Bringing Stories to Life: Jerry Stemach, Readtopia’s Chief Storyteller
Bringing the curriculum together with stories from around the globe
Jerry pours storytelling into curriculum-tied thematic units that allow him to explore the globe and bring some of the most important ideas to life in thousands of special education and autism classrooms across the continent. Videos, pictures, and graphic novels fill interactive whiteboards and Chromebook Zoom screens from the Readtopia team’s global explorations. Engagement is the key here and is a necessary component of learning—especially when students’ curiosity and interest is sparked from content they may not have received before. Special educator, Patti Hummel experienced this firsthand in her classroom as a marked change from previous teaching resources—“Then I discovered Readtopia. It grabbed their attention from the start, and it exposed them, finally, to higher-level thinking and information that they [my students] actually enjoyed.”
These higher-level thinking skills gel in Readtopia classrooms. These classroom “pods” end up becoming something really special both for students and teachers. They are diving deeper into the curriculum than ever before through thematic units that connect a narrative (fiction or nonfiction) book with curriculum-based subject area content. For example, the Tuskegee Airmen narrative nonfiction book at seven levels is paired with subject-area instructional content about gravity, force, and motion. In this way, students connect with the likes of William Shakespeare while learning about the Middle Ages, and birds, mammals, and reptiles while reading Dr. Doolittle. It’s an instructional model that is long overdue for this population. This resonates with many special educators as they adopt Readtopia, including Erlind Lacy who shared, “Readtopia has given me the opportunity to touch on higher-level thinking. It’s given me some of the strategies and tools I need to do it right.”
Leveling text for the widest range of student needs
One of Jerry’s roles on the Readtopia team is leveling materials, and to do so, he draws on his 50 plus years of experience working directly with students who have language-based reading disorders. He, along with colleagues Dorothy Tyack and Gail Venable, developed grammar and syntax rules that guided the texts we wrote for older, struggling readers. These rules are the reason why Readtopia’s graphic novels and chapter books (for shared reading) are so readable—even for older students at the most emergent reading levels.
That’s a feeling we should all share.