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Meet Hayley Brooks of Whooo’s Reading in Hillcrest

Today we’d like to introduce you to Hayley Brooks.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
My co-founders and I started Whooo’s Reading in 2012 after graduating from Williams College. Originally we were an online read-a-thon fundraising program, helping parent-teacher organizations raise money for schools based on how much students read. In running these fundraisers, we received tons of positive feedback from teachers, who loved how excited their students were about reading during the event. They asked us if they could use our program year-round to motivate their students to read more and to monitor their reading comprehension. We launched a free version of the program for classroom use in August 2014, and instead of generating leads for our fundraiser, it generated leads for paid licenses from school administrations. We officially pivoted in 2016 to a freemium model in which teachers use our free program and then help us sell their administrations on purchasing schoolwide licenses that come with additional features.

Has it been a smooth road?
Hindsight is always 20/20, but a huge obstacle for us was when our read-a-thon fundraising business failed to scale well. We found many challenges in that market, and it took us a while to adjust to the needs of our new market of teachers and school administrators. We had to make some tough decisions, downsize, pivot, and build up again to where we are today.

So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the Whooo’s Reading story. Tell us more about the business.
The fundamental piece of Whooo’s Reading that sets us apart from our competition is that we assess reading comprehension with open-ended critical thinking questions, instead of multiple choice questions. Students must write their responses, rather than selecting A, B, C, or D, and then our machine-learning algorithm automatically grades the written responses. We are incredibly proud to offer a scalable solution that assesses students on their critical thinking and writing skills, rather than their ability to pick from a set of predetermined options. Whooo’s Reading is used by teachers in more than 20,000 schools across the United States.

How do you think the industry will change over the next decade?
Although I wouldn’t necessarily call education an “industry,” I do see the space shifting to be much more student-oriented. With AI and machine learning, education technology can make each student’s experience more and more personalized, which will continue to enable the teacher to become more of a coach or facilitator of learning rather than a lecturer or transferor of knowledge.

This shift is an essential one if we want to prepare our students for the future, where 21st-century workplaces will continue to value non-automatable skills like communication, collaboration, and critical thinking. We don’t need to memorize facts and then recall them, on tests at school or in projects at work, because Google has the answer to everything, and that type of thinking is becoming increasingly automatable.

What we do need is the ability to communicate, collaborate, and think independently to come up with solutions that do not have a set of predetermined answers. In short, the process of learning and communicating our ideas to others will be infinitely more important than memorizing specific information. Technology enables teachers to become learning facilitators instead of lecturers, giving them personalized data on each student that allows them to help students develop these essential skills.

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