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A Platform to Connect Students to the World Through Non-Fiction Reading

Newsela is an Instructional Content Platform

Students having access to kid friendly news is hard to come by. Newsela is a free app and website that provides students, grades 2-12, the ability to tap into a wealth of knowledge ranging in topic. Teachers can assign articles anywhere from current events to primary sources while differentiating the lexile level to best support student comprehension.

Imagine a native Spanish speaker in second grade who reads at a first grade level. Newsela provides that student with the ability to read an article in his/her native language and grade level simultaneously. The emphasis being placed on accommodating all learners and providing ELLs an opportunity to engage in the content is one of Newsela’s impressive features.

Newsela has both a free downloadable app on smartphones and tablets, as well as a well-designed website that provides educators with a plethora of resources to use in their classrooms. Unlike Scholastic News subscriptions, Newsela offers a free resource for educators and students seeking a connection to the world. Teachers have access to a library, unit plans, and text sets.

Additionally, there is a space for teachers to subscribe to Newsela PRO, where the resources continue to expand. Newsela PRO allows teachers to view individual progress, customize writing prompts, and even take an online course to gain a PD credit. It doesn’t stop there. Newsela can define words on the spot, articles can target specific reading skills, and you can choose the content provider ensuring a more reliable source. All articles are aligned to the Common Core State Standards and are available in three different Lexile levels.

Newsela quotePerhaps the most compelling feature of this tech tool is the ability to collaborate. Students can share their articles with their peers and teachers through Google Classroom or email. In addition, educators can collaborate with each other while using the app by easily sharing articles. Teachers can also track the progress of students by utilizing the “binder” feature. Once users access this tool, performance records of the students reveals the time spent on a particular article, their quiz scores, and other data helpful in monitoring students’ progress toward learning goals.

In a fifth grade classroom at Eberwhite Elementary School in Ann Arbor, Athena Stavropoulos, a teaching intern at the University of Michigan School of Education, uses Newsela in her classroom as a part of her literacy block. Students are assigned an article weekly, usually in the topic of science or current events. Upon reading their given article students complete either the Newsela comprehension quiz or summarize the article in a Seesaw video or post. It seems students really enjoy reading the articles because it gives them an opportunity to engage with current content while working at their own pace. Newsela provides an engaging experience for students to read non-fiction content that is appropriate for their comprehension and grade level.

Commonsense Media claims “Newsela is a standout resource for supporting your students’ nonfiction literacy.” Their support of Newsela is mainly due to its wide array of resources and its advanced abilities to differentiate–specifically its individualized assessments.

Aside from the impressive features of Newsela, there are areas of improvement as well. It would be productive to make the articles more accessible. Students and teachers must have an account and login information in order to access the site and this may be difficult for students in younger grade levels or in areas with limited access to technology. Perhaps students could have a QR code that they could scan to access the site, thus preventing the chaos of students forgetting their login information.

Another setback or potential barrier includes the requirement of all users to have an email address. A potential solution could be a district wide Google email address that all students have access to. This could encourage at home use as well as in school. Apart from that, there are some navigational constraints. Teachers must assign articles for students to have access to all Newsela has to offer, such as the activities and the ability to respond to the writing prompts. Though there are areas for improvement, Newsela’s strengths greatly outweigh those minor imperfections.

Newsela provides an opportunity for teachers to utilize articles that discuss real-world events and historically significant time periods in a kid-friendly manner. The easy-to-navigate website paired with the well-researched and aligned content makes for a great educational tool that can be used in the classroom and beyond. It does not require too much of a tech savvy individual to benefit from the wide array of resources Newsela encompasses.

Sources

Brereton, Erin. “Newsela – Website Review.” Common Sense Media: Ratings, Reviews, and Advice, Common Sense Media, 21 July 2014, www.commonsensemedia.org/website-reviews/newsela.

Gross, Mathew. “Instructional Content Platform.” Newsela, newsela.com.

Authors

Samantha Kadian and Athena Stavropoulos are student teaching interns in the School of Education at the University of Michigan.

Samantha can be reached at and Athena can be reached at .

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