Let’s Teach Empathy

Colleagues,

Teachers do a lot of things they aren’t paid to do — like teaching empathy.

We live in fraught times. The discourse among political leaders, talking heads and even some community and family members has broken down. As adult Americans, we hold strong convictions, but we sometimes don’t seek to understand others. That trickles down to our children. Teachers hear it every day: a remark or a snicker about a child with autism; an American history class debate that culminates in shouting and finger-pointing; a Friday night football game that turns ugly with deportation threats.

Strong convictions aren’t enough. Children must learn empathy. You can’t really understand the feelings or experiences of others from a slogan or sound bite. Empathy isn’t learned 140 characters at a time.

Fortunately, teachers teach it every day.

That’s why we’ve launched the A Mile In Our Shoes reading initiative in partnership with Teaching Tolerance and Donors Choose. A Mile In Our Shoes promotes empathy through reading. Through a collection of hand-picked Text Sets, students can read about different perspectives and lived experiences: rural communities and refugees, Native Americans and immigrants, veterans and Muslims, groundbreaking women and courageous people with disabilities, and much more.

Teaching empathy means having tough conversations that sometimes shine a light on parts of ourselves we’re not so proud of, which can make students defensive or angry. So we’ve partnered with Teaching Tolerance and other trailblazing organizations to provide professional development resources. We’re here to help you have safe, thoughtful conversations that your students will carry with them for the rest of their lives.

And to give you and your kids a little extra motivation, we’re holding a national reading drive with Donors Choose, as well as a growing list of NBA teams including the Golden State Warriors Community Foundation, to provide prizes and incentives for schools and students who read the most.

Empathy isn’t a skill you’ll see on a standardized test. Yet the ability to walk in another person’s shoes is one of the most important skills our children will learn from you.

Thank you, teachers. We’re walking right by your side.

Sincerely,

Matthew Gross
Founder & CEO

Your Reimagined Binder

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January is a second start to the school year — a time to reinforce the routines you’ve found most valuable and a time to commit to new habits that will put your students on the road to success. Each day, more educators are adding Newsela PRO and its suite of formative assessment tools to their daily classroom routines.

Over the last six months, we asked teachers like you how we could make the PRO Binder even more effective. You spoke up and we listened. Now, we’re thrilled to announce that the Binder is better than ever — just in time for a new beginning.

Time-saving navigation

Assessment results and other insights are automatically organized in your PRO Binder. Quickly jump between assessments, annotations, Write responses, and student insights with the Binder’s new simplified tabs and improved navigation. See performance by assignment and by student, and easily distinguish work done in class from independent reading. Spend less time grading, and more time teaching.

New student-level insights

Quiz scores are only part of the puzzle, so we added valuable new student-level insights, like standards mastery, reading level, time on article, and more to help you better understand how each student is progressing over time. With item analysis, you can now check for classwide understanding at a glance and know where you should direct your attention next. Break things down student by student, standard by standard, and question by question.

Support resources and feedback

We’re here to help you make the most out of these changes and add Newsela PRO to your 2017 routine. To get up to speed on your new PRO Binder, see our ever expanding set of Binder support resources, or register for one of our free Binder demos led by educator specialists. We rely on your suggestions to keep making our products better, so please send your feedback to community@newsela.com.

With these updates to the Binder, Newsela PRO continues to save you time and put critical insights at your fingertips. You can then use these insights to plan the activities, lessons, and assignments that will enable every student to do their best work.

Your work is never done, so neither is ours. Stay tuned for even more upgrades on the way.

Yours in reading,

Dan Cogan-Drew
Newsela Co-Founder & Chief Product Officer

We’re Here to Help You Process the Election.

Colleagues,

A bruising election campaign is over. For some, Trump’s win represented long-needed change. For others, a risky direction for America. I think about the election from the perspective of a parent and educator: it revealed sharp divides in our communities, and even in our own classrooms. (My 10-year-old Theo, a Hillary supporter, woke up to the dread that he would have to face down his classmate and close friend Luke, a Trump supporter.)

Disagreement, uncertainty and change are catalysts for the most powerful and rich classroom experiences. The coming days and weeks represent a once-in-a-generation opportunity for teachers to leverage the changing political landscape.

You’ll undoubtedly have opportunities to discuss some of the most important issues of our time with your students like climate change, civil rights, immigration, the economy, Supreme Court nominations and the United States’ role on the world stage. When done well, the articles that students read, as well as the discussions they have, will be remembered for a lifetime.

To help you teach these topics and facilitate these discussions, we’re making Newsela’s PRO Teacher Resources free to all teachers through Inauguration Day, January 20th. PRO Teacher Resources are a collection of activities, mini-lessons, and content connections, right on the article page below the image. They are designed to help educators bring Newsela’s content into the classroom through cross-curricular instruction. Alongside upcoming election articles, we will be creating resources and strategies for facilitating meaningful classroom discussion. You can see some of these resources on today’s article about Trump’s victory.

We’ll continue to cover the election and White House transition through news articles, enhanced with primary source documents from our Library like the Constitution, speeches, biographies, Text Sets and more. And we’ll publish as many PRO Teacher Resources as we can along the way.

On a closing note, some pundits explain Trump’s surprise victory as a reaction to the feeling that the American dream feels out of reach for many. I’ve always believed in the power of education as a Great Equalizer. That’s the reason why so many of us became educators in the first place. Keep teaching.

Best,

Matthew Gross
Founder & CEO

Hello, new school year. Goodbye, textbooks.

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To our valued educators,

I’ve never begun a school year this optimistic. Here’s why.

The Age of the Textbook—a medium that eats up budgets, weighs down backpacks and leaves students bored and lost—is coming to an end. As schools nationwide say goodbye, millions of educators are going online to find The Next Way of delivering information.

Almost a million of you, along with eight million students, have turned to Newsela for content that in many ways is the opposite of static, dry textbooks: news. Thousands of articles, at five levels, and loads of tools to help your students engage with the written word and help you understand their progress.

But it’s not enough.

This fall, we are launching The Library. We’re taking the nonfiction that teachers already use the most, and we’re putting them online the Newsela way: primary source documents, biographies, speeches, historical news, and other seminal texts. All at five levels, all with quizzes, annotations, and open-ended questions. You can find all of these great works paired with news, because the Constitution, the Gettysburg Address, and the biography of Rosa Parks take on new meaning when they’re connected to current issues that hit home.

What’s also disappearing with the era of the textbook? Teachers not knowing whether their kids understand what they’re reading, or if they read it at all. Dave Crumbine, a friend and master ELA teacher at KIPP Academy in Houston, told me one of his greatest challenges in teaching is this: “Kids start reading, they don’t understand what they’re reading, but they keep on going anyway.” So many kids—even when comprehension isn’t there—just keep plugging along, either denying or not knowing that something’s the matter. And it happens in silence, slipping by teachers without a trace.

That’s another problem that Newsela set out to solve. And along with hundreds of thousands of committed educators like you, we’re making progress.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in your PRO Binder. It tells you what your students read, whether they understood it and how they’re doing over time so you can adjust your instruction. Welcome to daily formative assessments that you can use immediately to ensure that no student falls through the cracks. And keep an eye out for a raft of new PRO Binder tools we’ll be releasing later this year to make your daily formative assessments even more powerful.

Better, but still not enough.

A laptop for every student and teacher. That’s the goal. Schools of all stripes—wealthy and Title I, primary and secondary—are adopting technology not to replace what teachers do, but to help them do it better. Still, too many districts aren’t keeping pace, and their students are falling behind. If your district or school leaders haven’t shared plans for going 1-to-1, I urge you to ask them why. Let them know that you’ve seen the future, you know what you need, and it’s not another textbook.

We’re on the brink of something amazing happening in American education. I can feel it. I look forward to continuing on the journey with you.

Your colleague,

Matthew Gross

Newsela Founder and CEO

Advisory: Nice Terror Attack Coverage

To our valued educators,

Please be advised that we will be covering last week’s attack in Nice in today’s edition of Newsela, with possible follow-up stories as more information becomes available. Although it is summer and you may not have a classroom full of students tomorrow morning, there are a few things to keep in mind:

  1. The story will not appear in Newsela Elementary.
    Click here to find out more about setting up Newsela Elementary classes, or have your students navigate directly to e.newsela.com.
  2. If your students do not use Newsela Elementary but you would still prefer the article to be hidden, you can use the Hide function in the top-right corner of the article.
  3. Be ready to talk to your students about the news. While you may not hear your students talking about it, it’s still likely they’ve been exposed to the news already, especially if they’re in middle or high school. We’ve put together some resources to help you talk to students about difficult breaking news topics, including this blog post.

Last Thursday’s attack is the latest in a seemingly endless series of tragic events over the last few months, and was France’s second major attack in less than a year. This time, innocent people were gathering to celebrate Bastille Day with their fellow French citizens and visitors from around the world. What was meant to be a night of festivity quickly turned into chaos when the suspect drove a truck through a crowd, killing more than 80 people. The whole world mourns with these victims and their families.

Due to the nature of this event, the article we publish may be too upsetting for some students and some classes. As I mentioned after Orlando and after the previous attacks in France, Newsela levels articles on these tragic events so that, should you choose to discuss these events in class, your students have access to the information they need in a language they understand.

Only you know what is appropriate for your students and classes. We continue to be in awe of the wonderful work our teachers do to create future leaders who are informed, thoughtful and kind. There are days when the news can seem painfully dark, but when we at Newsela look at our students, we’re reminded that the future is bright. Thank you.

Your colleague,

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Matt Gross

Advisory: Orlando Mass Shooting Coverage

To our valued educators,

Please be advised that we are covering the mass shooting in Orlando in today’s edition of Newsela, with possible follow-up stories as more information becomes available. As you decide if and how to address this tragedy in your classes, there are a few things to keep in mind:

  1. The story will not appear in Newsela Elementary.
    Click here to find out more about setting up Newsela Elementary classes, or have your students navigate directly to e.newsela.com.
  2. If your students are not using Newsela Elementary but you would still prefer the article to be hidden, you can use the Hide function in the top-right corner of the article.
  3. Be ready to talk to your students about the news. While you may not hear your students talking about it, it’s still likely they’ve been exposed to the news already, especially if they’re in middle or high school. We’ve put together some resources to help you talk to students about breaking news, including this blog post.

The attack is the worst mass shooting in American history, and it painfully echoes last November’s terrorist attacks in Paris. Both took place in cities that attract visitors from all over the world. Both involved victims who were spending a night on the town enjoying some music and entertainment. Such violence could not have been further from their minds.

Below are a few words I shared with teachers as we prepared to run the story on the Paris attacks last fall. I hope you find them helpful as you return to your classrooms and families tomorrow.

When a tragedy like this strikes, I struggle to find the best way to explain it to my three school-age children. In the coming days and weeks, I know they will be exposed to a flood of information and opinions as the story unfolds. It’s important to me that my kids have all the facts they need, appropriate to each of their ages and temperaments.

Only you can decide which kinds of information and discussions make sense for your classes. We cover tragedies like this to ensure that you and your students have the information they need in a language they understand, should you choose to take on these challenging issues in the classroom.

I’m grateful for your readership and stand by your side as you help your students process these horrible events. Perhaps we can inspire the next generation to be informed, thoughtful leaders who will work toward a more peaceful and just world for all.

Your colleague,


Matthew Gross

Introducing Newsela for iOS

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“What a computer is to me is it’s the most remarkable tool that we’ve ever come up with, and it’s the equivalent of a bicycle for our minds.” ~ Steve Jobs

When Steve Jobs said this, he was thinking of the power of the bicycle as a tool to increase the efficiency of human locomotion. He believed that the computer had the power to increase the efficiency of human cognition.

With the release of the Newsela iOS app, we are outfitting this bicycle with a gearshift.

Our nation faces a crisis in literacy. For 30 million K-12 students in this country the hill is getting steeper; they are not growing their reading ability in a way that will prepare them for college and for life.

Faced with a crisis of this magnitude, we’re reinventing the way people read.

Just like our website, the Newsela app finds each reader’s just-right reading level. But for the first time ever, all our readers will change the reading level of thousands of news articles with a revolutionary two-finger swipe on their iPhone or iPad.

Read, re-level, understand. Then read more.

Daily news from the Associated Press, Washington Post, Scientific American, Chicago Tribune and more at five levels, online or offline, with quizzes and text-to-speech. It’s timely, engaging news in your pocket.

So now, as you traverse the hills and valleys of nonfiction reading, you’ll maintain your pedal speed. The bicycle of your mind just got gears.

With the Newsela iOS app, we’re one revolution closer to achieving our mission: to unlock the written word for everyone.

Here’s your bike. Hop on.

Yours in reading,

Dan Cogan-Drew

Newsela

Co-Founder and Chief Product Officer

Newsela’s on Instagram: A Letter From CEO Matt Gross

To our valued educators,

For teachers, there is no greater pleasure than when our students make meaning of the things they’ve learned in their own lives and the lives of others.

A few weeks ago, we asked Newsela teachers to have students read news from their home state and write about it. We received dozens of student submissions. They reminded me and many of my colleagues at Newsela why we became teachers in the first place. Here are excerpts from just a few:

I had an experience as a two year old boy with an off-the-charts hurricane known as Hurricane Katrina. This caused me, my mom, and my one year old little brothers to move onto the Air Force base in Trenton, New Jersey, with nothing but the clothes on our back. My mom was hysterical because all of the power was out and my brother Pierre began to have a severe asthma attack. She took him outside in the night air praying that his breathing would go back to normal. Reading this article has made me very thankful that there weren’t any worse hurricanes like when this article states: “However, it wasn’t the worst storm that could have possibly hit New Orleans, Louisiana.”
Inspiration: “Study theorizes hurricanes unlike anything Earth has ever seen

A friend of mine, a girl with autism, has never been an outcast, despite her “disability” and she is well loved among many.These students will never be anything but accepted in our classrooms, clubs, and sport teams. They are family, not any different than any other student, living their lives as any other would.
Inspiration: “High school cheers on varsity squad member with Down syndrome

Both humans and bears are running out of water therefore running out of food, so that’s why we should share California’s amount of water supply. However when reading this article I learned that some people are killing off bears that have entered their towns searching for these things. These creatures deserve just as much of a fighting chance against this drought as we do. We are from California for goodness sake the bears represent us. If this continues to happen our California state symbol will have no meaning to us.
Inspiration: “California Town Overrun By Bears Descending Dry Mountain Seeking Food

Watsonville is not a very safe place. Most of the time, [police] just judge Latinos because the way they dress or how they look. Most of the time the cops take advantage because they know that most of the Latinos are here by a illegal way.
Inspiration: “Shootings of Latinos by police get less attention

As we enter 2016, I have a litany of hopes and dreams for our five million Newsela students. But one sits atop my list: I want our kids to take action. Read Newsela, find something that resonates, get inspired, get indignant, get energized — then do something about it.

Today, we’re launching @newsela on Instagram so your students can be inspired by images and stories of youth in action in their communities. Invite your students to follow @newsela, take action, and post pictures and descriptions of what they’ve done to make a difference. They may very well inspire others.

At Newsela, our mission is to unlock the written word for everyone. Forget self-driving cars and wearable technology. The written word remains humanity’s best invention and its most empowering one. Let 2016 be the year that students unlock the power of those words in their neighborhoods, churches, parks, streets and state houses. Students can’t vote, but they can act. Let’s make sure those seeking that coveted seat in the Oval Office hear the voices of our youth this time. Stay tuned.

Your colleague,

Matt Gross

How we got here, and where we’re going

Four years ago, I opened up my laptop in the New York State Education Department and watched the numbers tick up. We had just launched EngageNY, a library of curriculum modules aligned to the Common Core. Our state’s teachers were desperate to understand what Common Core-aligned instruction looked like, and Big Education publishers weren’t delivering. So we decided to do it ourselves. Hundreds of downloads. Then thousands! Somewhere in that moment, somewhere deep in my subconscious, the concepts underlying Newsela took root.

Today, Newsela announced a $15 million funding round that will fuel our growth and make Newsela an even more powerful resource for the subjects and lessons you teach.

How did we get here? It started with you: A few schools in Connecticut were our first beta testers. Then it spread to New York. A bloom in Chicago. School librarians chatting on Twitter in the Deep South. A blog post by a middle school teacher in Michigan, then an EdCamp in Maine. Soon there were signups as far as the North Slope of Alaska.  

Teaching is a singular profession. Nobody knows the day-to-day rigors, joys and frustrations like your colleagues in the classroom. So you share what you love and what you’ve seen work. Twitter, Facebook, EdCamps and teachers lounges are abuzz with educators talking about their discoveries that make teaching and learning better. You take recommendations from your peers seriously and you cast a skeptical eye on the antiquated materials pushed down by Big Education.

We feel privileged to be counted among the things you’ve shared. Last week, a high school freshman named Nate in Lansing, Michigan, clicked “Sign Up” and became the fifth millionth student, teacher or parent to join the Newsela community.

My co-founder, Dan, and I are both former teachers, as are many of our teammates here. We left our hearts in the classroom, so the success stories and goals you share help us feel like we’re right there with you. We feel a deep sense of obligation to make good on the promise of the Internet to accelerate classroom teaching and learning. So we’re doubling down our commitment to make Newsela even better.

Over the past year, we’ve created hundreds of text sets and enabled you to create thousands more. We’ve launched Newsela Español, with articles and quizzes in both Spanish and English at five levels, and Newsela Elementary for our youngest readers. We’ve made sharing and onboarding PRO subscribers easy through tools like Clever and Google Classroom. We’ve made the site faster, cleaner and more intuitive. And just this week, we’ve made it easier for you to search for and find content that’s just right for you, no matter what topic you’re teaching.

The new funding will help us do many of the things you’ve asked us to do: add new types of content, improve the mobile experience, and provide more meaningful feedback to you and your students about their performance. We’re also going to kick Newsela’s natural language processing capabilities into high gear, which means we’ll have smarter ways to ensure that you and your students are getting articles, text sets and quizzes that are fine-tuned to their needs and interests.

Best of all, the funding will help us make our world-class team, well, world-classier. We’ve added computational linguists, mobile engineers and machine learning experts and brought in veterans from companies such as Google and Facebook. Equally important, we’ve recruited exceptional educators with a wealth of experience in the classroom. But for all of their talents, the attribute we care about the most is their commitment to our mission: to unlock the written word for everyone.

We’re driven to help your students love reading and to help you teach the way you’ve dreamed of teaching. As we take Newsela to the next level, we want to let you know that we’ll always be hungry for your feedback, your suggestions and your wild ideas. I’ll state it plainly: we couldn’t have gotten here without you, teachers.

Thank you.

Your colleague,

Matt

Newsela: In the Classroom and Beyond from NewSchools Venture Fund

Newsela Text Sets: A Message From the CEO

To our valued educators,

A lot of you are in standardized testing hell at the moment. My kids at PS 101 and JHS 190 in Queens certainly are. But for just a minute, let’s set aside the question of the standards our children must meet or the score they need to achieve and focus on a more important question: what do we want our children to be?

I want my kids to wonder at the world. I want them to learn a little about something they don’t know, then feel a burning desire to delve deeper. I want them to band together with their peers and take action when they discover injustices that demand to be cured, problems that need to be solved, or frontiers of the universe or the mind that beg to be investigated.

You want that for your students, too. But no textbook or workbook is going to stoke that intellectual fire. So many of you spend countless hours hunting down news and stories on a particular theme that you know will grab and challenge your class, then cobble them together into text sets. We want to make that a little easier.

Introducing Newsela Text Sets. We’ve been quietly building more than 100 sets of articles around themes from “Climate Chaos” to “U.S. Presidents” to “America’s Expanding Waistline,” and today they’re live on Newsela. Every article in every text set is at five reading levels, from grade 2 through 12. 

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We’ll keep making more. But I bet the best Text Sets will come from all of you. That’s why we’ve given you the power to make your own Text Sets.

Pick an article that inspires you and create a new Text Set around it, or come up with a theme that matters to you and your students and make a Text Set from scratch.

You can do this all for free. But I do have one request: when you create a Text Set, don’t keep it to yourself. Share it by email. Post it on Facebook. Tweet it. The best magic in education happens when we create, curate, share and collaborate with our fellow educators. Let’s leverage the power of every Newsela teacher in more than 80,000 schools and growing.

I hope you’ll take a breather from test books or textbooks and do something that reminds us of why we became educators in the first place. Think about what you want your kids to be, pick a topic, and start a fire.

Yours in reading,

Matthew Gross

Founder & CEO

Newsela