Chicago’s Winning Reading Program

10/25/2013 By: Sascha Zuger

The Chicago Public Schools, “PLUS Tech,” Equals Win-Win

The Chicago Public School System (CPS) is reveling in the success of its innovative PLUS Tech program, created by Lisa E. Perez, library coordinator for the CPS Department of Educational Tools & Technology, to encourage and support media specialists in their quest for professional development. PLUS Tech, which is an acronym for “Personalized Libraries to Uplift Students,” helps librarians tailor learning opportunities to the individual student for a deeper connection with their specific educational needs. Building awareness of and training in existing digital resources that offer student customization was key.

“My challenge in developing the PLUS Tech program was to provide online technology training that is relevant and supports the delivery of quality library services,” says Perez. “By integrating gamification features—including a leaderboard, digital badging, and prizes—I was able to offer a program that is motivational, while providing additional tools and technology to impact schools’ library programs in the long term.”

Ten achievement modules were designated, with point totals corresponding to CCSS, and REACH alignment features. Media specialists could learn about the new programs, pick and choose which ones they felt would be most advantageous to the success of their programs (or work toward incentives for their libraries), complete the module by passing Challenge Activity quizzes after watching Screencast training videos, and earn both PD credits through CPDU and digital badges to demonstrate their mastery and dedication to furthering their tech ed goals.

Bringing in partners on the incentive side added to the program’s popularity. One partner, Capstone’s myON reader—an online literacy program that offers students access to over 4,000 digital books—provides a recommended booklist based on individual interests and reading levels by using a Lexile Framework for Reading.

Capstone myON offered the first 200 media specialists who completed four of the ten PLUS Tech Modules—which included BrainPop’s GameUp, Diigo, Google Drawing, Google Forms 1 and 2, Gooru Web Portal, National Archives “Digital Vaults,” the Screen Chomp iPad app, Storybird Digital Storytelling, and Using PowerPoint to Create eBooks—a one-year subscription for their library ($5,500), as well as training on how to best use it to benefit their students and seasonal student motivation programs. High school media specialists also earned a high school level Saddleback Book add-on application ($600).

“Reading because one has to or is told to does not have the same effect as a student reading because they enjoy it,” says Barbara Stewart, media specialist at CPS Florence Nightingale Elementary School.

Were the students as excited as their librarians (50 of whom earned “Surpasser Badges” with 80% or more of all potential PLUS Tech points)? More than 9,400 participating CPS students are actively reading, opening 227,061 books through myON since the end of March (combined together, nearly half of the students have spent more than 22,843 hours reading). The program is accessible on desktops, laptops, tablets, and devices–with offline downloads available through an app and a Lexile growth projection via MetaMetrics. Teachers and principals can access data to determine usage and Lexile movement, at an individual, class, school, or district level.

The Top 25 overall “PLUS Tech” CPS librarians were eligible to earn hardware prizes such as Nooks, iPad2s, document cameras, and multimedia projectors for their libraries, depending on the program benchmarks achieved. CPS also partnered with the popular educational game Web site BrainPOP, which donated a one-year premium subscription to the first 25 certified librarians who scored a perfect 100% on the BrainPOP module, exploring GameUP, which is a free education gaming portal.

“The PLUS Tech program was well received,” says Perez, who created the program at no additional cost to the district. “I look forward to offering another set of modules later this year.”

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