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Full Speed Ahead: LightSail is propelling K-12 literacy forward

Noah Sturdevant Published: January 2, 2024
Diverse students discussing reading assignment

Before 2012, Gideon and Steve worked at charter schools and saw the achievement gap in K-12 literacy up close.  As fate often does, they had a chance to meet with an expert on literacy instruction, and a question was formed: How can we help all learners become college and career-ready literate?  The answer took the shape of an innovative, new technology married with the leading research on literacy instruction and achievement.  In 2012, Steve Gittleson and Gideon Stein co-founded LightSail.

Lightsail takes technology from the mind of Steve Gittleson to power a research-based literacy program that enables increased student motivation and achievement in reading.  Even if K-12 educators around the world are fully aware of the latest research on closing the achievement gap in literacy, most lack the time and/or resources to implement research-based instructional strategies and systems with full fidelity.  LightSail changes that.

Read, Learn, Grow

Reading with LightSail opens the doors to 21st-century education with personalized learning and adaptive technology that continually curates content for each student in their personal Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD). This ensures students are reading at their “just-right” level.  Supporting each student’s unique path to college-and-career-ready literacy, various research-based reading tools document and drive literacy growth through differentiated, multi-modal instruction and learning (3, 6, 8, 9).

Understanding What We Read: Lexile-Based Adaptive E-Reader

The Lexile-Based Adaptive E-Reader tool increases the visibility and accountability of reading minutes with embedded assessment performance tracking and responses.  Throughout each book, students are required to answer contextualized Clozes (fill-in-the-blanks) directly related to the content they have chosen to read about and teacher-created multiple-choice and/or short written-response assessments to check for comprehension.  Leveraging learning research, students and teachers are shown real-time data regarding which Clozes were answered correctly and which were not, and teachers can provide instant, clear, and actionable feedback in response to multiple-choice and short-answer responses (7).  Based on the assessment results, every student’s Lexile score is updated every 15 days, always connecting them with reading material that is in their ZPD, raising the likelihood that they are being given appropriate, reasonable, and targeted learning goals that will lead to improved reading performance (3, 6, 8, 9).  In addition, students can gain more autonomy regarding the choice of literacy supports such as increasing the text size, enabling read-aloud, and using additional, complementary tools!    

Student Choice: Access to Digital Library

Research shows that providing more opportunities for student choice throughout their learning experience increases their motivation to engage with a given subject and, by extension, increases the likelihood they increase their achievement (5).  LightSail’s Digital Library provides access to five to ten thousand assessed books across various genres, topics, and levels.  Based on matching each student’s personalized Lexile score with books that fall in their ZPD, every book a student can choose will effectively elevate growth and motivation.

We are Social Beings: Team Reading

When it’s time for a class to read the same book, LightSail’s Team Reading tool allows teachers to easily grade oral reading fluency in real-time with a pre-design template, reward students with badges, and send them a private message through chat for encouragement.  Research-based support for providing clear, immediate feedback and rewards for positive growth and achievement is well-established and continues to grow (1, 2, 4, 7).

I Know What They Want: Content Builder

LightSail’s Content Builder allows teachers, administrators, & curriculum leaders to import cross-curricular content from any website or Word document in any language. Next, educators can customize the imported text by adding standards-aligned questions and “Thoughts” with annotations.  Utilizing the Content Builder tool allows teachers to flex their research-based knowledge and skills to create and add content to the Library that speaks to their unique group of students and increases student motivation to continue reading day after day (3, 6, 8, 9).  Furthermore, because the content is now part of the LightSail program, the wealth of instructional tools that facilitate differentiated, multi-modal instruction are at the ready!   

Bits and Bobs

The research-driven LightSail Read platform allows users to choose titles and authors they are excited to read. In addition, LightSail provides instructional tools such as an annotation feature that allows students to record notes about the texts they are reading, collaborative dialogue tools to enable students and teachers to comment and discuss titles being read, and a text-embedded dictionary. Students also have access to a full portfolio that catalogs past work on annotations and assessments. Along with a personalized vocabulary word wall, research-based motivators such as badges, leaderboards, tournaments, videos, and progress visualizers are all integrated into the learning process (1, 2, 4, 7).  A badge library highlights and rewards continuous student achievement, while custom data dashboards show students their current and predicted Lexile growth and other achievement metrics.  

Literacy For All

LightSail Read endeavors to catalyze significant positive growth in college-and-career-ready literacy achievement across the planet.  Through its research-based digital solutions, students increase their confidence as readers, see themselves as capable and knowledgeable, and are ready to take on new challenges.  Likewise, teachers feel more confident in their ability to help support their students’ literacy growth and feel a sense of professional accomplishment and joy in their hearts.  It’s time for a new digital literacy learning platform that allows teachers and students to reap the rewards of research-driven instructional strategies utilized with full fidelity and yielding maximum positive growth. It’s time to set Sail!  


  1. Bai, S., Hew, K. F., Sailer, M., & Jia, C. (2021). From top to bottom: How positions on different types of leaderboard may affect fully online student learning performance, intrinsic motivation, and course engagement. Computers & Education, 173, 104297.
  2. Bovermann, K., Weidlich, J., & Bastiaens, T. (2018). Online learning readiness and attitudes towards gaming in gamified online learning–a mixed methods case study. International Journal of Educational Technology in Higher Education, 15(1), 1-17.
  3. Davidsen, D. (2018). Effect of differentiated instruction on reading comprehension of third graders. Dissertation
  4. Ertan, K., & Kocadere, S. A. (2022). Gamification Design to Increase Motivation in Online Learning Environments: A Systematic Review. Journal of Learning and Teaching in Digital Age, 7(2), 151-159.
  5. McClung, N. A., Barry, E., & Neebe, D. (2019). Choice Matters: Equity and Literacy Achievement. Berkeley Review of Education, 8 (2).
  6. Puzio, K., Colby, G. T., & Algeo-Nichols, D. (2020). Differentiated literacy instruction: Boondoggle or best practice? Review of Educational Research, 90(4), 459-498.
  7. Razzaq, R., Ostrow, K. S., & Heffernan, N. T. Effect of Immediate Feedback on Math Achievement at the High School Level. In Artificial Intelligence in Education (Vol. 12164, p. 263). Nature Publishing Group.
  8. Reis, S. M., McCoach, D. B., Little, C. A., Muller, L. M., & Kaniskan, R. B. (2011). The effects of differentiated instruction and enrichment pedagogy on reading achievement in five elementary schools. American Educational Research Journal, 48(2), 462-501.
  9. Valiandes, S. (2015). Evaluating the impact of differentiated instruction on literacy and reading in mixed ability classrooms: Quality and equity dimensions of education effectiveness. Studies in Educational Evaluation, 45, 17-26.


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