Scholastic Action: Quality Images and Content Define Success for Golden Lamp Winner

The winner of the Golden Lamp Periodicals category connects back to the REVERE Awards’ origin. In this third profile of the 2013 award winners we hear from Sarah Jane Brian, Executive Editor of Scholastic Action. Published by Scholastic Inc., this magazine wowed the judges with its print and digital features that help motivate struggling readers.

The idea or inspiration behind Scholastic Action

Scholastic Action aims to help remedial language arts students in grades 6 to 12 who are reading and writing well below grade level. The magazine provides exciting, engaging, and authentic texts that are age- appropriate for teenagers, but that are presented at an accessible 3rd-to-5th grade reading level. Over the past few years Action has undergone a major update, as we have honed our editorial and design vision to better meet the needs of struggling readers and the educators who teach them. On the editorial side we have added a wealth of bonus resources on our website, including differentiated articles, audio read-alouds, videos, interactive games that build language arts skills, and more than a dozen bonus reproducible skills pages per issue for extra practice and assessment. We also retooled our Teacher’s Guide to include three ready-to-use lesson plans per issue, complete with learning goals, standards alignment, and timed, step-by-step procedures. The design of the magazine was also reworked with large, exciting photos to draw in reluctant readers, and cleaner, streamlined layouts that are more accessible for students with learning disabilities.

The process and people behind the making of Scholastic Action

Scholastic Action is published 12 times during the school year, from September through May, and our production schedule is pretty much year-round. In March, we begin working on our first September issue right after we’ve finished up the final May issue for the previous school year. Resources for our website are completed after we have closed the print issue, so we usually work on print and online content for 2 or 3 issues at the same time.

In 2012, the editorial staff included Nicole Tocco (Managing Editor); Christy Damio (Senior Editor); Samantha McCann (Assistant Editor); and Kim Greene (Teacher’s Guide Writer). Our Editorial Director was Lauren Tarshis. On the design staff were Beth Benzaquin (Senior Art Director); Els Rijper (Photo Editor); and Creative Director Judith Christ-Lafond. Moom Luu was our Senior Production Editor. Many of our website resources were created with the invaluable help of Jill Feyer (video); Jeff Cacossa and Noah Rosenfield (games) and Tyrus Cukavac (audio).

Using feedback to improve Scholastic Action

We get constant feedback from our teacher advisors, from online surveys, and by going on school visits to observe teachers and students using the product. One thing we learned was that many teachers needed differentiated reading materials because they teach students with a variety of skill levels within one class. This was the inspiration for creating differentiated versions of our articles. We also noticed that teachers of struggling readers would often read articles aloud to their students, as a way of modeling fluent expression and aiding comprehension. This led us to add audio read-alouds.

Action is a constant work in progress—as teachers’ needs change, we will adjust our offerings accordingly. For 2013-2014, that means more emphasis on the kinds of deep-thinking skills required by the Common Core—but with lots of scaffolding to help below-level readers achieve success.

Action’s secrets to success…

There are several secrets to Action‘s success. Perhaps the most important is that we strive to know our readers and to engage them with exciting, relevant articles that keep them turning the pages. We also work to incorporate many, many resources for educators to provide crucial skills practice for their students with minimal teacher prep time. Every article comes with an activity page in the magazine plus bonus skills pages online, and many come with complete lesson plans, differentiated texts, audio, videos, games, or other engaging online resources as well. The product is very flexible—teachers can use all of these resources, or just pick and choose the ones that work best in their particular classroom.

With reluctant readers,the value of engaging visuals cannot be overstated. As a result, we hold ourselves to very high standards when it comes to images—we may have an idea for a really interesting article, but if we can’t find dynamic photos that add to the story, we will “kill” the idea and find another story to take its place. I’d say we do this with at least one or two articles per issue. Finally, struggling readers in grades 6-12 may often be disengaged and lack motivation. Action is unique in providing a fun, motivating, and up-to-date periodical that teachers can use to help these students find success in reading and writing.

What winning the Golden Lamp Award means…

Winning any AEP Award [now known as the REVERE Awards – Ed.] is a fantastic honor, considering the excellence of all the finalists. But winning the Golden Lamp Award truly felt like taking home the Oscar® for Best Picture at the Academy Awards. It has given everyone who contributes to the magazine an incredible feeling of achievement. The award is especially meaningful because winners are chosen by experts in educational publishing, a field that is not always well understood by people outside the industry.

Upcoming features to look for in Action

Right now we are working on new ways to help teachers boost the key reading and writing skills of their struggling students. One of our exciting new offerings is our Common Core Tool Kits. Each kit focuses on a key CCSS skill such as finding text evidence or writing a narrative. It pairs a complete, ready-to-use lesson plan with a themed skills sheet for extra practice and assessment (available in a printable version or in an interactive version that can be used with a computer or whiteboard), as well as an extra online resource such as an interactive game, video, or bonus article. Our hope is that our new resources will help below-level students begin to master many of the same language arts skills as their on-level peers, but working with texts that are written at a lower, more accessible level.

Learn more about Scholastic Action.