May 21, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Customize Lesson Plans with StudySync

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Build middle and high school students’ vocabulary, reading comprehension, and research skills, and more, with units on everything from justice and the definition of a hero to Lois Lowry’s The Giver and George Orwell’s Animal Farm.

StudySync Database

Grade Level Gr 6 Up

Cost Pricing differs depending on subscription/product bundles and length of purchase.

Overview   StudySync, created in 2009, has partnered with McGraw-Hill Education since 2013, offering an “anywhere, anytime, any device experience” for English Language Arts (ELA) and English Language Development (ELD) (or information targeted to English language learners) in a digital environment with full print support. Robust 45-day units are thoughtfully crafted to build a variety of skills. Units are highly customizable or can be deployed as is, using the pacing guide and the teacher discussion notes, assignments, and quizzes.

Content Each grade level contains four thematic units and a core curriculum guide, along with scope and sequence guides and grade level overviews. A highly detailed pacing guide provides a suggested time line, including 10–12 texts, often excerpts from modern and classic works, with some original works written for StudySync. Each unit begins with a short video, with stirring music and essential questions such as “What is a hero?” (grade six, including texts on Rosa Parks and Eleanor Roosevelt and a point/counterpoint text on “Celebrities as Heroes”) and “What is the human connection?” (grade 10, including an excerpt from Elie Wiesel’s Night and the transcript of a scene from the movie Hotel Rwanda). Students can listen to texts read aloud at varying speeds and annotate texts. “Think” questions can be assigned, answered, and submitted for grading.

Educator Ease of Use/Visual Appeal  The production values are excellent, in shades of browns and gray, with colors such as muted orange and blue for emphasis. The layout is clean, with high-quality photos. Teachers can rely on features such as podcasts and short assignments called “Blasts” to sustain student interest. Handouts and assignments are provided at varying levels. Educators can view all assignments from a student perspective and track student progress. Integration with GoogleDocs allows users to write or collaborate on a document before using “preview” and “submit” to transfer the document to StudySync for peer review or grading.

Student Ease of Use/Visual Appeal The student view is clean and uncluttered. Unit introductions have a movie trailer feel, and throughout each unit are short StudySyncTV and SkillsTV videos (with optional captioning) featuring a diverse range of energetic students explaining concepts, defining literary terms, and modeling the give-and-take of successful group work and discussion. Skills instruction is delivered in a “Define”/“Model”/“Your Turn” format (brief videos are followed by readings with notes and guidance; finally, readings with prompts allow students to demonstrate their understanding of the topic). The program adapts to multiple platforms, and materials can be downloaded for offline work.

Teacher Resources  StudySync resources are broad and deep, providing support for novice teachers and allowing experienced educators to dig deeper by deleting or adding readings and assignments and otherwise personalizing individual lessons or complete units. StudySync includes an ever-growing library of about 1,600 readings at levels from below grade six (Aesop’s Fables, an excerpt from Black Beauty) through adult (an excerpt from The Hobbit, selected letters from Abigail Adams to John Adams). About six percent of readings and some Blasts are currently available in Spanish. Teacher notes for readings, discussions, and assignments are accessible from a side menu within the program or as printable PDFs.

Ten-day SyncStart units familiarize teachers and students with the StudySync platform. A sampling of other teacher resources include lesson plans, Common Core standards alignment, webinars, and training links.

Verdict This is an extremely powerful and well-thought-out instructional resource for teachers and school systems committed to harnessing its full potential. While a novice user could step in immediately, StudySync offers almost limitless variety and creativity for teachers choosing to delve deeper. With the option for free trial access, any teacher, school, or district looking for ELA and ELD resources would benefit from exploring StudySync.


Maggie Knapp, Trinity Valley School, Fort Worth, TX

This article was published in School Library Journal's December 2017 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

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