On May 18th, the 2016 CODiE winners were announced. We knew Readorium was a finalist in the Best Reading/English/Language Arts Instructional Solution category, but we also knew we were up against some very big, well-known programs. Readorium had never applied for a CODiE before, so the entire process was new to us. In fact, the story of Readorium’s development, and what happened with the CODiE, unfolded like a Cinderella fairy tale.
During the 35 years that I served as a teacher, literacy coach, and curriculum director, I became well aware of the problems struggling readers faced as they were required to read text that was increasingly challenging for them. I could see first-hand why the achievement gap kept widening.
My mission became to design software that would enable all students to read and understand the same rich, substantive content. I realized that this instruction had to automatically adapt to individual needs. Meaningful differentiation is necessary for student success, but it’s almost impossible for teachers to create 25 variations for a single lesson. However, well-constructed software can keep track of students’ responses, and can use this information to continually adapt instruction to their changing needs.
Thus, Readorium, for middle schoolers, was born with a Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) Grant from the US Department of Education. Developing the program was gratifying. The first field test showed that students who read 10 or more Readorium books averaged a full year’s gain in comprehension. However, we knew that students would not use the program unless they were fully engaged and motivated. So we instituted a Cash for Creativity Contest to elicit ideas. Readorium evolved over a 5 year period with feedback from students, teachers and administrators. The success of our next two field tests helped us win two additional Department of Education innovative research grants, and we extended Readorium to grades 3-5.
Readorium teaches proficient reading strategies through original standards-based nonfiction chapter books in the area of science. As students proceed, the readability levels of the chapters and the supports they receive, automatically adjust to them. All content is supported by online book mentors, images, videos, music, contests, and games. Teachers receive real-time score reports and additional resources for classroom instruction.
It was an exciting experience to present Readorium to the CODiE judges and to discuss and demonstrate the program’s features. The judges were also able to explore the program themselves. The feedback they gave was thoughtful, and their questions were deep. We had our fingers crossed as we watched on May 18th. When the envelope was finally opened, and Readorium was pronounced the winner, our entire team literally jumped for joy! As a start-up with a proven, research-based reading tool, our greatest challenge is having the resources to communicate directly with teachers and administrators about Readorium’s effectiveness. We are hoping that this prestigious award will help catapult us so we can reach as many students as possible.