Litnerd broadcasts live actors in the classroom to help kids connect better to reading
Our children cannot read. In 2019, about a third of fourth-graders in the United States were unable to read at the level expected of them. Scores have barely changed in decades. Something is wrong here.
Litnerd, a New York-based company, wants to try something new. They write books and make lesson plans with a twist: professional actors, shown in the classroom, to recreate scenes from each book and hopefully! – help keep students engaged.
Litnerd programs are built in four one-hour sessions, once a week. Students read the book between sessions; once a week, an actor is sent to the classroom to replay scenes, put everything together and move the story forward. Sometimes that actor’s segment is prerecorded. Other times it’s live, with elements of choice from your own adventure mixed in for the students to steer the ship.
Something in all of this is pulling my heart tight. It reminds me of “auditorium day” at school; those rare days when our school brought in a special artist – a singer, a motivational speaker, a puppet show, whatever – to sort of distract our collective attention. Those days were so unique, so special. Even decades later, fond memories of those days remain with me.
While he currently bases his lesson plans on existing stories and content, Litnerd has his own ongoing publishing operation. The goal is to identify the categories and genres that best capture the attention of each age group (K-5), and then write books that, as the team says, “Help celebrate diversity and inclusion so that all children can see themselves in the stories.”
Litnerd started life during the pandemic under a different name: TinyBroadway. TinyBroadway shared much of its DNA with what would become Litnerd – actors, beamed through the magic of the internet, taking classes and crafts with a handful of kids at a time. Litnerd moves the concept from B2C to B2B; While TinyBroadway’s client was the parent looking to fill their own child’s schedule, Litnerd is dramatically expanding its audience (and hopefully deepens its impact as a result) by working with schools.
Image credits: Litnerd
I asked (via email) the CEO and founder of Litnerd, Anisa Mirza, what she thought of the change:
“The reality is that the majority of Americans, about 95%, cannot afford home schooling. Especially when it comes to Kindergarten to Grade 5. And doubly so when it comes to parents. of children belonging to Title 1 schools (the majority of schools in New York) “she writes. “It’s not just because parents can’t pay out of pocket. Rather, because for 95% of Americans, school is free child care (if both parents have to work a typical 9-5, they can’t afford to stay home and watch little Anisa no matter how fabulous the online home school teacher is!) That’s when I realized that if we really want to disrupt K-12 education (especially K-5), we need a solution that works from the outside by being part of class time and funded by schools.
Working with schools introduces new challenges and processes, varying a bit from city to city and state to state. In many areas, schools can’t hire a company like this on a whim – they have to work with pre-approved and contracted suppliers. Since becoming a New York City Department of Education approved provider earlier this year, Anisa tells me that more than 14,000 students have participated in Litnerd’s programs. She expects that number to double in the coming months.
Litnerd’s books, workshops, and lesson plans are built around the social and emotional learning (or SEL) practices most states in the United States have come to expect, addressing topics such as self-awareness, responsible decision-making and social awareness to help students develop more than their ability to read.
Each book comes with its own lesson plan, with student worksheets and activities and dialogue suggestions to help teachers identify and highlight the learnings expected from the stories.
It’s important to note that the company seems pretty aware of how everything is going from a teacher’s perspective. They know that most teachers already have too much to do and design lesson plans with the goal of minimizing the amount of work they add to a teacher’s day.
“We also need SEL for teachers,” Mirza tells me. “We also need a social and emotional break for them.”
It’s a pretty cool gig for the cast too, especially as the live performance industry is struggling to recover from the pandemic. Actors are currently performing and recording all of their sessions from their homes; As Litnerd grows, the company hopes to open co-working space-style hospitality studios.
Litnerd is currently focused on expanding to more schools in New York, going beyond that as different regional processes allow.