A 'Gobstopper' Of A Humanities Assignment

column | Language Arts

A 'Gobstopper' Of A Humanities Assignment

Part of EdSurge's 'Made By Teachers' series

By Betsy Corcoran (Columnist)     May 6, 2013

A 'Gobstopper' Of A Humanities Assignment

Pick any point in the educator-entrepreneur landscape, Jason Singer has been there. Soon after college, he spent a couple of years teaching high school in the Mississippi Teacher Corps and wound up getting named "Teacher of the Year" in the Greenwood Public Schools. He then moved to the San Francisco Bay area and started a still thriving, nonprofit youth empowerment and employment agency. Following a one-year jaunt into the business world, he founded and was principal of two KIPP schools.
And now Singer's launching Gobstopper, a product aimed at helping teachers manage their students' reading assignments. How it works: Say a teacher assigns "A Midsummer Night's Dream." Rather than later sending out worksheets or quizzes, teachers can embed questions and comments--even a video of themselves talking--within the text. Quizzes embedded in the text get automatically graded. And teachers can get a deep analytics platform that lets them know just how long and when students spent time reading the text.

Gobstopper is so brand-spanking new that Singer is launching a free summer reading program that even has a drawing for a free Macbook Air. The program works like this: Educators can start on this page to peruse the collection, which includes Dracula, Jane Eyre, "The Awaking" by Kate Chopin and Black Beauty. (Yep, all books in the public domain. Don't expect to see "Harry Potter" here.) Signing up for the program will get you to a login, followed by a chance to download and print pre-formatted invitations for inviting students to use Gobstopper and other reports corresponding to the books they will read.

Once students start reading the books in the program, teachers can track what they're doing via the analytics platform (which, conveniently enough, have links to the Common Core standards), says Singer. He says that two dozen books will be ready to read by June 15: some are still being prepped but students can sign up to receive a note when they're ready.

And those Macbooks? Teachers who have signed up 20 students to use Gobstopper by June 30 will be eligible to win one of three MacBook Airs. At that rate, your students should also finish their reading by the time school rolls around again.

For Singer, Gobstopper is his way of tackling what he has long see as "paradoxically essential and, practically speaking, somewhat futile" task: assigned summer reading. He writes:

"There is no question that [summer reading] is in the best of all worlds essential. We all know well the impact of learning loss that comes from students spending an entire summer not engaging their brains or practicing the skills we taught throughout the year.

The overwhelming amount of time and energy it takes to assign summer reading coupled with the inability to really know if they even do it let alone understand it makes it feel particularly futile.

Summer reading is a bear to manage at a time when teachers’ lives are particularly crazy, students are increasingly distracted, and everyone is tired. There are books to inventory and hand out. An assignment has to be put together that covers the entire book. And then. . . there is the anxiety and worry that follows us all summer rooted in never truly knowing whether or not our students have actually done it. Watching students march in on the first day of school starting from a deficit is dispiriting at best."

When Gobstopper becomes available for the school year, Singer expects to offer it to teachers at different price levels -- $3.99 or $7.99 a month, depending on how much data analytics they want. School site licenses will run about $14.99 per student.

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