We have used Newsela for a long time. Until this year, we always used the free version, which is great. We were blessed enough to have our school purchase the PRO subscription. The question is, are the differences worth the cost?
First of all, let me start out by saying any data shown during this review is fictitious. This is not for any reason other than the fact that I don’t want real student data being tossed around on the internet. I did not want to have to fuzz out a bunch of names and have the screens hard to read, so Newsela provided me with a fake user account with data in it to use for this post.
First things first, with the PRO version, you get a BINDER. This binder is a digital portfolio that allows you to see student data. Now, the free version allows you to see how a class did as a whole, but not student specific data. By hovering over the BINDER link, you see a snapshot of the most recent student activity, as shown below.
Now, here is one of the nice parts about the PRO subscription. When you actually click the binder, you see a screen that looks like this. You can see a similar screen with the free version.
The difference however, is that you can click to expand the view and see individual student data, as shown below.
Remember, you are looking at fictitious data, but this screen is exactly what I see with my student data.
Now, this is where the PRO subscription really shines. From the binder screen, I am able to see individual scores. More than that, I can see what grade level or levels a student read an article and completed a quiz on. You can see what date a student first viewed an article, and each grade level they viewed it on.
Another great thing about the PRO subscription is annotations. There are annotations that are already created for many articles. Even better, you can create custom annotations for articles as well. Students are able to respond to the annotations for the teacher to read.
Students learning to annotate articles is an extremely powerful tool. Students can make annotations on their own, highlighting important portions of the text and commenting on them. You will notice that you can see how many annotations each student made from the binder view above as well.
Another great feature is the student data. You can see, Newsela ranks students and categorizes them.
Additionally, by clicking a student name, you can see each quiz a student has taken. By hovering over each dot on the graph you can see how the student performed on that task. This makes student conferences much more productive, as the data is easy to access.
All About Instructions:
Newsela PRO allows teachers to enter customized instructions for students. For example, if you wish to have students complete a task at a specific Lexile level rather than they just right reading level Newsela puts a student at, you can make a note of that there. Feel like having them complete the writing task? Make sure to mention it in the instructions as well. It is a simple way to let kids know what you expect.
Let’s Write About It:
I mentioned the writing task above. Another great tool that is integrated into Newsela. Teachers can choose to use the writing prompt provided by Newsela, or they can choose to create their own custom writing prompt. As we all know, routine writing is an important part of learning. Kids need to write to convey understanding, and this is a great way to do this. The writing tool is simple for students to use, and simple for teachers to create custom prompts in. Below, you can see the default writing prompt and the custom prompt interface. Both of these are reached by clicking the WRITE link with a pencil icon.
Google Classroom Integration:
Newsela now has the ability to share articles straight from Newsela to Google Classroom. This is an extremely handy feature. You can read more about it HERE. A little bit of info about this one. It is important to note that you must still assign the article in Newsela itself. Simply sharing it to Google Classroom will not create the assignment in the student binder. This is only a couple seconds of clicking, but an important step. Otherwise, articles appear in your binder like the student completed them independently instead of as a part of your class. This complicates getting data out of Newsela, so be sure to assign them in Newsela as shown below.
About Those Power Tools…
Newsela is an extremely powerful tool. It has an ever increasing collection of articles to read. Each article is leveled at five different Lexile levels. It has articles categorized into several well thought out groupings, as shown below.
You can search articles by keyword, interest level, and more. Newsela also has a section devoted to current events/news.
Feel like putting together a bunch of texts to pair up with a novel you are reading? Or maybe some texts that relate to a general topic you are discussing? This is a simple task utilizing Newsela’s text set feature. There are text sets that are already created or you can create your own text set.
So, is it worth it?
That is the questions. Let’s be real, it is not free. While I am not entirely sure of the exact price of the subscription, I know it is not cheap. Knowing this, you are forced to ask yourself, is it worth the investment? I can say this… I have seen significant improvement in reading ability among my students. We are using the program school-wide, and kids are reading more than ever. It is usable across the content areas. Even better, we are getting actionable data as a result of their reading. Having used both the free version and PRO subscription, I can say I hope I never have to go back to the free version.