LightSail is an e-reading “literacy platform” that helps teachers support their students’ independent reading. Students can use LightSail to check out texts from their school’s digital library and read the books directly on their devices. As students progress through a book, questions appear to gauge their comprehension, from simple multiple-choice questions to longer narrative responses. As students complete these assessments, they earn badges and also earn a "Lexile measure," a measure of their current reading level based on their answers to the reading comprehension questions and the particular difficulty of the book. The Lexile measure is updated in real time with each assessment. Students always have access to their own data, showing their per-page reading progress, their earned badges from completed tasks, and their Lexile score. Teachers can also view their students’ data in real time.
As students select texts, other recommended reads appear on the app’s home screen. These books can be sorted by their Lexile measures, offering reading experiences to kids who might be relaxed, right at their level, or more aspirational. Kids can also browse book selections sorted as literature and from informational text. Like the Lexile measures, the recommendations are updated in real time. Students can also make notes as they read, and their teachers can view and respond to notes, allowing students to engage in dialogue with their teachers as they read.
Using LightSail is a districtwide or schoolwide endeavor, requiring schools to license texts and manage a digital library. It’s thus unlikely that teachers could elect to adopt LightSail for their classrooms without the support of their school or district. But once that investment is in place, this system offers a powerful way to measure and monitor student reading achievement.
LightSail is appealing because it’s so responsive. It’s exciting to feel that a list of recommended reads has been curated just for you, and it’s encouraging to know that consistent engagement with increasingly difficult texts can result in better scores. Some assessments are richer than others, but all assessments seem meaningful; it's clear to students that they’re being tested to ensure that they’re engaging effectively with texts.
From a Common Core-alignment perspective, LightSail is a powerful and flexible tool. When students answer an in-text comprehension question, a corresponding standard appears at the bottom of the screen. This same information appears in the teacher's dashboard, where it's easy to track students' progress across standards.
Yet another impressive feature of LightSail is its developers' commitment to improvement and innovation. In addition to solid built-in features for text-to-speech, font adjustment, and dictation, LightSail will soon have more extensive dictionary features, including special support for English learners. Embedded tutorial features and a Web-based interface for LightSail are also coming soon, in addition to a version for Android in December 2014.
Teachers can use LightSail to monitor their students’ reading in real time and in great detail. Teachers and students can monitor students’ per-page progress through books in addition to students’ performance on Common Core-aligned assessment tasks throughout the texts. Teachers can engage in written dialogue with students about their reading through the built-in note-taking features. In the classroom, teachers might use LightSail to generate reading groups, and they might also use LightSail as a way to evaluate student progress broadly and focus class time accordingly.