StoryWeaver Community Spotlight: Professor Lea Shaver on using StoryWeaver’s Re-level Feature to create homeschooling materials

Professor Shaver is the world's leading expert on book hunger and the right to read. She is tenured at Indiana University's Robert H. McKinney School of Law, where she teaches copyright law and human rights law. Her research on intellectual property and distributive justice has shaped international law at the United Nations.

This is the 2nd post in a two-part series featuring the work of Prof. Lea Shaver, and her thoughts on how StoryWeaver can be leveraged. In this piece, she shares her experiences of homeschooling during the COVID-19 pandemic, and how book hunger is an issue that could affect all children during this unprecedented time. She is a long-time advocate of StoryWeaver. 

Purvi Shah, Director -  StoryWeaver says: “We were introduced to Lea’s work way back in 2014, through a research paper she had authored. The paper's focus was on copyright, how it promotes social inequality and can be a barrier to access. We reached out to her and walked her through Pratham Books’ open license philosophy, and how it helps address issues of access and gives agency to stakeholders to create content they need and can use. This led to our story being extensively referenced in her latest book  'Ending Book Hunger'. A big thank you to Lea for raising awareness about and sharing solutions to these challenges of access and literacy.

Cut to 2020, when we were delighted to see Lea re-levelling books on StoryWeaver! StoryWeaver allows you to 're-level' an existing story and is probably one of the most useful tools for educators.  In essence, it means changing the level of the story.  Let’s consider a case where the storyline and characters of a storybook are extremely entertaining, but the sentences are long and complex, making it difficult for a younger child to read it. This is where the re-level tool comes in handy.  You can re-level by cutting down sentences or changing complex words to simpler words to make the story easier to understand for the child, all the while keeping the storyline intact. With libraries being closed due to the pandemic, Lea has been homeschooling her four-year-old and six-year-old. In an email exchange with me, said, “When I wrote the book about book hunger, I never imagined it would affect my children. They are native English speakers, benefitting from the world’s largest children’s book industry. They attend schools that are incredibly well resourced. And we are fortunate to have a very large family library. But because of the virus, and closure of libraries, access to books has gotten tricky even for my family!”  Lea found herself browsing through StoryWeaver to find more reading material for children. As she read through some of our best books, she felt the need to make them even simpler, for her young child’s needs. And this led to her re-levelling 22 books! Her story really inspired us!”

Learn more from Prof. Shaver about how she has been using StoryWeaver's Re-level feature to create reading materials for homeschooling sessions with her children.

Researching book hunger made clear how blessed my own family is. We own hundreds of children's books. School and libraries offer us many more. When I wrote ‘Ending Book Hunger’, I never imagined it would affect my children. They are native English speakers, benefitting from the world’s largest children’s book industry. They attend schools that are incredibly well resourced. And we are fortunate to have a very large family library. But now the COVID 19 pandemic is complicating access to books, even for us.

I’ve been homeschooling my four-year-old and six-year-old since local schools closed in the middle of March. So I’m creating the resources we need to read together.

The challenges:

Our first problem is that school and public library materials aren’t accessible to us anymore. That would typically be a huge component of my children’s book diets.

I used to love to go to the public library and get a few dozen books, then go back a week later for a few dozen more. With three children, my family can easily read over 1000 children’s books in a year. It’s probably $20,000 a year worth of reading material. Now that access has dried up. The school library is completely off limits, and our town’s public library is only doing digital lending.

The different for-profit digital services our family has access to all have limits on a certain number of books at a time or per month. That is working out okay for my ten-year-old. She navigates a digital device and the service interfaces independently, and she chooses books that take a long time to read. But for little kids, where one book only lasts ten minutes, those limits are really frustrating, particularly with a large family.

The second problem is that reading materials for very early readers have always been particularly challenging.

My four-year-old learned her letters and their sounds in preschool. Now at home with me she is sounding out very simple words. My middle daughter is six years old. She got a strong foundation in phonics and sight words and decoding strategies in Kindergarten this year, and is now ready to do a lot of independent reading with basic books.

Our family owns probably 1000 books, but not many are at their reading level. The English children’s book market tilts heavily toward gift books, especially more complex picture books that adults will enjoy reading to kids, or chapter books that an older child can read on their own. Materials that a young child can read with just a little help are in much shorter supply.

There is definitely an educational market for the very early literacy materials in America, both paperbound and digital. But the stories there are much less creative and much less nicely illustrated. Really, they are not as interesting. They are not something a kid WANTS to do for 20 minutes a day, much less an hour or two.

Using StoryWeaver to create reading materials suitable for my children's reading levels

So I went to StoryWeaver to find or make some really fun and beautiful stories that would be appropriate for their reading levels.

My art skills are low, but that is a very big part of what my kids find interesting in a book. Being able to draw upon StoryWeaver’s visual materials is a game-changer. Thanks to a user-friendly interface, anyone who can browse the web and edit slides can create a beautifully illustrated children’s story, with no artistic talent required. Native English speakers can easily “re-level” an advanced story for younger readers by simplifying the text. Bilingual visitors can translate stories into a new language. The truly ambitious can create an entirely new story, drawing on a bank of more than twenty thousand child-friendly illustrations. 

I started off using the StoryWeaver images bank to create a new story. 

My four-year-old loves dogs, and she can sound out two-letter and three-letter words. So I made a story about a girl and a dog with sentences like “We got a pup,” and “Is the pup big?” The story is basic but the pictures give it charm. The follow-up “No, Pup, No” has a bit more surprise and fun in the story.


Those each took several hours to create, though.

I quickly realized that re-leveling an existing book was much faster. I don’t have to choose pictures, I don’t have to invent a plot. I just find another way to say the idea to put the story at the right reading level. As a native English speaker used to reading with young kids, that comes very easily to me.

Re-leveling is a great way to use and expand the StoryWeaver resources even if you’re monolingual. It’s by far the fastest and easiest way to create a new book. The surest way to have your re-level read and used by a lot of people is to start with a book that is already really popular.

I can re-level an existing story in 15-30 minutes. I show my kids some Level 2 stories, and they pick one they like, usually based on the pictures. I start the re-level process on the screen. I read each original page aloud to them, and then draft a more basic version right beside it. Then we see if they can pronounce the new words. I like to go back to edit my work and publish the new story after they are asleep.

Here’s an example of one of our homeschooling lessons - click here to watch how we read AND experimented with a STEM story:

Thank you for sharing the joy of reading, Professor Shaver!

You can find the books re-levelled by Professor Shaver here. Click here to learn more about her book ‘Ending Book Hunger’.