Grade 1: Teaching short a.
System and pace in introducing correspondences. The lesson on short a was introduced in the third week after lessons on the phonograms -at, -an, -ot, and -op. Like Houghton-Mifflin, Scholastic puts the phonogram cart before the short vowel horse and expects children to learn a more complicated application (the phonogram chunk) before the components that make the phonograms understandable. Scholastic also continues to teach single consonants, a kindergarten concept at the first-grade level, and teachers new correspondences at the very slow rate of one every two weeks, a pace insufficiently intensive to complete phonics instruction in a timely manner. Later in the series, the authors attempt to speed things up by lumping all the CVCe patterns into a single lesson, which doesnŐt provide time to learn each one. Thus, Scholastic's pace is uneven.
Phoneme awareness review. Students begin the lesson with a shared reading of a poem. Then they are asked to orally blend man, mat, map, and mad sequentially, though no instruction is provided, nor are students given help to remember the identity of this obscure short vowel.
Components of phonics lesson. The teacher tells students that a stands for /a/ as in hat. Instruction is somewhat confusing because the teacher calls attention to letter names when children are to focus on phonemes: "I can put h, a, and t together to make hat. The sound of a is /a/." Blending is demonstrated simply by stretching the pronunciation while running a finger under the word, a procedure that leaves the blending strategy opaque. Students chorally read short a words, allowing struggling decoders to mask their confusion by chiming in slightly after the better readers. Students are invited to build words with letter cards without specific directions or scaffolding. The word and is taught by rote despite its decodability. Later students read flash cards with -at and -an words and sort the words by final consonant. In a review, students repeat virtually the same activities.
Decodability of practice texts. The lesson text "We Like" is mostly predictable, with each page beginning "I like my . . . ." Most words are not decodable, and some (e.g., school) involve untaught correspondences.
Grade 1: Teaching short u.
System and pace in introducing correspondences. The short u lesson is found in Unit 3, p. T80, approximately three months into the first grade year, a relatively slow pace.
Phoneme awareness review. The teacher reads a poem with only two /u/ words, and students join in a shared reading (cued recitation) format. Afterwards students practice oral reading without instruction. No way of identifying the obscure /u/ phoneme is provided students.
Components of phonics lesson. The teacher tells students that u stands for /u/, and writes sun on the chalkboard for a student to circle the u. Blending is "modeled" by sliding a finger under the word while stretching the pronunciation; simply stretching a pronunciation begs the question of how to blend because a student who hasn't identified a word has no pronunciation to stretch. Students brainstorm rhymes with sun and other short-u words. They read words chorally and spell from dictation. They are invited to build words independently with letter manipulatives without teacher guidance. In a review, students pick short-u words from a bag to read and sort by their endings; however, 4 of the 10 words have no rhyming match.
Decodability of practice texts. After studying the short u correspondence, students read a partly predictable, partly decodable text on the seasons. The text includes the misleading word put and a number of polysyllabic words (mittens, pumpkins, orange, soccer, etc.).
Grade 1: Teaching long i signaled by silent
System and pace in introducing correspondences. The i_e spelling of long i is taught in Unit 4, page T-70, in approximately the 20th week of first grade. The i_e pattern is presented in a single lesson with three other CVCe patterns (a_e, o_e, and u_e) as an instance of a phonics generalization. Such abstractions seem clear to sophisticated adult readers, but many children will likely be confused by the presentation of so many correspondences at once. None of the other basal series attempt to crowd so much into a single lesson. Oddly, other weeks are spent on consonant clusters, which could be practiced as blending complications along with other vowel correspondences.
Phoneme awareness review. A poem is read aloud, and children practice oral blending without instruction.
Components of phonics lesson. The teacher writes tap, bit, rob, and us on the board and says, "I can add the letter e to tap to make tape." The lesson assumes students will readily generalize the function of silent e to other vowels. Students brainstorm rhymes for six i_e phonograms (including the confusing -ice in which c represents the less common /s/) and five o_e phonograms. Students chorally read assorted CVC and CVCe words and spell words from dictation without Elkonin scaffolding. They are directed to build words with letter and phonogram manipulatives without teacher guidance or direction. A later review contains similar activities.
Decodability of practice texts. The text "The Night Sky" is not decodable given the CVCe patterns so hastily taught.
Grade 2: A representative fluency lesson.
I chose a representative lesson from Unit 3, p. T251. The lesson begins using a KWL activity on movies to activate students' background knowledge. There follows a vocabulary lesson on people who work in movies, a set of words that form a semantic group, permitting optimal vocabulary instruction. Students sort the terms into people who work on stage, behind stage, or those who "tell others what to do." Students read sentences using the word to identify context clues to meaning. The vocabulary instruction in this lesson is the best I found in any of the basals I reviewed. The teacher then presents a phonics lesson on a representing the schwa sound; all example words use a as an unaccented first syllable (e.g., around, again). Students read an expository text, "Lights! Camera! Action!" Three ways are suggested to manage reading: On level with the whole class, with guided reading featuring frequent stops for comprehension questions and modeling; below level and ESL, in which students listen to a tape recording before reading; and independently.
Grade 4: A lesson on summarization.
Summarization instruction was found in Unit 4-6, p. T-183. The lesson uses a fiction text, though expository texts are the principle challenge in fourth grade. The teacher explains that the summary only gives the important ideas (without revealing how these important ideas are identified). Summarizers are to restate important ideas in their own words. No summarization modeling is provided. Students are given a diagram with boxes for three "key ideas" with arrows pointing to a place for a summary. Summarization is assigned. A later reteaching involves essentially the same activities. Students are given the suggestion to "tell what happened at the beginning, middle, and end" to summarize an entire story.
The Scholastic basal features systematic phonics, but correspondences are typically presented at a very slow pace (though in at least one instance, several are taught in a single lesson). Phoneme awareness is practiced without instruction, and blending procedures are reduced to finger-sliding while stretching words. Guided practice exercises are uninspired, and first graders are given predictable rather than decodable texts. The one bright spot in this series was the well-crafted vocabulary instruction found in the second book. I would rank this series fourth strongest out of the five series reviewed, i.e., second to last.