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A Critical Investigation of the Treasures Curriculum Online Resources for Reading Intervention As a newly hired Reading Intervention teacher

for Forestville School and Academy, I am responsible for designing and implementing an intervention program for grades K-5. My district just adopted a new Language Arts curriculum, Treasures, published my Macmillan/McGrawHill. Each grade level teacher has received materials and online access for their grade level. As the intervention piece is “embedded” in this curriculum, there are no separate materials for the pull- out intervention program contained within Treasures. The few books that are leveled for differentiation are to stay in the classroom, as are the few extra instructional materials that were part of the adoption deal. I have the challenge and opportunity to develop a reading intervention program that is fully based in Common Core values and rigor, and subsists on real literature and informational texts. There is little funding available and no set budget for this program. The resources I have at my disposal are primarily from my classroom teaching days, and consist of a library of literature and informational texts. There are no student computers (I have requested one, which I might get next semester, fingers crossed!), and no listening center. There is a big screen onto which I can project from my desktop computer screen. That is the extent of the modern technological resources currently available. My caseload consists of 33 students seen in 8 small groups for 30 minutes a day, 3 days per week. This time must be maximized with efficient instruction and intensive, directed support. In servicing so many grade levels, it behooves me to become familiar with what is being taught across grade levels and when (scope and sequence), and to be able to access reading materials at appropriate independent and instructional reading levels for my students, while addressing their individual needs for remediated instruction in specific skill areas. Purpose of Study This study is a critical exploration of the online resources that were included with this new adoption, to see what support is offered for struggling readers in the five essential areas of reading: Phonemic Awareness, Phonics, Fluency, Vocabulary, and Comprehension. It is also an inquiry into the extent of the school and home connection potential via these online resources. The basis of this inquiry will be to determine if these resources will be useful in their own right, and not prove to be just another example of the “tool driving the task” (Beatham 2008, p. 62). Some publishers throw technological bells and whistles at administrators who don’t really know the value of (or even how to evaluate) those resources. Districts and administrators hear “online resources” and think that that automatically means something promising and “tech savvy” that will help their students. These are the same decision makers that view “computers as panacea” (Burbules & Callister 2000, p. 5-8), taking an instrumental view which focuses on the tools themselves, and they are currently evaluating “which shiny objects to buy” (Parker, 2013 class discussion) with our District’s technology budget, without consideration of the deeper questions that address the purpose of and pedagogy behind the acquisition of and investment in new technology. Common Core Alignment Another concern related to this inquiry was the District’s selection of the older Macmillan/McGraw-Hill’s Treasures Language Arts Curriculum (2010), versus the same

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publisher’s offering; Wonders (2013). Macmillan/McGraw-Hill claims that Treasures is 100% “aligned with the CCSS”, while Wonders (a new language arts curriculum offered by the same publisher) claims to be state on their website home page (www.mhmacmillanmh.com) that Wonders is “The only reading program built from the ground up on the Common Core State Standards.” My first realization that the “alignment” might not be the same quality was that the Treasures Teacher’s Editions have the CA State Standards, NOT the CCSS, referenced throughout the lesson plans. It appears that we may have been sold “last year’s close out model”, as I know we scored a lot of “freebies” with this adoption purchase. Findings Website Design For reasons I cannot discern, the publisher’s online resources are divided amongst two websites: http://connected.mcgraw-hill.com and www.macmillanmh.com. Both lacked good navigation, but the main one from which most of the content is accessed was the particularly awkward ConnectEd. The navigation on this site is very poorly designed. The user cannot generally get back to a standard main menu, and is continually redirected to the login page. Once a selection is made via a menu bar, the user is stranded there at the linked page. The only way back to the menu is to close that page and re-enter through the website’s front door, requiring another login again. There was a further redundancy: if a user chose second grade from one menu, she would be brought to another screen requiring an additional selection of second grade. The majority of sections lacked a “back” or “home” button, and several links led to “404 page not found” errors, or worse- just a big gray blank page. While viewing an online assessment book, I found something I wanted to print. The page was marked as 190, but when I print previewed page 190, a different page was in view. The pagination was off by six pages. Through the Teacher’s Edition link on the ConnectEd site, I found an overview of the first of six units, with no active links, which then stopped at pages 4/5. Although there was a “Next section” arrow that appeared active when clicked on, it did nothing. Each of the Teacher’s Editions was a dead end at the same point. (I contacted the trainer and she confirmed that I should have full access, and asked me what operating system and browser I was using. I have a PC on Windows 7 using Chrome at work, and at home I have a new MacBookPro using Safari, and both reach the same dead end result. It was no different on Firefox or Internet Explorer. It is my contention that they have a glitch on their end, and I have emailed the publisher.) I also noted that the description of each Teacher Edition on the multiple grade menu ends abruptly mid-sentence, and the only clickable option (I anticipated that there might be an “expand” command to open the rest of paragraph) takes you to another page. This is very sloppy work for a giant publishing house specializing in education, as this website was anything but intuitive or efficient. These factors alone would give me pause about using these online resources. The Student Editions were fully accessible for all grades and units, and provided working links in the Table of Contents leading to any story or unit. Upon selecting a page of an anthology story, a navigation bar appeared, featuring highlighting tools, a notes option that allowed you to make and leave notes anywhere on the page, the ability to jump to a specific page, click arrows to go to the next or previous page, and a zoom in and out option. A user can also play the audio of these stories, and the words are underlined for the sentence being read, while the underline changes color beneath the word as it is spoken. I liked this feature, and it could support struggling readers in a classroom setting, and could possibly be used in an intervention setting to help struggling readers access the current anthology. (Unfortunately, the District did not

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purchase the online Student Edition rights, which would have provided each student a password and access from home.) There was a Home button, which took you to the main page containing the Units’ covers. Clicking on a given Unit cover brought up a Table of Contents with links to jump to specific pages. There was also a Help menu, which clarified how this part of the website worked. The Help menu clarified that there were two user options: an interactive whiteboard (which employs more tools in the toolbar- like the notes feature and a pencil, and proves to be the more useful for an instructional intervention setting) and a more limited desktop version, which only allows highlighting and dragging and dropping. Not having an interactive whiteboard, I would be limited to the desktop version. The Leveled Online Library One of the objectives of this investigation was to find books that students could read at home online, or that could be printed out. Many students don’t have access to books at home, and nothing builds reading ability and vocabulary like more reading. From the Digital Resources listed in the Teacher’s Edition, I was connected to the alternate website (www.macmillanmh.com). There, I found a Leveled Reader Search. This search engine allowed a search by title, author, keyword, content area, genre, skill, and text feature, and an advanced search enabled searching by: no specific grade level, any specific grade level, Guided Reading level, Reading Recovery level, Lexile range, and Benchmark level. I searched by title for My Name Is Yoon, a book that I know to be featured in the second grade Unit 1. However, it was not found. I soon realized that I was not searching in a typical “library”, but one containing decodable and skills based books designed explicitly for this curriculum and published by Macmillan/McGraw-Hill for instructional purposes only, as opposed to “real” literature.

Students do not have access to this website, and although the books are colorful, they would be impractical to print based on how much color ink (or black for gray scale) they would use (as shown above). Although they could be used in a classroom setting for whole group, small group, or individuals, the pages of the books load and turn ever so slowly, I don’t think students would find it engaging for long, and it certainly tried this teacher’s patience. Furthermore, the

TREASURES ONLINE RESOURCES FOR INTERVENTION audio reads the words so slowly and choppily (one-at-a-time), the books do not appropriately model fluency or prosody.

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Interactive Animated Lessons Through the Student Edition, I was able to select from a menu bar on the left and was led to two types of animated “interactive” lessons per grade. These were Animated Comprehension Lessons and Phonics and Word Study Lessons. There were no online resources supporting phonemic awareness, vocabulary, or reading fluency. The only fluency activity consisted of word lists (not text) featured in the Word Study Lessons. The Animated Comprehension Lessons and Animated Phonics and Word Study Lessons were offered at every grade level, and although the skills and subtopics changed somewhat through the grades, the structure and presentation style did not. While younger students might be initially enamored with the colorful animation, the cartoonish style was very childlike, (a la Dora the Explorer), and I can’t imagine it holding the attention (or even garnering the cooperation) of a 4th or 5th grader. In his article, Media Education Goes Digital, Buckingham (2008, p. 112) states “…there is also a new and widening gap between young people’s out-of-school experiences of technology and their experience in the classroom.” Today’s youth are becoming astute consumers of digital media; even young students generally have a fair amount of experience with interactive video games and smart phones or tablets, and this program appears to be a poor and dated excuse for engaging media. Animated Comprehension Lessons. Each lesson is divided into three levels of difficulty around a specific skill, (which vary slightly in the two grade spans shown at right). Each level of difficulty is addressed in a consistent activity type across every grade level. (Treasures Teacher’s Edition, 2010). Level One includes an animated lesson with audio and no text. For example; Second Grade Main Idea and Details, Level One showed a cartoon with audio narration (there was no text) about the various types of transportation people use in different circumstances played. It was straightforward and engaging enough for how short it was. In the lesson following, there were several pictures from the “story”, some were modes of transportation, and others were not.
Animated Lessons (K–2) Animated Lessons (3–6) Author’s Purpose Author’s Purpose Cause and Effect Cause and Effect Character, Setting, Plot Character, Setting, Plot Compare and Contrast Compare and Contrast Draw Conclusions Draw Conclusions Fantasy and Reality Fact and Opinion Main Idea and Details Main Idea and Details Make and Confirm Predictions Make Inferences Make Inferences Problem and Solution Problem and Solution Sequence of Events Retell/Summarize Summarize Sequence of Events Theme

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There was a virtual parking lot to drag the correct answers into. Correct selections get a “That’s right” response. Incorrect selections get a “Try again,” and that answer is removed from the parking space. Next, there was an explanation about how to understand what a main idea is by looking at the details and finding out what they all had in common. I could use this, either one student at a time (at the student computer I don’t yet have), or projected on the big screen as a group activity (but I would have to use the mouse for them at my teacher computer, so it wouldn’t be student led or an independent activity). When the lesson is successfully completed, there is an option to go on to the next level within this particular skill. Level Two was another Main Idea and Detail Lesson on reading a passage, and was text only. This text looks too difficult for the average second grader; for intervention, I would need to drop a grade lower for this text-based exercise. I read the text passage and saw three detail boxes to fill in, all which feed into a main idea box (see below). The only sentences that can be dragged are the correct responses. This seems less effective than the student being able to grab any sentence and then find out if their selection is correct.

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Students will quickly learn to just fish around for the moveable sentence (that’s what I did!), without regard to what it says. This is inclined to teach users how to game the system, not necessarily practice the skill being taught. I explored more skills lessons, just to test for variability across skills. There was none. I’m not impressed by the design, and I would not bother with Level Two lessons. Level Three was a page of text right out of the practice book, followed by three questions (and a blank that allows you to type in answers). This would not be a confidence builder for struggling students. Practice pages are generally used as filler or homework, and have no place taking up space in an intervention program (or the classroom, in my opinion). Students reading below grade level generally cannot complete these in the first place, as the text and/or instructions are too difficult for them to read. I typed in some gibberish. There is no evaluation mechanism, just a box that says, “Answers will vary.” I guess the teacher is supposed to come by and read your screen- there is no save or submit button. Students are then stranded at that screen, as there is no way out but to close the page, and login again. This is so poorly designed I can hardly believe that the publisher ever beta tested it. If I’m this fed up with it at this point- I can easily imagine a student becoming frustrated and discouraged. Level Three certainly doesn’t qualify as engaging or interactive by my standards. Animated Phonics and Word Study Lessons. Grade 2 Animated Phonics and Word Study Lessons skills included vowel sounds, consonants, digraphs, consonant blends, rcontrolled vowels, and other vowel combinations and pronunciations. As shown below, each lesson type was structured in the same four sequential parts: a phoneme (sound) blending activity (the frogs and lily pads), word building (letter strings) activity (the birds), sorting patterns or sounds activity (the basketball hoops), and a fluency “test” of words fitting the objective of the lesson (string of words).

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The multi-step audio and written directions are initially hard to follow, but given the repetitive structure, after completing a few of these, most students would probably know what to do. Students drag and drop letters or groups of letters to form a word. There is a painfully long wait

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time, while the student is supposed to say and repeat the word, and finally an opportunity to hear the word spoken. A series of words is covered. The activities range from frogs and lily pads, to birds in a tree, to basketball hoops, to the word fluency activity. The games did not seem that intuitive, and correct answers are confirmed verbally; wrong answers are told to try again. Some right/wrong answers are acknowledged with positive or negative sound effects. However, I think students are more sophisticated as to what they expect with video interaction, and that this program plays into the more obsolete end of the “digital divide” (Buckingham 2008, p. 112). The word fluency activity was timed for one minute, but the instructions were vague, and there is no accountability for whether students are actually reading the words. I was able to click through the whole thing (not reading aloud, as prompted), and was “rewarded” with a final score of the maximum words offered: 125 in one minute. I did not consider this to be a very effective fluency practice, as there is no audio replay to find out if you said the words correctly, and no way to account for correct answers or miscues. The other activities, however, do offer practice, particularly for younger students and English Language Learners. These very basic skills can use reinforcement, but the games were so slow, I think there are more efficient and entertaining means of practicing these skills. I might use these activities in intervention for a single at a computer. The novelty of using the computer, however, will probably outweigh the excitement over this program. Family and Student Connection There was a link for students and families, who can get an access code to use from home, provided they have Internet access. I did note that there was a FAQ section that included a question on “How can I protect my child on the Internet?” It includes six rules of Internet Safety, with signature lines for the parents and student (see below), and includes some basic yet useful tips. This reminded me of the rule page that was shared via Voicethread (EDCT 552, 2013), however, this one is fairly tame and consists of common sense tips, which are worthy of discussion between parents and their students when engaging in use of the Internet (Parker, 2010, p. 25). It is unfortunate that this form is buried in the FAQs, when it should be listed as a resource or at least titled in a menu to capture the attention of a parent perusing the site.

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There are also lists of recommended books that parents could obtain at a library or purchase, but there are no books to view online or print out. What can the students and families do with this resource? On this site, there are three options: Teacher View, Student View, and Parent View. There is no ability to access the stories (such as My Name is Yoon) from the student’s anthology. The featured stories of each unit do have an option for a story summary to be listened to in English, Spanish, Chinese, Hmong, Vietnamese, and Khmer. There is no text to view. As a reading teacher, I am greatly disheartened. I pursued the link to the My Name Is Yoon. I clicked on a “related activity”, and found a lesson on seeds (I’m not sure how that related to the immigration theme of the Yoon anthology Unit). One activity in this section refers to Eric Carle’s The Tiny Seed, but the publication is not accessible, even in summary form. This lesson opens with a photo of sunflower seeds. A brief audio asks what these seeds will grow into, which is followed with an inquiry question, and a prompt to “talk to your partner.” (This was obviously designed to be used at school- students don’t typically have a “partner” to talk to at home as they would at school for a “think, pair, share” activity.) If this is supposed to fulfill the CCSS vision of collaboration, it is an extremely weak effort. The next slide prompts the student to think about where these seeds need to grow, and asks the question, “Why do you think these seeds might need a larger pot to grow in? Now talk to your partner.” Talk to your partner about what? There is no guiding of the conversation or inquiry. There is also a huge leap in scientific pre-existing knowledge, which is not supported by this lesson. There is no mention of photosynthesis, yet the next prompt asks why a seed or new plant needs lots of sunlight. “Talk to your partner,” followed by a final photo of grown daffodils (which grow from bulbs, not seeds!). None of this is addressed, and that concludes the lesson. What??? This is irresponsible instruction, and left to the family to sort out. I’ve seen enough. Conclusion Over all, I was greatly disappointed with the technological online resources offered with Treasures. The site is cumbersome, awkward, and confusing, with gross deficiencies and inefficiencies in design. I spent days upon days investigating and revisiting sections, and I still don’t feel that I have the navigation down. The activities for supporting literacy were not tremendously useful or engaging, and the way that they operated was so slow and juvenile looking, I question whether students will have the patience for them. There was no breadth or depth to these resources, nor did I find them to be that closely aligned to the Common Core. The home link turned out to be a weak link, not offering the practice and resources, which could really make a difference. The opportunity for a participatory culture (Jenkins, 2008, p. 7) between the school and home with parents being able to see and read and share what their children are reading and learning in Language Arts was wasted. Wiske’s (2006, p. 35) article mentioned the difference between entity learners (who think learning is a matter of getting right the right answers and not the wrong ones) and incremental learners (who believe that learning is a gradual process that progresses through thinking and practice). These online resources cater to the former, with its “That’s right!” and “Try again” reinforcements. Students using these resources will be encouraged towards validation for correct answers, not the inherent knowledge, practice, or experience. They will learn to game the system, to rush through to get to the next level, but they are not likely to gain the targeted skills in the process.

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The primary application for these resources to be used in intervention would be for students to work individually on a computer, though I found the site to be less than user friendly, and it might require a lot of teacher support to guide students through the maze. The animated resources could be used in a computer class, but the teacher or instructional aide would need to be familiar with how the site operates (and how it doesn’t!), and they would need to wear their track shoes to run around the room helping students get back to the desired menu or next task. The most disappointing feature was the lack of access to online or printable books, or access to the anthology stories for students and families to use at home. The lessons that could be used in place of classroom teaching were not worthy of replacing actual teacher taught or collaborative learning lessons If a classroom had tablets they might be able to utilize some activities in a small group or “center” of Language Arts practice activities. The single best feature was probably the online-leveled book resource that could be searched by skill and many other criteria. However, the slowness of the page turning and the stilted reading (which counter-demonstrates fluency and prosody) is a turn off. However, I might test these out on my big projectable screen and see how engaging the students find the books and this method of presentation. I also plan to try out the individual phonics lessons, primarily to see if they would be a good way to target individual students missing skills (assuming I am granted a student computer). This inquiry has left me holding little more than a box of bells and whistles. I am reminded of the article Oversold and Underused, (Cuban, 2001, p. 76), that in order for technology to reach full its potential in education, “They [the publishers] would have to improve product reliability to limit defects in their wares, increase technical support to teachers, and test software on consumers before marketing it to district and state administrators.” I feel that my District has been sold a partial bill of goods, with regard to the online components of this adoption. The publishing world and school bureaucracies are part of a slow revolution (Cuban, 2001, p. 80) in making the most of the opportunities technology offers. Teachers and students and their families are the consumers. The public at large is the ultimate beneficiary. Perhaps it is up to all of us to demand higher quality online educational resources than are currently being delivered. With the Common Core State Standards raising the bar on education, I think we need to hold the publishers at large accountable for providing digital and technologically cutting edge tools that will better support the educating our students.

TREASURES ONLINE RESOURCES FOR INTERVENTION References Beatham, M.D. (2008). Tools of inquiry: Separating tool and task to promote true learning, J. Educational Technology Systems, Vol. 37 (1), p. 62. Buckingham, D. (2007). Media education goes digital: an introduction. Learning Media and Technology, Vol. 32 (2), p. 112 Burbules, N. and Callister, T. (2000). Watch IT: the risks and promises of information technologies for education. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, Chapter One: The risky promises and promising risks of new information technologies, pp. 5-8. Carle, Eric, (1987) The Tiny Seed. New York, N.Y.: Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division. Cronin, D. and Lewin, B. (2000). Click, Clack, Moo. New York, N.Y.: Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division. Cuban, L. (2001). Cuban’s Oversold and underused, computers in the classroom. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, pp. 76, 80.

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Jenkins, H. (2008), Confronting the challenges of participatory culture: media education for the 21st century. The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Retrieved from http://digitallearning.macfound.org, p. 7. Keats, E.J., (2003). My Name Is Yoon. Canada: Douglas & McIntyre Ltd. Text copyright Helen Recorvits, Gabi Swiatkowska. Macmillan/McGraw-Hill, (2010). Treasures. McGraw-Hill Educational Global Holdings, LLC. http://connected.mcgraw-hill.com www.macmillanmh.com http://mhreadingwonders.com Macmillan/McGraw-Hill, (2013). Wonders. McGraw-Hill Educational Global Holdings, LLC. Parker, J. (2010). Teaching Tech-Savvy Kids: Bringing Digital Media into the Classroom, Grades 5 – 12. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin, p. 25. Wiske, M. S., Ashburn, E.A. & Floden, R.E. (Eds), (2006). Meaningful learning using technology. New York, NY: Teachers College Press, p. 35.