EPISODE 173 | Ever had a question about BookShark? Now you can get those questions answered by our seasoned experts.  Whether you're curious about our homeschooling approach (why we do the way we do) or seeking insights into our range of educational products (why 4 days), our experienced professionals answer all those and more thoroughly and insightfully. Join Janna as she chats with her guest, Maddie Suter, BookShark’s' School Liason, as they discuss all the questions they have received at conventions, through customer service and more.

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Podcast Transcript

Janna  00:04  Welcome to Homeschool Your Way. I'm your host, Janna Koch and BookShark’s Community Manager. In today's episode, I'm going to give you an insider's look into some of the most asked questions about BookShark, our methodologies, and even where we're located. But before I do, I'm going to bring in someone to help me who is known to BookShark as the School Liaison. She has been around BookShark for seven years. And Maddie Suter is going to join me in this episode. Maddie, thanks so much for being here.

Maddie  01:04 Thanks for having me.

Janna  01:07 You know, we get so many questions. I mean, so many questions, and we get a lot of the same questions, obviously. But we do get a lot of interesting questions about BookShark, first of all, you know, from how the name came about which to you and I, it just seems so natural that that's what our name is. But you know, deciding on how that how that name came about. To our most recent question, was if people could come in and see our warehouse and see where we store the books and how we pack our packages and, and where you know, they call into if they have a question and get our customer service. So this episode is really just about answering some of those questions and giving people some insight into whether they are current BookShark users, or they're even thinking about using BookShark. So quickly introduce yourself and what a school liaison is.

Maddie  01:57 So I like you said I have been with Book Shark for seven years I worked in, I've worked in pretty much everything from customer service up. And I am now our school liaison, which means that I am your point of contact for all of our charter schools, public schools, larger co-ops who order for multiple students, I do a lot of traveling just like Janna, so I do a lot of our school events and our larger charter events. So that's kind of where I live. But I started off in customer service. So I definitely got a lot of these questions when I was in customer service and still actually get them from some of our schools, parents that use BookShark through charters. 

Janna  02:37 I think some listeners may actually be surprised to know that we are used in public school systems, whether you'd like to set our charter or larger co-ops I know when I'm on on the floor at conventions are talking to other families and kind of giving them BookShark’s background, it is very comforting for some parents to know that we are used in some of these educational systems that, you know, brings them some comfort because they know that they're getting a curriculum that is trusted by the system. At the same time. There's a whole section of us that want to be outside of that system. So we kind of hit those two things at once when we are dealing with both a traditional homeschooler and then a public homeschooler

Maddie  03:20 I think that's one of the things that makes BookShark so unique right is it's we are flexible enough to be used in a hybrid situation. So some of our schools have like two days a week in the classroom, and then students are home the rest of the week. Some of our programs are homeschool-based. So they have a teacher of record. But the parent is still doing the schooling, they're still using the same BookShark curriculum that our independent homeschoolers are using. But that's what makes BookShark so awesome is that it's able to be modified by the user whether that's a parent, a teacher, a grandparent, or whoever is homeschooling, this student can modify it to meet their needs. And that's part of the reason why BookShark is used across the world but especially in the United States in charter schools all across the country from coast to coast.

Janna  04:13 Well, if you asked my family, they would tell you that they homeschooled themselves with BookShark so I guess that even a student can be in charge of their education depending on how you choose to use BookShark flexibility is one of the more is one of the most beautiful things about BookShark I think it's something that our family has experienced. We are in our eighth year of using BookShark which is hard to believe that that time has gone by one of the most I think important clarifications for the type of homeschool program that we are saying literature-based and when people hear that you equate literature, okay, it's book. It's book based, but what I think there's like a disconnect sometimes to what that means like, Oh, you just get a bunch of books and I read through the books. It's so much deeper than that. So much more in-depth. But for the sake of argument, let's just first talk about what is literature-based learning?  

Maddie  05:08 So literature-based learning is learning through literature, right? I mean, it's exactly as it sounds. So it's learning through books. However, the type of books that BookShark uses our chapter books. So we do have our textbooks that, you know, we use for our spines, but the vast majority of any of you who use book shark know, you get that big box on your doorstep. And it's full of fantastic books. And that is the base of literature based learning, right is chapter books and learning through reading. So learning through stories learning through fiction and nonfiction, because they both have, you know, their strengths, and especially when we're trying to create those pathways. For students, I mean, I can tell you that I don't remember a lot about the history. And I was, you know, I went to public school for my middle and high school years. And I, because my brain doesn't work that way. I didn't take the lecture and the textbook, as well, as I probably would have maybe retained information from a chapter book, every student learns differently. And that's part of why literature based learning is an option, right? So there are a million different options for curriculum for instruction style, but literature based learning really helps build those pathways. It's a connection, right? It's a connection between, you're learning about Johnny Tremaine who lived in a certain time period, and then you go, Oh, I remember that we read about this time period in my textbook. So it's kind of that cross connection between our textbooks and our chapter books.

Janna  06:47 One of the biggest distinctions that I have experienced is that you can know about something. So let's take for example, the Civil War, we can know the dates, we can know the battles, we can know the sides. But it isn't until I was given a historical novel, that I met the people that I was able to experience that, you know, war is not black and white. And especially in that particular war, you had family members on both sides, and both believed so strongly that they were willing to fight each other for it. And that's not the type of empathy that is created when you're reading a textbook. That's not the type of connection that I was given. When I was just walking through history. So to be able to have living history, I love in our books, a lot of times for the age, level it the characters or the age of the children who are reading it and listening to it. So they're like, could you imagine having to see your cousin on the other side of the battlefield, or not knowing.

Maddie  07:59 And that's one of the things that I like to when I'm talking to parents, I say, hey, history happened a long time ago, right? Especially for third graders now, relating to the Civil War. It happened so long ago, and you know, even from when I was in third grade, the world has changed, right? Technology has changed, our normal has changed, right? And so connecting to the past, really kind of like you said, as, as humans, we enjoy it, we storytell, right. That's how we That's how things are passed down through history. That's how we communicate, right? It's through stories. And so if we can teach through stories, it really kind of helps knowledge settle. And we're not just reading the facts and spitting it out, right? I mean, we're we're connecting with the past. And I think that that is really a positive of literature based learning. And something that we hear a lot too as well might my student doesn't like to read. Can I still do literature based learning? Absolutely. You know, I mean, there we have had many parents that have said, I had a student that didn't like to read. And there was one book that sparked their interest. And now they're an avid reader, right? And so don't let literature that term literature based learning scare you off because it can be a wonderful experience, especially even for students who maybe didn't enjoy reading. And the other piece of book shark is the readers and the read alouds, right, because we learn differently, either reading it or hearing it. And so we have this combination of readers and read alouds that allow students to process information. Some students are more auditory, so hearing, hearing it is better. So we have this this great combination of, you know, how we read and how we listen to, you know, listen to the books, and then our discussion questions. I mean, I just think those are invaluable, right? I mean, there's so we have so many parents that say I had discussions with my students that I never thought I would have. And they go way off track, which isn't a bad thing. Right. You know, you ask a question about, you know, what was, you know, like you said, let's talk about, you know, when so and so's saw their cousin on the other side of the Civil War? How do you think that made them feel? And they start going into all these amazing conversations, which really, really helps solidify their, you know, their learning. And the other piece that I wanted to touch on was the cross subject. So are especially when you look at our history and our language arts, right. It's cross subject, which is another kind of piece of that literature based learning is you're using literature and all your subjects, even science, right? I mean, which you're sitting in reading books, and then you're going and doing the experiments. So it's this cross subject, literature component that makes literature based learning unique.

Janna  12:17 For parents who were are not avid readers, and were not maybe read to as children, this is a new concept. Because let's be honest, reading out loud, can be very taxing. I mean, there's actually like, legit homeschool groups that have voice exercises for parents who are new to reading aloud, because it is definitely a different exercise than thinking your thoughts and saying them, as opposed to reading the words and then saying them. And so as a parent who has never loved to read aloud, but has always loved to be read to audiobooks have been an amazing part of our use of book shark. And some people like is that still reading, it absolutely is still reading now, in my experience, I prefer an audiobook, if it's going to be technical, I can listen to it, the first go around, and then when I go to read it, I have a base for what I'm reading, it's not all foreign to me. And I think that's true for kids too, I can't be the only one that that that helps with so least when they're listening to it, they don't have to decode to read it, they can just absorb it. And then if they need to go back and read it to maybe do a little bit more of the assessments, they have like a hook that they can kind of go to and go oh, that's where that's at. Because I have reference for it. I have some, you know, base for it. So I think that's a really interesting component.

Maddie  13:53 Some parents actually have their students listen to audiobooks and read alongs, especially students that struggle with pronunciation or, or spelling even, you know, listening to it, and also looking at it at the same time is awesome, and you can you know, speed up or slow down the way that at the speed an audio book is read. So that's a super great tip for people who are maybe a little bit freaked out by the literature based learning term. Because I do think, you know, I mean, we we call it BookShark book shock for a reason, right? I mean, you get this big box of books, and you go, Oh, my goodness, what is this? And, but it is all planned out for you. It is we're not we don't just send you a box of books and say, How about it, see you later. And it's, you know, I think that it's it is a beautiful method of learning, especially for and it works for students of all, you know, with different strengths with different learning types with you know, I mean, it really can work for any student, whether they're an avid reader or not, I think there is a misconception of, well, in order to be successful with literature-based learning, my student has to be an avid reader, you know, the kid that's under the covers with a flashlight at night, you know, can't put a book down. And that's not the case, you can have a fantastic education with literature-based learning, and not be an avid reader.


Janna  15:20 Yeah. And most likely, you will turn into an avid reader. Once you find that one thing, like you said, that just really changed everything for you. I know that we have now incorporated some graphic novels into our program. And that seems to have really gotten some of those kids who were like, what I get to read a comic like You sure do. We like to call it a graphic novel. So we feel better about it somehow. But yes, it's a comic. It's a comic book. And it helps you know, there's, maybe there are fewer words, but you don't need as many words because the pictures are taking the words away, because now you can, you don't have to visualize it, we're showing it through the picture. So I think that's a really fun option in our program as well. So, as we are talking about literature-based learning, what is you know, you you touched on language arts and our language arts, and we like to say it's that natural approach to learning how to read how to write, but what does that look like, in its practicality.

 Maddie  16:25 So, I, the way that I like to explain it is in your younger levels. So levels A through C, you are learning to read. So you are, you know, we are teaching students how to read because, you know, when kindergarten, you're learning your letters, and your you know, in those younger levels, we are teaching, like you said, decoding, comprehension, all of those things that we need, in order to switch over from those younger levels. Once we hit level D, when your language arts and your history are combined. Now we're in reading to learn. So now we know how to read, right? I mean, we know how to read. And we may struggle here and there if you know, with a book or a sentence or a word, but for the most part, we know how to read. So now we are taking what we learned in those younger levels. And now we are reading to learn. So we read a book and we learn something from it. And we learn something from all the books that we read, right? But it really kind of switches in Level D, especially when you talk about the history. Because in our younger levels, the readers and the language arts correlate because we're learning about, as you said, that natural-based learning approach. So we learn good writing by reading good writing. So they're taking those books, and they're learning more about their decoding and their writing and their comprehension, and all of that, once we hit level D now we have discussion questions about history, right? And so, and that continues up through high school.

Janna  18:01 It is really neat when you look at our language arts program and the different components that you can add into a basic package if you feel like your student needs more phonics if you really need them to, you know, be able to work on vocabulary, the handwriting, those different options. But our language arts alone is really a great program. And it's in bite-sized pieces. And I know that sometimes people are like, it's not enough, I hear that I hear that often. Like it wasn't enough, it's not enough, I would argue that it doesn't have to be a lot to be enough. If you think about red pepper flakes in a recipe, you literally need a quarter teaspoon of something and it is enough. And when you are doing enough, it doesn't necessarily have to be in a large quantity, because you are teaching through the other subjects because you're reading out loud to them. And being read to is one of the biggest step-ups to learning how to read. So just to counter that, that it's not enough. I mean, obviously you and I would argue that that is enough. And how many kids because our program is bite-sized pieces for language arts four days a week are then able to read and write on their own time, because they're not bogged down with assignments that they have to do. They get to explore and have time to do the things they want to do. And that's the thing that is unique about our program as well is that our language arts is based on writing ability and reading ability. So parents will say, Well, my child is reading way past this level. And that is decoding, right? You're decoding the words you're reading, when you write you encode. And if you don't know the code, you can't encode it. And so you are not writing at the same level that you're reading and I love to share that errants That, if you have a reader who is advanced, they like to read. So they're going to still up in our program, you still find time to read the books that they're interested in, still take into the library, they're not going to stop reading just because we're using a lower level reading to match the writing at this particular phase of their education. And as soon as I see that, almost 100% of the time, parents are like, oh, yeah, yeah. That makes total sense. Yes, that that works. Yes. And I think that I love your explanation of that. Because we do find that especially in our younger levels, right? Because once you know how to read, you know how to read, right? I mean, once you can, once you have that decoding part down, your brain kind of takes over and you're like, Oh, now I can read any book I want, right? I mean, for the most part, within reason, right? But I think, especially in our like, B and C levels, we tend to find that parents are like, Oh, my student is reading these chapter books. And these, you know, and that's amazing. And that's so awesome. The biggest The other thing that I like to add to that is age appropriateness, right? They can read any book, you know, that they can decode it in their brain. But content-wise, is it something that we want them to read? And, you know, like you said, there are a lot of books, I mean, there are a ton of books out there that you can find it at the library, on the internet, you know, what, at Barnes and Noble. And so by getting through the books that we provide, that are at the correct writing level, so that we don't skip any of that super important stuff, because we have to know how to write in addition to knowing how to read, right, and spelling is just one piece of that, because when they're reading there, they are, you know, learning how to spell, but they're not learning the rules of spelling, like I before E except all of the exceptions that there are, you know, it's like, so I think that, you know, really making sure that we focus, especially in those younger levels on that encoding part. If we miss any of that we miss a big chunk of all of the basics that they need. And then you're kind of always playing catch up. Right? I mean, you always have and you may not see it until third, fourth, fifth grade, where you're like, Oh, we never went over that because they're such an avid reader, but let them read for fun. Because if they're only reading schoolbooks, they're not going to get to continue to foster that love of reading, right? Because then they're like, Well, I don't have any time to read, you know, whatever series I want to read, or you know, because they're so busy. We're challenging them so much with their schoolbooks. And that's the other piece that we want to avoid is we don't want to overwhelm the students with so much reading that then they kind of get a little bit of a you know, it feels like a chore, right? We want them to be able to pick their books, too.

Janna  23:05 Yeah, well, because we want to foster a love of learning not just get kids to be able to perform certain tasks that the educational system says are necessary. That's it for this episode. Be sure to tune in next week when we finish part two of BookShark Insider.