What happens when students develop a love of reading?
How Newsela closes the reading engagement gap to drive learning
Any teacher can tell you that students regularly tune out when reading at school. It’s no surprise — young people are used to having stimulating digital content at their fingertips outside of the classroom. The gap between how students engage with modern digital content and how they engage with text in school is called the reading engagement gap, and the effect of this gap is clear: students lose their desire to read.
At Newsela, our belief is that reading success can’t come from drill and kill practice that stifles interest and motivation. It comes from nurturing a love of reading and closing the reading engagement gap. This is why we designed the Newsela Instructional Content Platform from the ground up to drive reading engagement. Because when students are engaged and excited about the content they’re reading, amazing things happen.
Studies show that students need texts that reflect their personal experiences to remain engaged. This is especially crucial for hesitant readers, and struggling students are more likely to engage in reading and learning when the text makes a real-world connection to their lives, or when they are interested in the topic. Additionally, nonfiction content that showcases stories of success and hope for people of color drives reading motivation for racially diverse students (1).
The nonfiction texts on Newsela cover the massive range of interests and lived experiences of students across the country and even around the world. Twelve new texts are published daily, with specific focus on variety and untold perspectives. Groups of articles, called Text Sets, help educators cover themes like community and diversity or celebrate identity and heritage. From popular culture and national conversations to emerging technology and social justice, Newsela has articles of interest for every student from any background. This diverse, engaging approach to Newsela’s content selection is apparent whether teachers are using Newsela content to support core curriculum, for independent reading, or somewhere in between.
Many years of studies show that giving students a choice in what they read is crucial for student motivation and engagement, and that students are more likely to read purposefully if they can choose what they read. In fact, self-selected reading activities are approximately twice as impactful in driving reading development as teacher-directed reading activities (2).
We encourage educators to have students read two Newsela articles independently each week. Students can explore our library of more than 5,000 articles and find texts that are of interest to them. Students can use the keyword search to locate texts related to their passions, they can navigate to appealing topic sections like Sports, Science, or Issue Spotlights, and they can view recommended articles in their Explore tab. Student choice doesn’t need to be limited to independent reading time. With Text Sets, teachers can find or create groups of articles related to what they’re covering in class and allow students to select the article they’d like to read from the list.
Research has shown that texts used for instruction that can be read with at least 95% accuracy produce greater gains than more difficult texts (3). At the same time, an equally large body of research states that teaching students with only texts that match their comfortable reading level can result in a scenario where the student’s reading growth stalls (4).
With every Newsela article published at five discrete reading levels, teachers have the flexibility to use both texts that are just right for students and texts that are slightly challenging. Newsela also provides scaffolding tools to help students better grasp more difficult texts. For example, students can use Power Words, Newsela’s new vocabulary offering, to reveal student-friendly definitions of key words in the article. Or they can ask questions and get responses directly from their teachers by using the annotations feature. Assignment customization and PRO Teacher Resources are additional scaffolds available to Newsela PRO teachers.
Most meaningful of all, Newsela’s adaptivity allows all students in a class, regardless of reading ability, to cover the same material. Because each student reads the same article at their own just-right reading level, everyone can engage in a real-world dialogue after reading, and take engagement even further.
Ultimately, it comes down to the teacher. No advancement in classroom technology or instructional materials will ever have the impact of a passionate, empowered teacher. Studies show that teachers are most effective at driving engagement and learning outcomes when they are empowered to differentiate their instruction for the range of needs and interests in their classrooms (5).
Newsela equips teachers with tools that help them personalize instruction for the needs of each student. PRO Teacher Resources are embedded in Newsela articles and give teachers instructional suggestions for applying the content in the classroom. Every teacher’s Newsela homepage shows student work snapshots to help teachers stay on top of assignment completion. In the Binder and article review pages, educators get a summary of each student’s reading activity that can be used to customize subsequent lessons. The Binder also calls out what content students chose to read independently so teachers can add topics of interest to their instruction to keep students engaged. Additionally, educators can streamline assignment management by assigning and collecting work with a click, so they can focus class time on engaging students.
It’s no surprise that engaged readers are better learners, and a 2016 Empirical Education study of Newsela conducted across 2,500 California schools showed exactly that. The study found that even minimal Newsela usage* had a positive and statistically significant impact on reading outcomes. That impact was equivalent to 24 extra days of classroom instruction.
According to the study:
Newsela usage was positively correlated with reading performance. In other words, Newsela usage predicts reading performance.
The number of students performing at or above standard was higher in schools actively using Newsela compared to schools that were not using Newsela.
Newsela's positive impact was seen across all subgroups of students, including ELL students and students of color.
The improvement in reading scores was equivalent to 24 extra days of reading instruction.
*Students in the Newsela cohort completed at least 10 Newsela articles in a school year. Our recommendation is >2 articles per week for maximum gains (or ~72 articles).
Translating results to the real world
So what could nearly 5 weeks of additional classroom reading instruction mean for teachers and students? Here’s what a few teachers told us:
“That would be like having every student attend summer school!”
“My test prep period is about five weeks of time, so I would basically get back that time.”
“As a fifth-grade writing teacher, five weeks equates to almost two entire units of instruction.”
“Reading teachers at my school cover five books a year, plus an entire unit of test prep. With about 30 weeks in the school year, five weeks would give me time to cover a whole extra book.”
“In a sixth-grade ELA curriculum, five weeks would allow us to read one class novel and completed an end of unit activity or assessment.”
“Having 24 extra days would allow time for student independent practice or project based learning. I often feel rushed and can’t not give students enough time to do independent choice work.”
1 Kamil, Borman, Dole, Kral, Salinger, & Torgeson, 2008
2 Guthrie & Humenick, 2004; Lindsay, 2010
3 Allington, McCuiston, & Billen, 2014
4 Donovan, Smolkin, & Lomax, 2000; Hall, Sabey, & McClellan, 2005; Sanford & Horner, 2013
5 Fischer & Rose, 2001; Guild, 2001; Tomlinson & Kalbfleisch, 1998