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Core Program Review

Josie Calamari and Caroline Tritschler


LLED 7920e, Spring 2014

Our first core program that we reviewed was Macmillan/McGraw-Hills


Georgia Treasures for First Grade. The program was copyrighted in 2010,
along with a respectable group of program authors; the program was also
reviewed by a group of Georgia professionals within public schools. Best
practices are identified at the beginning of the manual along with Georgia
and National standards.
Our second core program that we reviewed was Harcourt School
Publishers StoryTown for First Grade. The program was authored by
university professors and was copyrighted in 2009. Data-driven instruction is
outlined at the beginning of the teachers manual. Core lessons in this
program claim to use explicit, systematic instruction with a spiraled review of
key concepts.
When comparing the two programs, we based our comparison on four
specific qualities that related to our identified best practices. First, we
evaluated how easy it was to use the teachers manual for each program.
Treasures is nicely divided by a strong sturdy page that begins each week.
The sturdy page also outlines the specific Georgia standards with clearly
stated objectives and essential questions. Following this page, each day
includes a lesson plan for large group and small group instruction. It is

visually easy to navigate and teachers could easily pick up this book and be
able to efficiently teach the skill to be learned. In contrast, the teachers
guide of StoryTown was not clearly divided, which made finding specific
weeks and lesson slightly more time consuming. Standards and objectives
were not identified anywhere in this manual. There is a suggested lesson
planner for both whole group and small group instruction and teachers are
given time allotments for various parts of instruction. The teacher would
have to infer more instructional strategies that were not as clearly stated as
they were in Treasures. We know from our research that differentiation and
catering to individual needs is very important. For example, Dewitz, et al.,
tells us that teachers must be flexible and make appropriate diagnostic
decisions when teaching. In addition, The National Reading Panel (NICHD,
2000) found that it is most effective to teach phonemic awareness in small
groups (Dewitz, et al., 2010). From our knowledge of the importance of
small group instruction paired with whole group instruction, we feel that
Treasures does the most efficient job of allowing opportunities to cater to
unique student needs.
Next we will compare the assessments available for both programs. In
Treasures, assessments are located at the end of each week to help monitor
progress. These include comprehension assessments, fluency assessments,
and alternative assessments for English language learners. It also helps
provide teacher with a what to do plan if a student is falling behind. For
informal assessment, there are quick checks in each lesson that help a

teacher differentiated material for a childs need. In StoryTown, assessments


are located in a separate section at the back of the book, which then directs
you to a different manual. There are weekly lesson tests, which include
selections on comprehension, phonics and spelling, high frequency skills,
focus skill, building robust vocabulary, and grammar. We like how
assessments to monitor progress daily are easily accessible in Treasures.
The IRA, in the article Guidelines for the Evaluation of Commercial Reading Programs,
explains that assessment must have the following characteristics: they
provide multiple measures to monitor student progress, they are aligned to
the ELA Common Core standards by providing assessments in all five major
strands to better support teaching, and they support teachers to adjust their
instruction to meet student needs. After evaluating assessments in both
Treasures and StoryTown, we feel that the assessment opportunities in
Treasures are more closely aligned with the IRAs beliefs.
Next, we compared the breakdown of instruction at these levels:
phonics, high-frequency words, fluency, comprehension, vocabulary,
grammar, and writing. In Treasures, phonics is instruction through the use of
word and letter cards and pocket charts. High frequency words are taught
with vocabulary cards and a word wall. Fluency is taught through interactive
read alouds and repeated readings. Comprehension is done through various
readings of genres using graphics organizers and teacher modeling.
Vocabulary is taught through guided practice using words in context.
Grammar is taught through daily language activities. Finally, writing is done

through instruction of writing traits, such as organization and writing to a


prompt. In StoryTown, phonics instruction uses letter cards and pocket
charts for word building. High frequency words are again taught with word
cards. Fluency is monitored through readers theater at the end of themes.
Comprehension is built through focus skills, focus strategies, and listening
comprehension. Vocabulary is called Robust Vocabulary and is taught with
graphic organizers and taught in the context of everyday words. Grammar is
taught through literature modeling and matching parts of speech in
sentences. For writing, modeled, shared, and independent writing are
practiced in each theme.
Finally, we compared the student appeal of both programs. In
Treasures, both leveled readers and read aloud were highly colorful and
related to a specific theme in each unit. The texts had large enough print
and pictures that aided comprehension. In StoryTown, the read alouds
seemed dull to us and less attractive to a student. There were pictures to aid
comprehension, and the print was large enough to easily read. They do not
seem to reach across various content categories such as social studies and
science. We know that reading should be an enjoyable, authentic, and
engaging task for students. Stahl explains that a reading program should
integrate literature, decodable text, comprehension, and vocabulary
instruction (Stahl, 1992). In addition to being visually appealing to students,
we concluded that Treasures also integrates these parts of a whole reading
program through authentic, high-quality literature.

For a school looking to adopt a core reading program, we would


recommend Treasures over StoryTown for many reasons. When doing our
skill trace, we felt Treasures taught inflectional endings based on our best
practices for phonics instruction. We determined our best practices through
readings from the IRA, Stahl, and Dewitz, et al. Phonics was taught
systematically, and inflectional endings were clearly identified through
meaning as well as sound symbol relationship. Treasures uses word cards
and pocket charts to clearly model adding of inflectional endings. In
addition, students had many opportunities to practice reading words in
isolation and in authentic texts. The importance of practicing reading words
in authentic texts is explained by the IRA in the following statement: Phonics
instruction, to be effective, in promoting independence in reading, must be
embedded in the context of a total reading/language arts program (IRA,
1997). We felt that the phonics instruction outlined in Treasures, along with
the texts provided in the program, accomplished this goal.
StoryTown made inflectional endings seem like a random add-on to a
lesson. There was no use of word cards or direct instruction of why
inflectional endings were added. Skills were not transferred into authentic
reading and writing.
In addition, Treasures was well aligned with standards. StoryTown in
no way identifies national and state standards as to the skills being taught.
It would be difficult for a teacher in a public school who is adopting Common
Core State Standards to align them with her instruction. StoryTown offers a

variety of fiction and informational texts, yet Treasures does this while also
pulling in content areas such as social studies and science without added
effort on the teachers part. In addition, Treasures also has online availability
of diverse literature such as Time for Kids. Our favorite part about Treasures
is the amount of writing practice students have. Both grammar and the
writing process are outlined with opportunities to practice daily as well as
unit projects. Rubrics are provided for ease of assessment and to provide
constant timely feedback to the students. We also felt that the teachers
guide in Treasures was easy to navigate and allowed teachers to easily find
assessment materials without needing to find other resources.
StoryTown did not appear to be as thorough as a core reading program
that utilized balance literary. It would not be best used as a primary program
in the younger grades. A teacher would have to be experienced in pulling
other resources and texts for support, as well as be able to make connections
between phonics skills and authentic texts without being directly told what to
do. Also, with the emphasis on the Common Core Curriculum, StoryTowns
lack of specific standards makes tying these into lesson objectives more
difficult for the teacher.
Based on our in depth evaluation of these two programs, we would
recommend Treasures for a school to purchase for a 1st Grade core reading
program. The positive aspects of this program clearly outweigh the few
negative aspects that we found. We like that the program was
systematically taught and skills were reinforced. We also found that there

was a good complexity of texts, along with a range and volume. In addition,
we thought that the writing piece was the strongest part of this program.
The many opportunities that are provided for student writing are a huge
benefit for students. We concluded that Treasures would be beneficial for an
experienced teacher, as well as a novice teacher, and easily implemented in
the classroom.

Works Cited:
Dewitz, P., Leahy S. B., Jones, J., & Sullivan, P. M. (2010). The essential guide
to selecting and using core reading programs. Newark, DE: International
Reading Association.
International Reading Association. (1994). Guidelines for the Evaluation of
Commercial Reading Programs. Delaware: International Reading
Association.
International Reading Association. (1997). The Role of Instruction. Newark,
DE: International Reading Association Phonics in Reading
Stahl, S., Duffy-Hester, A., & Stahl, K. A. (1998). Everything You Wanted To
Know About Phonics (But Were Afraid To Ask). Reading Research Quarterly,
33(3), 338-355.
Stahl, S. A. (1992). Saying The P Word: Nine Guidelines For Exemplary
Phonics Instruction. The Reading Teacher, 45(8), 618-625.