Grade 1: Teaching short a.
System and pace in introducing correspondences. Instruction in this common vowel correspondence was delayed until Theme 3 in approximately the 7th week of first grade. Many single consonants are taught, a level of instruction more appropriate for kindergarten or remedial work. This series also attempt to teach common phonograms (e.g., -at) before the vowel itself. This seems to put the cart before the horse by asking students to construct a larger word chunk before learning the elements of that chunk. This is analogous to asking children to add before they've learned to count. However, once the study of short a is initiated, other short vowels are introduced at a moderate pace of one correspondence per week, and the sequence is a reasonable one.
Phoneme awareness review. Oral blending practice is provided without instruction, with no special effort to teach the identity of the phoneme /a/.
Components of phonics lesson. The teacher shows a picture of Apple Andy, apparently a variant of the "letter people" approach. She models blending with letter cards, isolating and stretch a, m, am, saying, "The first sound is /a/. The last sound is /m/. I'll blend aaammm, am." Students practice blending short-a CVC's. Students spell words orally as the teacher writes their spellings on the board (not a preferred practice because of the focus on letter names and the neglect of visualization intrinsic to written spelling). The lesson includes instruction and examples of words with doubled consonants (e.g., fill, cuff, kiss), ck, and the s spelling of /z/, helpful adjuncts to the lesson that increase the applicability of the short a. Later students spell other short a words from a spelling list and brainstorm rhyming words for a word wall.
Decodability of practice texts. A "phonics library" text "Cabs, Cabs, Cabs" is fairly decodable, but includes words with short i not yet learned. The anthologized text "Counting in the Woods" is only partly decodable; its words contain a variety of unstudied short vowels as well as the complex words cold, birds, and animal.
Grade 1: Teaching short u.
System and pace in introducing correspondences. The short u correspondence is taught in Theme 4, p. T138. Vowel correspondences continue to be taught weekly, a moderate pace. Consonant clusters are used with each vowel to extend the concept with blending and spelling challenges rather than as separate phonics units, a valuable economy in teaching essential correspondences.
Phoneme awareness review. Little effort is made to teach or review phoneme awareness. The phoneme is not taught explicitly; only oral blending practice is provided.
Components of phonics lesson. The "alphafriend" Umbie Umbrella is introduced. The teacher demonstrates (but does not model) blending with letter cards by simply pronouncing the phonemes in sequence and saying the word. Blending is sequential, even with 5-phoneme words, which places undue memory demands on young children. Students read and spell the words gum and bump. Later they spell other short u words from a spelling list and brainstorm rhymes for a word wall.
Decodability of practice texts. Two practice readers, "Buzzing Bug" and "Duff in the Mud," are mostly decodable with the five short vowels previously learned. The anthologized text "Bud's Day Out" is only partly decodable and contains such impenetrable words as every, would, today, hurt, and walked.
Grade 1: Teaching long i signaled by silente.
System and pace in introducing correspondences. This lesson, found in Theme 5, page T148, is part of a series of CVCe lessons, taught at a moderate pace of one new correspondence per week.
Phoneme awareness review. Only oral blending practice is provided, without instruction in the phoneme.
Components of phonics lesson. The teacher uses the jargon "i-consonant-e pattern," forbidding language for first graders in the stage of concrete operations. To further complicate this explanation, the teacher writes on the chalkboard:
This burdens children unnecessarily not only with jargon, but with acronyms for jargon. Students then use letter cards to construct rhymes for the word ride. The teacher models spelling the illustrated words bike, dime, five, etc., but no practice activity for students follows. Later, students sort pictures into "short i" and "long i" words, an exercise seemingly designed more to teach jargon than to teach decoding. Students spell other i_e words from a spelling list and brainstorm rhymes for a word wall.k i t e
C V C e
Grade 2: A representative fluency lesson.
In one grade two lesson (Theme 4, p. 16ff), students read the wonderfully humorous story "Officer Buckle and Gloria." Students prepare to read by suggesting safety rules, a theme of the story. They read a single-page article on safety officers to build background knowledge. The teacher guides students to derive the meaning of audience and attention from context clues. After two lessons of reading the main text, students read a related nonfiction narrative about a famous dog. Such related reading takes advantage of active concepts to further extend reading practice, a valuable fluency teaching strategy.
Grade 4: A lesson on summarization.
I found a summarization lesson in Theme 6, p. 659D, on "topic, main idea, and supporting details." Students receive a jot chart to collect main ideas with their supporting details on specified pages. The topic is defined as the one major thing the selection is about, e.g., wildfires. The main idea comments on this topic, e.g., wildfires are frightening. Supporting details are defined as any facts, examples, and information that further explains or supports the main idea. The teacher guides students' work in completing the jot charts. The manual does a nice job of unpacking some of the concepts handled a bit too glibly in the other texts.
Houghton-Mifflin has been a market leader among mainstream basals for several decades. I am pleased to see in this latest edition a decided shift toward explicit, systematic, intensive phonics, similar to the revisions seen in the Scott-Foresman basal. Still, the series has its weaknesses for first graders. Phoneme awareness is treated as simple practice in phoneme manipulations, far too casual an approach for such a vital component of success in beginning reading. Modeling and guided practice are poorly developed in decoding instruction. However, Houghton-Mifflin does provide a wealth of decodable practice texts, though the anthologized stories remain somewhat frustrating for children using decoding strategies. This basal appears particularly strong in levels beyond first grade, particularly in providing explicit comprehension strategy instruction. I would rate Houghton-Mifflin in a tie for second with Scott-Foresman among the basals I sampled.