Grade 1: Teaching short a.
System and pace in introducing correspondences. No vowels are presented in phonics instruction in the first 6 weeks (Unit 1). Short vowels are introduced beginning in week 7, in this order: a, i, o, e, and u, a reasonable progression given considerations of phoneme salience. About two weeks are spent on each vowel, a relatively slow pace. The basal includes masters for take-home phonics books that support nondecodable words with rebus pictures.
Phoneme awareness review. The phoneme awareness warm-up consists of singing a rhyming song written on a chart, then rereading and having children clap when they hear /a/ (presuming they already recognize /a/). If not, the teacher is to have them segment the word map, presuming they have segmentation skill. Thus, the lesson practices rather than teaches awareness of /a/.
Components of phonics lesson. The phonics lesson has the teacher say, "/a/ is the short a sound," confusing the phoneme and the letter name. The lesson then proceeds analytically, showing the word cat and modeling its segmentation and blending letter by letter, expecting children's repetition. Then the teacher is to have the children decode short a words, including glad, with its initial consonant cluster. Next they are to find short a words on a chart that includes many nondecodable words (very, likes, eat, play, blue, etc.). Then students are asked to brainstorm rhyming words in the -at, -an, and -ag families, an activity that invites phonetic cue reading. Last, children are told that "when the letter a is the only vowel in the middle of a word, it usually makes the short a sound," again confusing the phoneme with the letter name. After working on consonants t and p, they spell -an and -at words without spelling help or instruction, and then sort words by rhymes.
Decodability of practice texts. Later, children read "The Nap," a partly decodable story with quite a few nondecodable words (will, look, away, like, up, come, down, not, what).
Grade 1: Teaching short u.
The short u lesson in the 15th week uses a nearly identical lesson structure to the short a lesson. Again, children read a story only partly decodable given the five short vowels they've studied, with nondecodable words likes, play, feed, good, more, please, what, good, time, sleep, wants, and boy.
Grade 1: Teaching long i signaled by silent
System and pace in introducing correspondences. Long i signaled by silent e is introduced in Unit 4 at approximately the 22nd week of instruction. Other long vowels signaled by silent e are introduced weekly at this stage, a moderate pace.
Phoneme awareness review. The teacher explains that "the long i sound is the same as the name of letter i." Students listen to a song, then sing the song stretching the /I/ words. Later, they raise their hands as they identify /I/ words. Students who don't recognize /I/ are given oral blending practice.
Components of phonics lesson. Students cross-check to correct teacher's "errors" in reading sentences like "I feel fin." The teacher explains that e at the end of a word signals the vowel i to say its name. The teacher models blending nice (a confusing example word because c represents /s/ rather than its more common phoneme, /k/) by running her hand sequentially beneath the letters (how letters are grouped in blending is unspecified). Students practice by adding e's on the chalkboard to pin, rid, bit, etc. and generating new pronunciations. For review, students build words with i_e out of letter cards without teacher guidance. They complete a workbook page spelling illustrated words with the i_e pattern. They read a phonics reader (I could not determine its decodability; no text was presented in the manual) and spell words from a list using an e each student decorates on a post-it note.
Decodability of practice texts. The story in the anthology, "The Rolling Rice Cake," is only partly decodable; most pattern words feature the confusing -ice phonogram. A number of words require advanced decoding because they feature untaught patterns or contain multiple syllables (e.g., pretty, family, closer, etc.).
Grade 2: A representative fluency lesson.
I examined a lesson from Volume 2, p. 66k and following. The teacher introduces vocabulary words from a chart in context; the words were related by spelling patterns rather than by meaning, suggesting a spelling list rather than semantically related vocabulary words. The teacher activates students' background knowledge using a web on special occasions. There follows a picture walk to preview the story, and then guided reading in which children are stopped every couple of pages to answer questions. Suggestions are made for guiding reading with various reading levels. With small groups, a readers' theater format is suggested, which seems inappropriate for an initial reading. Independent readers are given a purpose-setting question and assigned to read on their own, and intervention students are given extra phonics instruction and paired with fluent readers for assisted reading, an effective fluency strategy. Later students reread part of the story. After the teacher models changing voices to express characters, students practice altering their voices to portray the animals characters in the story, another effective type of fluency practice.
Grade 4: A lesson on summarization.
I found a summarization lesson in Unit 2, beginning on page 406. To introduce the lesson, students try to tell about a TV show in 25 words or less. Then students read a 2-page expository text on Korean foods with the goal of deciding which of two summary statements is better. The text defines a summary as a short statement of no more than a few sentences that tells the main idea of a selection, and distinguishes story summaries (which focus on key story structure events) from article summaries. However, steps in determining importance or testing drafts of main ideas are not provided. Intervention students are guided to web the article. In later review activities, sample think-alouds are transcribed to model summarization, after which students summarize parts of stories. In subsequent activities, students practice composing headlines for news stories and use a stair-step diagram to scaffold summarization of a complete story.
Overall, this well-established mainstream basal, once virtually synonymous with whole word instruction, has taken important steps toward explicit phonics. However, many problems remain: very limited phoneme awareness instruction, a letter-by-letter blending sequence, and stories only partly decodable given correspondences taught to date. Beyond first grade, my sample found some effective fluency practice and somewhat explicit instruction on summarization.