or assigned by their teachers.
How important is it to have the human element with myON News Powered by News-O-Matic as opposed to an algorithm or aggregation?
Huge. One example is the London terror attack on Westminster Bridge earlier this year. The headline from one of competitors read, “Terror attack in London. Five killed.” Our headline was, “Attack in London. Police are helping people.” That helps put a child’s mind at ease. It’s not going to change the event or recast it into a lie. It’s just written for the intended audience.
Are K8 students getting a good balance between fiction and nonfiction?
Fiction is still a really important aspect for creativity, voice, storytelling, connection and meaning. I think a lot of third- and fourth-grade classrooms are missing the element of nonfiction though. Our libraries and our classrooms have not been filled with a balanced mix of content that all ages, all demographics and all cultural backgrounds find engaging and interesting. The first point is finding content that’s personal for students. That’s the power of news. The second point is on the academic side, connecting to writers and creating critical thinkers. It’s about reading closely and connecting ideas, making those inferences and connections and then applying them.
Talk about the importance of developing readers using an integrated platform that engages students where they most consume content.
I was speaking to superintendents recently. I said, “What do you really want to measure when it comes to reading and literacy?” Superintendents wanted to assure their students that it wasn’t just about passing standardized tests. It’s one of the challenges in schools today with data and information. We want to continue to build our platform. Our aim is to build the tools that are super simple and easy to use and provide rich real-time data for not only the teacher but also the student.