Storyworks Jr.: a Brand-New Resource for Third Grade ELA Instruction

Third grade teachers have spoken, and Scholastic Classroom Magazines listened: Storyworks Jr.—a new magazine just for third graders—will be in classrooms this fall, in response to teachers nationwide who need help with third grade English language arts instruction. Building on the success of StoryworksStoryworks  Jr. will provide six annual issues of engaging content supported by robust teaching materials.

I spoke with Editorial Director Lauren Tarshis and Education Editor Rebecca Leon all about Storyworks Jr., and the prototype issue that is now in the hands of 3rd grade teachers nationwide.

Why Storyworks Jr.?

Storyworks Jr. developed in response to an enormous outcry from third grade teachers who were using Storyworks, but felt it was a little hard for third grade (and we agree; we’ve actually made Storyworks more robust over the years in response to changing standards). Starting a year ago, we visited many third grade teachers who are currently using Storyworks, to see where the difficulties were, and find out what we needed to do to make it appropriate and accessible for 3rd grade.

Obviously, the stories need to be just as engaging as Storyworks, but they need to be shorter, with an easier reading level. We even made the font size bigger. The magazine will progress through the school year, and will grow with students, so that later in the year the articles will be longer and more challenging. And for this age group, many of them have never encountered text like this—a six-page, nonfiction article—before, so we have to do a lot to help them through it.

Why is third grade so critical?

Third grade is a special and important year. For students, it’s the year of transition from learning to read to reading to learn; it’s the first year of high-stakes testing; and it’s the year that in 14 states kids are retained if they don’t pass the reading test. In fact, the Annie E. Casey Foundation found that 88% of students who failed to earn a high school diploma were struggling readers in third grade.

This is also a tough moment for teachers, so we want to not only give them an instructional tool, but also something that’s going to delight them and be fun to use. And today there is a call for knowledge-building content: content that is rich and builds knowledge in science and social studies, instead of simply being a vehicle for building reading skills. We want Storyworks Jr. to be a combination of foundational and comprehension skills. 

What have you been hearing from teachers about the Storyworks Jr. prototype?

The success of Storyworks is based on a trusted partnership with our teachers. And so we’re already thrilled to hear that the teachers aren’t saying, “the students learned,” they’re saying: “we learned.”

We began a year ago, and our plan was to almost crowd-source our 3rd grade Storyworks.  So we developed our prototype, and sent it to 85,000 teachers, as well as class sets to 115 teachers, including eight who are using it for a full grade level. We’re now on what we call our “feedback tour,” visiting 30-40 classrooms and talking to teachers about how it’s working for them. We have a high level of teacher engagement that we can access in real-time. Our message for teachers is: Help us create the perfect tool for you.

Also, what we learn for Storyworks Jr. will help infuse Storyworks and SCOPE with new ideas and energy. That’s what been most fun about it—we’ve learned a ton, and now we start every meeting with no assumptions; anything that we thought was set in stone for Storyworks isn't any longer. What’s cool about magazines is that we can start something brand new and operate in a nimble way. 

Tell me about the launch website.

We have a very joyful outreach to teachers. We created a special website for the launch, giving teachers the opportunity to look at the prototype issue online, (they also receive a hard copy), and to watch a video introducing the magazine. We have a very exciting new video read-aloud, where I read an article aloud with cut-aways to maps and other support materials. The video read-aloud is a showstopper! In a classroom this morning there was a demand for a performance encore because there was an outcry from students that they had to see it again. And what we’ve learned is that while I’m thinking of it as a tool for differentiation, but it can also work as the second read for a close read. It helps kids picture what they may have never experienced before. 

 

Go here to learn more about Storyworks Jr., and to read the prototype issue.