Administrators at Clay County Public Schools in Florida like to stay ahead of the curve, and consistently put their energy into anticipating educational trends. This proactive way of thinking and planning allows the district to set its sights on the future, and meet students where they like to learn – on digital devices.
As Alisa Jones, Supervisor of Instructional Resources for the district explained, this way of thinking had an impact on the school’s library, as well as its curriculum development and classroom tools.
“We recognized over the next five years, library collections will become at least 50 percent digital and we knew we needed to stay ahead of it rather than wait for it to happen,” Jones explained. While the district encountered a few challenges along the way, the journey allowed officials to learn what works, what doesn’t, and what tools are essential to improve student comprehension via the implementation of eBooks.
To meet the initial demand for eBooks, each of the district’s 41 schools began to develop various digital initiatives, and forged out on their own to select products and vendors. However, it wasn’t long before Clay County Public Schools realized this approach created confusion and there was a need to step back and take another look at the overall approach. Jones recalls, “We had one school using one collection and another school using a collection from a different vendor resulting in a hodgepodge, and no clear way to market that district-wide.”
At this point, the officials set out to develop a strong district-wide digital strategy to steer them toward a well-planned future. Clay County administrators knew this newly adopted strategy must include a well-rounded collection of eBooks, adaptability to the Common Core State Standards/ Sunshine State Standards and functionality on multiple platforms, as new mobile devices were continuously hitting the market.
District officials set up a team of media specialists who began exploring options and vendors. They quickly learned eBooks from Follett would be theirs to keep forever – there was no expiration on usage. This specific benefit led them to look at the library management tool they were already using, and Clay County realized it already had a platform for its digital vision. “We use Destiny® Library Manager™ so our staff already knows the catalog system. All they have to do is perform a search and they can easily see if a title is available as an eBook, or in any other format. Destiny is a tool our staff already knows and yet there’s something new within it they can look for.”
The first school in the district to jump with both feet into eBooks was Clay Hill Elementary. The school embraced the concept of digital content and eBooks, and was soon on its way to Common Core/Sunshine State Standards-aligned digital learning. "Initially, our district gave us around 100 nonfiction titles, which was great and the students were using those for research," said Tammy Taylor, a media specialist at Clay Hill Elementary. "The real enthusiasm didn't come until we agreed to add money to the budget to purchase the fiction books—those are the books the kids want to read."
Using Title I funds to purchase Apple iPads® and eBooks, Clay Hill Elementary blazed a trail and became the model within the district for implementing the digital strategy using eBooks. Through Follett Shelf™ Classroom Connections™, the educators at Clay Hill Elementary now have powerful tools that support classroom instruction and digital learning. Students can quickly view and utilize all library resources with One Search while Time on Task Reporting measures and monitors student reading progress.
Jones plans to work with other schools in the district to learn from Clay Hill's best practices. "Next year, this school and one other are targeted to become our model for technology implementation with electronic devices and materials; we're very proud of what they've done here," said Jones. She also said media specialists will be crucial to the success of the district's digital strategy. "Our media specialists are the ones who go to our schools and introduce eBooks to the teachers, students and parents.”
The teachers at Clay Hill embraced the new eBook initiative and their enthusiasm was contagious—soon students were anxious for each new eBook. "Whenever I buy new eBooks, I announce it on our website," said Taylor. "I tell the kids 'look at what's coming next on Follett Shelf!' They are all waiting and anticipating just as much as I am! I'm looking every day to see when the new titles hit our catalog and when they finally do and I open it up, the kids have already found them before I have!"
One big plus in the use of eBooks has been the rise in reading comprehension scores, which coincide with Clay Hill's digital initiative and the use of Follett eBooks. "The kids love being on the iPad," said Meredith Pittman, fourth grade teacher. "They seem to be more apt to read."
According to Tracey Kendrick, principal at Clay Hill Elementary, the school is using Classroom Connections to differentiate instruction and build content knowledge. At Clay Hill Elementary, comprehension scores went up nearly 25% once teachers began Classroom Connections' Lesson Messaging to customize the eBook reading experience for each student, support close reading, and focus learning on Common Core/ Sunshine State Standards by sharing and communicating through eBook notes.
"Once we implemented digital devices, Follett eBooks and Classroom Connections, our districts' FCAT reading scores went up 23%," said Kendrick. "It's truly made a difference."
With numbers like this, it's obvious Clay Hill's digital strategy and use of eBook resources is working. "I think these kids are going to be ready for Common Core/Sunshine Standards," said Tammy Taylor. "They are already doing what Common Core/ Sunshine Standards promote. Even my fourth graders, who have iPads, are writing in genuine response to what they're reading."
Whether it’s close reading or identifying text evidence, Clay County’s next step is to get every teacher using eBooks in their classroom instruction and using Classroom Connections, following the model set forth at Clay Hill Elementary. "It is just a phenomenal piece that Follett has put together," Jones said. "Kids have the ability to highlight and take notes, and those things stay there, but now you've put something in place as a classroom tool the teacher can use to have one-on-one conversations with students, which is so important with the new standards.
According to Jones, Clay Hill’s principal set this vision and supported teachers to make this implementation successful. As principal Kendrick said, "From here it's onward and upward. We're going to expand our eBook collection and our iPad initiative because we see it works. The kids are excited about it, the teachers are excited about it, so I see us going nowhere but up."
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