Three of the Nation's Top Education and Literacy Organizations Come Together to Address the Needs of Older Beginning Readers

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Story Share is designed to spread awareness about teen literacy and the lack of age-appropriate, accessible reading materials currently available.

"The focus of Story Share is to inspire the development of accessible stories and collections that pique the interest of readers who are beginning to understand the joy of reading." - Dr. Lisa Wadors-Verne, Benetech Global Literacy

Benetech Global Literacy, the Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST) and the National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD) announced today the launch of Story Share: The $50,000 writing contest to benefit teen and adult beginning readers. Story Share is designed to expand the body of contemporary fiction and non-fiction reading material available to adolescents and young adults who struggle with reading.

Eleven cash prizes will be awarded to winners in categories including best series, best character-based story and best use of illustrations. Prize levels range from $2,000 to a grand prize of $10,000.

"More than 20 percent of adults in the U.S. read below a fifth grade level and more than 40 million teens and adults lack basic literacy skills," said Kevin Hager, Chief Communications and Engagement Officer at NCLD.

"The problem remains that too many children, particularly those with learning disabilities, don't learn to read proficiently in the primary grades, making their transition into the middle and high school years all the more difficult," he added.

As older beginning readers transition from learning to read to “reading to learn” educators have few options to provide them with topical, high-interest books. Often, the materials available are written for young children, not young adults, and while their reading level is below grade level, their interests are not.

"Teen and young adult beginning readers are more apt to read a book if it is not only at their reading level but also at their interest level," said Dr. Lisa Wadors-Verne, Educational Program Manager for Benetech Global Literacy.

"The focus of Story Share is to inspire the development of accessible stories and collections that pique the interest of readers who are beginning to understand the joy of reading," explained Wadors-Verne.

Books submitted through Story Share will be made available to the public through free digital platforms, including Benetech Bookshare and Route 66 Literacy, as well as a new e-book reader-writer, called Hoku, designed specifically to make the creation of engaging content easy for writers while meeting the needs of older beginning readers.

Bookshare provides a broad spectrum of current books and articles in accessible formats to more than 250,000 people with print disabilities, while Route 66 Literacy pairs beginning readers side-by-side with teacher-tutors who guide reading and writing activities through an online instructional literacy program.

Hoku combines the best of both visual and auditory learning in a rich interactive environment based on Universal Design for Learning principles, guided reading instruction and text-to-speech capabilities for all types of readers. Additionally, social media is woven into Hoku to allow readers to share ideas about stories in real time, just like many book clubs.

"Hoku adds an important dimension to literacy instruction for emerging readers by enabling educators to measure reader engagement," said David Rose, Chief Education Officer at CAST.

The broad functionality of Hoku is being developed in tandem with CAST's Center for Emerging Technology, whose research with partners at Vanderbilt University and the University of Arizona explores how emerging technologies can be used to enhance student motivation and engagement in learning, and improve open educational resources.

With Hoku, educators will be able to bring high-interest topics to life; writers will have choices in story design, but also have clear guidelines and tips for ensuring the content is accessible to struggling readers; and for the readers themselves, the platform prioritizes both readability and aesthetic appeal, allowing beginning stories to be read in a non-stigmatizing way.

"Reading for meaning opens opportunities for a lifetime of learning," added Rose. "Providing struggling readers with engaging texts that are designed to offer both challenge and support for each individual will improve their lives for years to come. Story Share is a wonderful start."

More information about Story Share and Hoku can be found online at http://www.storysharecontest.com or http://www.hokustory.com.

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Jennifer Malleo
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