Grade 1: Teaching short a.
System and pace in introducing correspondences. The McGraw-Hill basal gets down to business by teaching the short a correspondence in lesson one, day one. Thereafter, students learn 1 or 2 correspondences per week with continual review, an optimal pace for completing phonics work on schedule by mid-second grade.
Phoneme awareness review. Students clap with -ap rhymes. The practice blending words in sentence contexts, which helps them cross-check for meaning. They also practice deletion, a fun manipulation. However, they do not focus on the identity of the phoneme /a/. Later in the lesson, students belatedly select spoken words with /a/.
Components of phonics lesson. Children repeat /a/. The teacher blends at and cat sequentially for student imitation. Students practice with other CVC words with short a. They build (spell) words with letter manipulatives without Elkonin scaffolding. A variety of workbook pages are used as follow-ups, allowing the teacher to select easy, on-level, or challenging exercises. Four common words (one, likes, this, give) are studied as wholes by rote methods. A review features sequential blending of short-a words on a chart and spelling with letter manipulatives.
Decodability of practice texts. The story "Max the Cat" is fully decodable except for the whole words taught in conjunction with the lesson. The story is well-structured and humorous, surprisingly entertaining for an early decodable text. Students later read questions only partly decodable because of the high frequency words what, why, does, have, etc. Three leveled books are provided that may be similarly decodable, but I was unable to examine their content.
Grade 1: Teaching short u.
System and pace in introducing correspondences. Short u is introduced about the seventh week in this optimally paced series.
Phoneme awareness review. Students clap for -up rhymes, blend words orally (e.g., /h/u/m/), and delete phonemes (This exercise contains a mistake: Students are asked to say the word wish without the /t/.). No means of recognizing and remembering the difficult phoneme /u/ is provided, though later students are asked to identify spoken words containing /u/.
Components of phonics lesson. The teacher models sequential blending with up and pup. Blending is sequential, but students are shown how to collect word chunks to ease the memory burden of blending, e.g., /t/ /u/, /tu/, /tu/ /g/, tug. This is an optimal blending sequence because it minimizes phoneme distortion. Students practice blending short-u CVCs. They spell tub, rub, pup, fun, etc. with letter manipulatives. Three levels of worksheets are provided for follow-up. Four words are taught by rote as wholes: no, ride, small, and out. Later students review short vowels u, i, and a and digraphs sh and th; students blend with these elements and decide if the results make words or not, e.g., mip (no) and map (yes). The practice activities are more thorough than in competing basals.
Decodability of practice texts. Students read "One Good Pup," mostly decodable using the phonics correspondences presented to date along with the four high-frequency words taught by rote. The story is well structured. Two similar decodable books are provided for follow-up, along with one "authentic" text not decodable using learned correspondences. I was unable to examine the words of these texts.
Grade 1: Teaching long i signaled by silent
System and pace in introducing correspondences. This correspondence is presented in week 19. The series is on pace to cover major correspondences intensively and complete phonics instruction on schedule.
Phoneme awareness review. Students clap when they hear words with /I/, blend words orally (/k/ /I/ /t/), and delete phonemes. The deletion activity is confusing because letter names are suggested: "Say five without the letters /v/ and /e/."
Components of phonics lesson. The teacher uses an i_e card with a large space to insert various consonants, a clever demonstration. The teacher models spelling -ipe and ripe. Students blend five, wide, etc. with teacher guidance. They spell similar words with letter manipulatives, but without Elkonin scaffolding. In a later review, students test spoken words for /I/. The teacher models effective blending in a vowel-first, body-coda sequence, and students blend and spell words with the i_e pattern.
Decodability of practice texts. In the story "The Shopping List," all short vowels have accumulated, expanding the vocabulary of the story. Mostly one-syllable decodable words are used, and the exceptions (e.g., always) have been taught as whole words, although the polysyllabic word remember is included. The story is funny and has a surprise ending. The decodable text in the McGraw-Hill series offer a good compromise between decodability and interest. Two decodable and one "authentic" (nondecodable) texts are provided (not examined).
Grade 2: A representative fluency lesson.
The second grade lesson I examined began with a phoneme awareness review of the phoneme /OO/. The phonics lesson features oo, ue, and ew spellings, too much for a single introductory lesson, though likely review material at this point. Vocabulary is introduced in context with guidance to locate contextual cues to meaning. Questions are asked to clarify vocabulary, e.g., "Is there milk in an empty cup?" The authors suggest three possible ways for students to read the story: 1) chorally with the teacher, 2) guided with planned interruptions, or 3) silently with later retelling. Questions on several levels follow the reading. A strategy lesson on reading graphs follows up on graphs featured in the story. Students complete a practice reading comprehension test on the story, complete with bubbles similar to those in standardized tests. Follow-up books are presented at three levels (not examined). After a phonics review of oo, ue, and ew, the teacher presents strategy instruction on brainstorming solutions to problems, vocabulary word with the prefixes re and un, a process approach to persuasive writing, a grammar lesson nouns, and a spelling test over oo, ue, and ew words. In all the strategy instruction, fluency work appears to be slighted.
Grade 4: A lesson on summarization.
Summarization instruction is found in Unit 3, page 281 G. A summary is explained as a retelling of a story, though the real summarization challenges in fourth grade typically involve expository texts. The teacher models by locating key ideas at the beginning, middle, and end of a brief story presented on a chart, underlining key information for the class. A graphic organizer is used to scaffold the search for beginnings, middles, and endings. Students summarize a familiar story for practice (labeled "assessment." Three leveled practice worksheets are provided. At the easy level, students answer general questions about a passage and write a summary. On-level students complete an instructional cloze exercise (which seems easier than the easy level). At the challenge level, students compose a summary of a story previously read in their anthology. To follow up, the teacher demonstrates summarizing the main idea of a passage, but the demonstration omits the talk through vital in true modeling. Students practice by filling in a graphic with three rows, fading the beginning, middle, and ending strategy. Students practice by summarizing a favorite story, TV show, or movie. Three levels of worksheet practice provide follow-up.
The McGraw-Hill series, while far from perfect, clearly offers the best beginning reading instruction of the five basal series I reviewed. Lessons provide richer phoneme awareness practice (though like the others, it does not provide explicit help in identifying and remembering phonemes). Optimal blending models are provided that minimize phoneme distortion and limit memory demands for young children. Plentiful word level practice is included, and multiple decodable texts provide many opportunities for applying decoding strategies in reading entertaining connected text. I was less impressed with the lessons I sampled at the second and fourth grade levels, though these were on par with most of the other series.