In an ideal world, every child would discover a passion for reading that would grow as they got introduced to new books aligning with their interests. Unfortunately, even the best school systems and most engaged parents face challenges cultivating a lifetime love of literacy.
It’s nobody’s fault, but parents are busy, distractions are endless and a persistent disconnect between activities in the classroom and at home has lingered forever.
Those are some of the problems that Vidya Joshi has been considering for years. With children aged six and eight, the issues hit especially close to home.
“It’s very disjointed between the school and home,” Joshi says. “Parents don’t know what children are reading on a daily basis and teachers don’t know how much a child is reading outside of the classroom.”
That lack of communication has no doubt frustrated parents in the past, but Joshi’s professional experience bringing people together through complex online platforms gives her a unique set of skills to find a solution.
In January of 2016, she quit her job as a program manager at Vistaprint to tackle the problem full time. By July, she had launched a monthly book delivery service and developed a prototype Android app for parents and teachers called Readocity.
“Within a month, with no marketing, we had around 40 people subscribing [for book delivery] ranging from parents of four year olds to high school teachers looking for books for their classroom,” Joshi says.
A big part of Readocity’s book delivery program is the network of childhood literacy experts the company works with to craft classroom and child-specific book recommendations.
After downloading Readocity, a teacher or parent starts by answering a few survey questions about a child’s reading level and interests. Then the company’s team of experts uses those answers to tailor book recommendations to that child. The experts, known as Readocity Pathfinders, are typically librarians and teachers who have experience working with young readers.
While the book delivery service got off the ground, Joshi gave the beta version of the app to one of her children’s teachers to track her child’s reading activity. Through the app the teacher could log completed books and send notes to Joshi about her child’s receptiveness to different book subjects.
After making some tweaks to the solution, Joshi hired a local company to develop a more polished version of Readocity for Android and iOS. With the new version teachers can select specific book titles to show up on the parent’s app under Educator Recommendations.
The free app went live in October, and Joshi has been working hard ever since to add features as she gets feedback from parents and teachers.
“The app is focused around the child, so teachers can push book recommendations to parents along with notes like, ‘Talk to your child about the solar system, that’s what we read about today,’ and it creates an environment around reading,” Joshi says. “Now reading isn’t just about the book, it’s about the conversations around the book. So there’s a joy to it.”
When a book is recommended for a child, either by a Pathfinder or a teacher, a parent can click on the recommendation and read a short summary. Readocity can also give parents the location of the nearest library that has the book.
Joshi says she’s been thrilled with her Pathfinder’s work so far. Recommendations are typically new books, books that have won awards or titles you might not find in a typical classroom.
Joshi also plans to automate some of the recommendation process as the company scales.
“Kids lose interest in reading because they can’t find books they love and teachers don’t have the time to find a book that’s perfect for every child,” Joshi says. “But that’s a problem you can easily solve with data science and artificial intelligence. Our goal is to get each child the right book at the right time and we’ll do that with a combination of experts and algorithms.”
To encourage more interactions between parents and teachers, Readocity announced the Parent Engagement Challenge last month. The promotion offers teachers free books if they regularly communicate with their student’s parents for at least four weeks.
“Our goal is to expand the notion of reading from the classroom to the parent,” Joshi says. “We’re planning to use those communications to measure engagement and make our app better.”
Around seven teachers signed up for the challenge within the first few days and Readocity will offer free books through the end of the academic year. The company is waiting to expand the program further to ensure that participating teachers get everything they need.
Joshi says she’s on a mission to expand the company’s reach before the summer, when reading typically takes a big dip among grade school students. In the short time the app has been available, it already has around 500 downloads and more than 100 parents logging in at least once a week.
Going forward, Joshi envisions a freemium-based business model and is open to integrating with other edtech interfaces. Having bootstrapped until now, Joshi is also looking to partner with an angel investor to help the company scale.
“My vision is to have Readocity in schools all over the nation,” Joshi says. “The free app would give teachers everything they need to track students’ reading journey, give recommendations and allow access to intelligent data about what other people are reading. There would be a network effect to the app.”
Working toward these big goals makes Joshi busy, which is why she uses Readocity every day with her own children to stay on a regular reading schedule and save time looking for books at the library. It’s an experience she hopes thousands of other parents will soon share.
“Every child has a unique reading journey, so parents and teachers are constantly trying to find the right book,” Joshi says. “As a parent, my goal is to help raise a generation of readers.”