BookNook Raises $1.2M Seed Round to Facilitate Small Group Literacy Instruction

BookNook Raises $1.2M Seed Round to Facilitate Small Group Literacy Instruction

Reading at an early age is best taught in small groups. That instructional approach is supported by research—and it’s how a new literacy app from BookNook is meant to be used. “We’re all about human-to-human learning,” Michael Lombardo, the company’s founder and CEO, tells EdSurge. “Working with kids one-on-one, or in small groups, is the most effective way to help students acquire literacy skills.”

The Oakland, Calif.-based startup has raised $1.2 million in a seed round led by Reach Capital, with the Urban Innovation Fund, Impact Engine and Better Ventures (which committed $275,000) participating. The company was also a graduate from the most recent class of the AT&T Aspire Accelerator, a program that provides funding and mentorship to education technology startups.

A web-based platform, BookNook is currently optimized for Chrome and Safari browsers and designed to learners in grades 1 to 5. The tool can sync up to five devices so that students and a teacher can all engage with the same reading materials and lessons simultaneously. Teachers can also group students based on their reading levels, and the platform will suggest appropriate content from its library of more than 200 texts, half of which are developed in-house.

The company plans to double this collection by the end of the year. “Our power users have gone through our books and want more content,” says Lombardo. The funding will also allow him grow his lean staff of four-time employees and build a sales and marketing team.

This isn’t the first literacy stint for Lombardo. For the past 10 years he was CEO of Reading Partners, a nonprofit that currently organizes volunteer-based reading programs in 85 schools across 11 states. Lombardo helped scale the nonprofit past 500 employees and generate $30 million in revenue.

Unlike LightSail, Newsela and nearly every other upstart digital literacy tools, BookNook does not ask students to take formative assessments to check for their understanding. “We are steadfastly against the multiple choice quiz at the end of a reading passage,” Lombardo states. Rather, the platform lets teachers record qualitative data on oral fluency, such as whether a student pauses at punctuation marks as they read aloud, or read in set phrases. Students can also record self-reflections on BookNook. “Because we’re dealing with small groups,” he adds, “we can get a lot more richer, observational data from the human-to-human interactions.”

That said, Lombardo believes that the observational data that BookNook provides can complement other digital reading platforms that focus on improving student achievement outcomes as measured by grade-level standards and test scores.

BookNook launched its offerings with six schools last October, and has since expanded its pilot to nearly 30 schools this year. The company currently charges each school a flat rate of $500 per month, regardless of the number of students using the product.

Lombardo is also hoping to tap—and monetize—some of his skills developed from his days at Reading Partners. For schools in certain markets, he says, the company plans on providing a service that can recruit and train tutors to use BookNook for after-school or supplemental reading programs. It’s all a part of “helping schools solve the human resource problem when it comes to building literacy,” he says.

Disclosure: Reach Capital is an investor in EdSurge

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