Anne Riccio, Senior Supervising Editor, ELA & Humanities, oversees the development of Literacy and Social Studies programs. She has a strong background in both subject areas, having worked directly in schools as a social studies teacher, and also as a director of reading content development. Before joining Westchester K-12, Anne led the development of a series of readers for Heinemann, working directly with Irene Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell. Anne also brings with her a strong ed-tech background, and she is adept at incorporating technology into the classroom.
I’d like you to provide readers with a little background about your role here at Westchester K-12.
Anne: My primary responsibilities are to manage the Literacy and Social Studies projects in-house, which includes finding freelancers with the right expertise for the project, overseeing their work and providing guidance. Projects can range from developing level readers, teacher materials such as Read Aloud or Reader Theater’s lessons, and overseeing state specific customizations. Through my experience working for several basal and supplemental publishers, I have the ability to evaluate materials to determine how they will meet the publishers’ needs. For instance, having worked with Fountas and Pinnell, I am better able to provide guidance about how to develop readers at the right level that are topical as well as highly interesting to kids. It’s very important that nonfiction content be extremely well-written and fiction stories be engaging in order to achieve this.
You started your career as a social studies teacher. Where did you teach, and what grades?
Anne: I taught American History and Geography for grades 6-8 at a small Catholic school in Somerville, Massachusetts. After teaching for three years, I went back to school for a Master’s in Education (Social Studies education).
How did you enter the K-12 educational publishing space, and what were some of the deciding factors to move from teaching to content development?
Anne: While in school, I began freelancing by doing content development work for an educational publisher. This eventually led to a full-time staff position. While I missed working directly with kids, I discovered that I enjoyed the challenge of the publishing world, and the opportunities it afforded to work with top-notch thought leaders in Reading and ELA.
What has changed in the way K-12 publishers are developing content today?
Anne: Creating content is still somewhat the same in terms of tapping into content/subject matter experts around the country, and conducting a lot of testing with focus groups. It’s vital to test with teachers in terms of how they respond to the materials, and making sure the content is user-friendly to teachers while also making sure it will meet the needs of the students they are teaching. What has changed is publishers’ increased awareness of the importance of presenting young readers with materials in which they can see themselves—the need for there to be both mirrors and windows in reading materials.
As you know, we conducted a literacy teacher roundtable and a survey to hear from teachers about the materials they use in their classrooms. What are your thoughts about nearly half of the respondents not using core materials, instead, sourcing their own from websites and other resources?
Anne: There have always been some literacy teachers who don’t rely on published anthologies, and with the advance of the internet and the ready availability of materials, it’s become more commonplace. In urban areas where there is often an influx of new teachers and in suburban areas where there is a strong desire for students in all classrooms to be adequately prepared for state tests, college, and the workplace, they are more likely to use the anthologies/core materials. Some states are still looking for content to fulfill their needs and will sometimes use supplemental materials.
So many teachers expressed a concern (only 4% were highly satisfied) about the level of diversity in the materials they provide. What do schools and the publishers who support them need to do? What kinds of things would you recommend publishers do to help schools understand that they need to expand their available products?
Anne: The lack of diversity can be a driver in the reason why teachers are seeking their own materials. While textbooks try to highlight the different cultural and socio-economic backgrounds of kids – they sometimes don’t quite match the different kids in the classroom.
Kids come into the classroom at different levels – so the combination of coming from different cultural and social backgrounds, AND being at different reading levels often will drive teachers to look for materials better able to match the needs of the students in their classroom.
There are several reports and studies about the effectiveness of graphic novel readers in the classroom. What are your thoughts about graphic novel readers?
Anne: Kids love graphic novels – teachers have shared that kids can feel more successful by reading a graphic novel. Students have to make more inferences than they would if they were reading a regular textbook. It’s important to pay attention to the text and the art, and teachers are seeing that it’s more complex than a cartoon because when graphic novels are done correctly, it helps students develop stronger reading skills.
Why should educational publishers consider working with Westchester K-12?
Anne: Kevin (Westchester K-12 Managing Director) has assembled an amazing team and promotes great internal collaboration. There’s also a high level of expertise across the team. Tight collaboration with the publisher to meet their deadline and requirements is also something that’s part of the Westchester K-12 culture. We work with the publishers to develop materials that meet specifications and are delivered on-time. What’s helpful for the publisher is that we have the ability to complete the entire project in-house. We’re able to identify the efficiencies other developers may not be able to because of the level of expertise and collaboration we provide. Also, we’re not just looking for the big whale projects – we’ll work with projects of any size, and have the ability to handle a variety of projects.
Is there anything else that you would like to share about yourself, your experience and/or your role at Westchester K-12?
Anne: We’ve built an excellent pool of freelancers, which gives us the capability to handle a wide range of projects and subject matters. All of these individuals are passionate about the work they do and are dedicated to delivering high-quality educational content for children.
I get to work with seasoned veterans like Marie Brown as well as numerous younger publishing professionals. I enjoy working with a diverse range of individuals on projects because they bring with them a sensitivity to new ideas and an awareness of technologies that help make the finished product more effective for teachers and students.