Review by Fayme Evenson, Common Sense Education | Updated October 2017

Zing!

Reading platform and book library has nice features, design challenges

Subjects & skills
Skills
  • Critical Thinking

Subjects
  • English Language Arts
  • English Language Learning
Grades This grade range is a recommendation by Common Sense Education and not the developer/publisher.
1-8
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Pros: Useful filters for browsing books, and a solid teacher dashboard.

Cons: The resources for teachers are hard to find.

Bottom Line: There are resources galore for teachers willing to put in the time to navigate, and the student experience is good but dated.

Upon creating your account, you can sign up to attend a free "getting started" webinar that is live and tailored to users; there are also tons of video tutorials that will help get you oriented. There are a few different sites you can visit once you log in, but it's best to start with the Zing! site. Here, teachers can curate a library of ebooks for their students, browsing them by topic, by reading level, or by language (and more). Once you've found some books you'd like to use and added them to your library, create a class and invite students using an access code. The free version supports one class of up to 30 students. When students log in and access the books you've assigned, they'll be able to read the book on the web, clicking through pages and using the built-in note-taking tool, highlighter, and dictionary. Some books also include e-learning prompts throughout, so make sure students use that feature if it's included in the book you've assigned. Students should also complete the activities at the end of the book; this includes completing a combination of response questions, a quiz, or a review. Younger students will need help using these features, since they're not very intuitive and there's no onboarding for them.

As students make their way through the Zing! library, you can check in on student progress using the Zing! dashboard, and conference with students as needed. Once you feel like you've got a handle on the platform, check out the other websites on offer when you log in, including Buzzing! and Eval.

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Zing! is a web-based library and reading platform where teachers curate and assign semi-interactive ebooks to students. Teachers start by creating an account. Once teachers are logged in, there are four different sites to choose from on the dashboard: Zing!, Buzzing!, Eval, and Resources. Zing! is where teachers browse ebooks, curate class libraries, and assign books to students and track their progress. The primary focus of this review, Zing! is where teachers and students will spend most of their time. The Buzzing! section includes a variety of professional development and implementation resources (author interviews, sample lesson plans, teaching tips), while the Eval section has rubrics, performance indicators, and benchmarks. The Resources section is a comprehensive catchall of implementation resources, but it's difficult to navigate.

In Zing!, the heart of the experience is browsing the books using a host of filters that include reading level, theme, grade level, and language. While 1,000 books are free, others can be purchased in collections that require purchasable credits. The credits are about a dollar apiece, but the more you buy, the more you save. There's also a $59-per-year membership that unlocks all 3,500 books. While the books don't include trending titles, there's a good selection, and each book includes a dictionary, highlighter tool, and note-taking tool. Books also include a range of simple learning activities either in-text or at the end. Teachers manage the whole experience in their dashboard, which gives a nice view of student progress.

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Educators are always looking for ways to get students actively reading, and Zing! offers a good (if not necessarily best-selling) selection of books, all at a teacher's fingertips. While it'll take some time to get a handle on Zing! (using some of the dry but effective tutorials) and build an effective library for your students' needs, once it's up and running, it can be a way to get students engaged. The ebooks offer a twist on book-based reading, including a useful dictionary as well as highlighting and note-taking -- which, while kind of clunky, can help students more deeply consider texts. It also has built-in e-learning tools that check students' comprehension, but these can be a bit unwieldy, especially for younger students, and the quizzes offer limited feedback. Zing!, like any online reading program, is walking a fine line between encroaching on the joy of reading and enhancing it with school-friendly tools and features.

The other aspects of the Schoolwide site -- namely, the professional development and instructional resources -- are useful but difficult to find and use. The Buzzing!, Eval, and Resources sections could be streamlined to make more sense to teachers and be more easily accessed and used when needed. For instance, if a teacher could assign an ebook and then within his or her account access lesson plans, rubrics, benchmarks, or discussion questions, it'd be more user friendly. 

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Overall Rating

Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return?

For teachers, it can be time-consuming to get oriented and difficult to navigate; the student experience is good, but a little stale.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer?

Fairly engaging texts for students, although don't expect the latest releases. Books include a dictionary, highlighter, and notes as well as built-in activities. 

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students?

Great teaching resources in the Buzzing! section, but they're not well organized. It's easy to sort books by reading level, and the dictionary is great; however, the reading experience could orient students better.


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