We’re gearing up for the International Society for Technology in Education 2014 Conference (ISTE) coming up on June 28th. We have had the opportunity to speak with several exhibitors. Among these exhibitor companies is Tales2Go. Tales2Go is an interesting approach to getting kids to read and enjoy reading. Essentially, Tales2Go is a sort of Netflix for streaming audiobooks. We had a chance to ask the team a few questions about the product. You can check out Tales2Go in person at the ISTE Conference at booth #2875.
What is Tales2Go?
Tales2Go is a Netflix?like service that streams thousands of name-brand audio book titles from leading publishers to desktops, laptops and mobile devices in the classroom and beyond. The company has innovated on both the delivery and business model of distributing audio books to schools, early childhood programs and parents, giving users instant, unlimited and simultaneous access to its catalog. Literacy experts have long understood that children need to be good listeners in order to become good readers, which is why the Common Core State Standards elevates listening to a skill equivalent to reading, writing and speaking.
Tell us about the audience of Tales2Go.
There are many people within a school or district that are concerned about reading proficiency, ranging from classroom teachers to reading specialists to instructional technology folks. We work with many, including library media specialists who focus on curating great digital content for school communities that can leverage an ever expanding number of school-owned mobile devices (ranging from laptops to tablets), as well as personal/BYOD devices that exist within the larger community. A subscription to Tales2Go covers all school-owned devices, plus gives a license to each faculty member and student to take home to use year round.
What makes Tales2Go different than what is currently available?
Tales2Go breaks new ground and stands apart from its competitors in three important ways. First, Tales2Go is exclusively focused on children’s titles and the school market. It is Tales2Go’s management’s experience that focusing on a customer group leads to better innovation in a market (e.g., Nickelodeon conceiving of a dedicated cable channel for kids vs. the broadcast networks setting aside several hours of children’s programming on Saturday morning). Second, Tales2Go provides instant and unlimited access to 4,000+ name-brand audio books from leading publishers on desktops, laptops, and mobile devices via streaming technology. The Tales2Go library is continually expanding with the addition of new publishers. Think of the difference between downloading one song on iTunes or listening to Pandora or Spotify. As with innovations in other industries (e.g., Zip cars), there is a trend away from ‘ownership’ towards ‘access’ of needed items and services. Finally, Tales2Go gives educators and students simultaneous access to the titles in its library. For the first time ever, a classroom teacher can assign an audio book to an entire classroom or grade and have all the students listen at the same time on different devices. The Tales2Go service is designed to accommodate the needs of a 21st Century classroom where students are issued laptops and mobile devices, or can bring their own devices into school.
Why did you get involved in the education industry?
To help close the word gap. Just 35% of 4th graders in the U.S. read at or above proficiency, meaning that nearly two-thirds of students struggle with reading. If you’re not reading proficiently at the end of 3rd grade, you’re 4x more likely not to graduate from high school. The root cause of the problem is a lack of vocabulary, otherwise known as the ‘word gap.’ A linguistically rich 1st grader knows 20,000 words, whereas a linguistically poor first grader knows just 5,000 words. That 4x difference explains an achievement gap that persists through primary school. Connecting the dots… literacy experts have long understood that children need to be good listeners in order to become good readers. Effectively there is a link between listening to fluent words, vocabulary acquisition and retention and proficient reading, which is why the Common Core State Standards elevates listening to s skill equivalent to reading, writing and speaking. And while we’d like to think that parents, caregivers and educators are reading out loud a lot to kids, the data suggests otherwise. At a minimum, parents, caregivers and educators aren’t reading aloud to kids in sufficient quantity, or many are not able to read to their children in English. Thus, transforming audio books from a nice library resource to a critical tool used in classroom reading instruction for all students – early childhood through primary school – is a big idea.
Tell us about your team and their backgrounds
Our team consists of executives that are very knowledgeable about education, technology, content and distribution, hailing from companies such as National Geographic, Grolier, Nickelodeon, Disney, Qwizdom and VizZle. We’re a passionate group that has experience building successful businesses within larger companies, and are now committed to transforming audio books from a nice library resource into a critical tool used in classroom reading instruction for all students, early childhood through elementary school. Tales2Go was founded by William and Tracey Weil in 2009.
What is the next step? What do your current goals look like?
We are currently in use in nearly 600 schools around the country, comprising some 250,000 students. Some of our larger customers include Broward County Public Schools in FL (the 6th largest school district in the country) and Heartland AEA in Iowa. We’re working on expanding into many more districts, particularly those with high populations of low-income kids who lack the sufficient vocabulary to be successful readers.