Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Life in the Publishing 3.0 World

By Kaitlin Loss, Editorial Assistant

It’s not news that advancements in technology have rapidly changed the way we read. Riding Boston’s subway during rush hour on a Monday morning is the only evidence I need. I see a wide variety of media: Kindles, iPads, Nooks, Androids. Oh, and the occasional hardcover and newspaper. Sometimes I feel terribly outdated balancing my coffee in the crook of my arm while I reach to turn the page of my paperback.

But perhaps more important than how we read is the change in how books are acquired, made, marketed, and sold. Publishers are trying to quickly find a way to adapt to this new world we live in. Most publishers have accepted the fact that their beautiful hardcover books just might not sell as quickly or as well as a PDF file or e-book format that can be downloaded instantly to a reader’s living room. But the change doesn’t stop there.

This coming fall, HarperCollins will publish a young adult novel by Leigh Fallon, a first-time author who garnered attention from HC editors on their website Inkpop, a place for aspiring authors to post their writing and rank the writing of others. Amanda Hocking self-published her young adult novels and then sold them online; three of them debuted in the top 50 of USA Today’s Best Selling Books List. Publishers routinely give their authors “internet training,” making sure they are well-versed in the realms of social media. It’s rare to see a marketing campaign that doesn’t include Twitter, Facebook, or a website at the very least. BookExpo America 2011 had an entire day devoted to digital publishing, called the Digital Book 2011 Conference.

The business of publishing itself is also rapidly changing. Publishers have long loathed the returns model, but don’t know how to go about doing business any differently. Bedford Square Books, a new imprint in London, recently opened with a new and possibly more efficient business plan: they are publishing all of their titles as e-books, with a print-on-demand option for physical books. If publishers don’t print books, they can’t be returned, and they save a ton of money on printing and shipping. That money could instead be spent on marketing and publicity campaigns, author advances, and taking chances on lesser-known authors.

All of these things make publishing a quickly changing and exciting world to be in right now. Maybe one day we’ll only see hardcover books in museums, but until then, I’ll continue to struggle to flip the page.

Monday, June 27, 2011

For the Love of eReading

By Julia Hardy, Editorial Assistant

Since the launch of the Amazon Kindle and the Barnes and Noble Nook readers, more people are reading and millions of these gadgets have been sold. But as one writer for BusinessWeek has claimed, they may be on their way out with the rise of tablet computers.

The writer of the article stated that he once owned a Kindle reader, and enjoyed reading books on it. But he ended up selling it once he bought an iPad with a Kindle Application, because he could read his Kindle e-books on his iPad instead of the Kindle. According to the article, while there is still a market for e-book readers such as the Kindle or Nook, there is an increasing demand for tablets due to their ability to browse the Internet, run applications, play music and movies, and of course, offer a better e-book reading experience. Yet Amazon and Barnes and Noble keep pushing their e-book readers because they do not want to lose their grip on the e-book market.

The Apple Corporation is proposing rules on e-book software on its own tablets which would require book content to be sold as in-app purchases; thereby, Apple would earn 30 percent on sales of Kindle and Nook. If e-book readers are going to remain on the market in competition with tablet computers, their best option is to launch their own app stores. Such a tactic would raise Amazon's and Barnes & Noble's revenues because if they sell their e-books through an app store, they earn part of the software profits. In order to have an app store, however, one first needs a software platform from which to launch it.

Barnes and Noble's Nook reader could very well be considered a tablet, since it was built on Google's Android platform and contains Wi-fi. Amazon could follow in B&N's footsteps, given the release of their new Amazon App Store, also for the Android platform. If Amazon were to create a tablet, according to the author, it would most likely be built on Android.

PSG can help you prepare your content for electronic delivery on e-books or online. Give us a call and we can give you a quote (either in print or electronically).

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

AP Test Revamp

By Jordan Koluch, Intern

For over 50 years, Advanced Placement (AP) testing has been a way for students to earn college credit while still in high school. The tests have been geared mainly toward the memorization of facts, and with thousands of pages of content that is all fair game on the exam, teachers rarely have time to cover any one topic in depth for fear that they will not adequately cover everything. The sheer volume of work required to complete each course, along with the boredom associated with memorizing content, often discourages students from taking AP classes.

That’s why the College Board, a non-profit organization that creates and administers the AP exams, as well as the SATs, is seeking to revamp most AP tests by 2015. The first subjects to be addressed will be US History and Biology, which have the densest subject matter. The goal of the new tests will be to focus on critical thinking skills, which students will need for upper-level college classes, instead of memorizing facts. This reorganization will change the format of the tests, reducing the number of multiple-choice questions and adding more open-ended ones. The College Board also plans to publish lesson plans for teachers to follow in their classrooms in order to better prepare their students for the exams. The new focus will be on themes more so than specifics.

The College Board decided to rethink the AP tests after noticing that fewer universities are giving credit for scores of 3 and 4 out of 5, which used to be considered standard passing scores. Universities have begun to question whether AP tests are an accurate reflection of how students will perform in upper-level classes because they do not thoroughly test critical thinking skills. Mean scores have also been dropping since 1997, possibly because while new information is added each year, none is removed from the curriculum.

The College Board hopes that the new AP curriculum will give more power to the students in terms of choosing how they learn. The company is creating professional development programs for teachers to help them transition toward new classroom dynamics. The College Board hopes that the new AP tests will lessen some of the burden placed on both students and teachers to cover a lot of material in a limited amount of time.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Charter School Students Thriving in Detroit

By Ken Scherpelz, Vice President of Sales and Business Development

With a tough economy to blame, the news from Detroit isn't very good lately. From high unemployment, factories closing, and a high crime rate, this Michigan city gives its young people little to hope for.

But there is a bright ray of hope coming from a group of high school students at Detroit's University High Prep School. This public charter school is getting results not seen in recent history. With a graduation rate of only 32%, Detroit ranks last in the major US cities. But University Prep claims a graduation rate of 100%, and 94% of those student go on to college.

How do they do it? This group of 512 students, chosen by lottery, thrive from two main ingredients: high expectations and accountability. The teachers expect success from these students, and the students find this extremely motivating. As for accountability, the parents are expected to take an active role in their children's education, and students know their folks will get a call from their teacher if there is a problem.

I don't often pull out the old "When I was a kid" line much any more (my kids usually find something more pressing to do when they hear it from me), but I recall my K-12 years were spent with my teachers and parents taking no excuses when it came to school work and good behavior in the classroom. While it was tough some times, it's just the way it was. And I'm thankful for it.

It's good to know that some practices from the "good old days" are meeting with success today.

Whether you're developing materials for gifted, AP, or those kids who need a little more help, contact PSG, where we have high expectations and get great results from our staff.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Teacher Coaching

By Mike Mishkin, Intern

We’ve all had a class where we ask ourselves, “Why did this person become a teacher?” And as much as we’d like to believe every educator is another Jaime Escalante, the fact of the matter is that most aren’t. So what does it take to be a great educator? Are teaching skills innate, or can they be learned? Alas, the age-old question of nature versus nurture rears its head yet again.

A strategy called teacher coaching is becoming popular. Its aim isn’t making teachers into the idealized versions seen in movies and on TV, but it seeks to make an individual teacher the best he or she can be based on his or her own natural abilities and limitations. It zeroes in on behaviors, strategies, and approaches to running a classroom and objectively tries to analyze, and ultimately, improve them. It focuses on the mechanics of teaching, moving through the classroom, pacing, and keeping every student at every level engaged and participating. Teacher coaches work the same way a baseball coach works to help a player improve his or her batting stance or swing.

Many times the behaviors a teacher needs to improve are things of which he or she is totally unaware. In a recent story on NPR about coaching, a teacher named Katie Hubbard discusses her response to a situation in which a normally quiet student responded to a question in a way that was difficult to understand. She recounts that “Instead of working to validate his answer, [she] said, ‘OK, does anyone else have any thoughts?’ and totally skipped over him.” It’s not the best way to inspire a student’s confidence, but one even her teaching coach admits is “tempting to just go for that quick ‘Anyone else?’”

Correcting these kinds of behaviors comes in two main approaches: professional approach and peer approach. The professional approach involves an outside firm and professional coach. A teacher will be videotaped in the classroom and review the tape with the coach for individualized adjustments to teaching style. The peer approach is similar, but involves teachers sitting in on one another’s classes, and can involve a collaborative, or “team teaching” aspect.

However, like anything that seems too good to be true, there are drawbacks to both approaches. Professional coaching is expensive, and many schools that need it simply can’t afford it. The peer approach ends up taking one teacher out of a classroom to watch another, and can end up being more subjective due to personal relationships among coworkers.

So do great teachers emerge naturally, or is their greatness learned? It’s still impossible to say. In all likelihood, great teaching involves both nature and nurture. Whether great teachers are born great, or they learn how to be great, the important thing is that through teacher coaching, educators are working to be as good as possible at what they do.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Non-Traditional Superintendents

By Ken Scherpelz, Vice President of Sales and Business Development

A new trend in school leadership is emerging. School districts are beginning to hire nontraditional candidates--from leaders at non-profit organizations to top corporate executives to former government officials--to be their new superintendents. States such as New Jersey and Pennsylvania are taking measures to create a process whereby nontraditional candidates may be hired as school administrators.

So what began this interest in choosing those without a background in education administration to be school leaders? Why choose such candidates? It's because leadership in any field, government, business, or otherwise, can translate into leadership in the academic field. For instance, retired Army Brigadier General Anthony Tata took on the position of superintendent of North Carolina's Wake County School District in January of 2011, and since he took office, he has been visiting schools, getting to know the teachers and their students, and being proactive. His military training included connecting with the community, and as he does this, he learns how the classes are taught and what the schools in his district need. Thus he figures out how he can better provide for the schools.

However, such a trend may level off or even decrease due to adverse feelings about hiring an administrator without academic credentials. It is difficult for the candidates to establish credibility in their new positions, and they must be able to handle all sides of a debate while coming up with a plausible solution.

While nontraditional administrators are not the entire solution to the problem of trying to better education, they are a source of new ideas and different perspectives.

Monday, June 6, 2011

3 Million AP Exams Taken in 2010

By Kaitlin Loss, Editorial Assistant

The number of students taking Advanced Placement exams has been rising from year to year. In 2010, just under two million students took over three million AP exams, up about 10% from 2009. The College Board, which sponsors the AP exam, offers thirty-four courses that, if a student scores high enough on the exam, can transfer over to college credit. Fifty-eight percent of students scored a 3 or better on their exams in 2010. The College Board boasts that Advanced Placement courses help students get a jump on college-level work and may help students qualify for scholarships.

And it's not just seniors who are taking these exams. Around 60% of students taking the exams in 2010 were at a grade level other than senior. That means students are beginning to think about and take college-level work earlier in their high school careers.

As publishers look to expand their offerings, AP textbooks and study guides are becoming a viable addition to the front list. Working with their college publishing colleagues, many school publishers are creating new AP titles that help college-bound students "hit the ground running." If you have not been to the College Board website, it is worth a few minutes to take a look at the courses for which publishers can create texts.

At PSG, we have experience working with our publishing clients to create Advanced Placement product. We have content experts who have written content, created assessment items, and edited and fact-checked AP content. If AP product is a part of your future publishing plans, be sure to give us a call for any resources you may need.