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Kayla Chonoles
Dr. Dredger
READ 440
October 12, 2017
Assessing the Following Textbook
Moore, D. W., Short, D. J., Smith, M. W., Tatum, A. W., & Tinajero, J. V. (2014). Inside:
language, literacy, and content: Level B Reading & Language grade 6-8. Monterey, CA:
Cengage Learning.
Price: $103.75

Although Inside: language, literacy, and content is designed as a middle school textbook,

it is currently being used at Harrisonburg High School with 9th graders who are reading

significantly below grade level. Many of these students are between a 1st and 5th grade reading

level and are in this course to specifically improve skills; however, they are struggling with being

engaged in a text they feel is juvenile and uninteresting. The textbook is thoroughly rooted in the

Common Core State Standards (CCSS): not only is there a breakdown of the CCSS that apply to

each part of each unit in the back of the book, one of the authors, Dr. Michael Smith, contributed

to the CCSS initiative (Moore, et al., 2014). Inside is also geared towards the “big three”

adoption states (Ansary, 2004); this is clear from the list of teacher reviewers, most of whom live

in Florida, California, and Texas (Moore, et al., 2004). With this context, I will explore the

readability, content, format, utility, style, and overall strengths and weaknesses of Inside and its

realistic use in a classroom. To aid my assessment, I will use Alvermann’s framework for

assessing texts (2010), and the Textbook Evaluation Form (Mikelman, et al., 2017). I used both

of these instruments because I wanted a more comprehensive analysis of the textbook.

Alvermann’s framework helped me understand the relevance and readability of the text, and the

evaluation form helped me assess the usefulness of the text and the tools.

Readability Test and Style


Using the Fry Graph Readability Formula, I found that the calculated grade level was

about 7th grade, which is the level the textbook is made for. I used a random number generator to

find three pages and selected one 100-word section from each page to analyze the average

number of syllables and sentences per 100 words and determine readability through the

calculator. The average number of words per sentence was 13, the average number of sentences

per 100 words was 7.9, and the average number of syllables per 100 words was 146 (see Figure


Figure 1

Although a 7th grade level was the average of these samples, the textbook has a large

dichotomy in the readability of the selections, as well as a large gap between the level of

readability in the directions and some of the text selections. For example, the randomly selected

passage on page 322 was filled with long, possibly difficult, scientific terms that could be very

challenging for many middle learners to understand (see Figure 2). However directions, like

those on page 481 (see Figure 3), and some selections, like another randomly selected passage on

page 493 (see Figure 4) are extremely simple sentences that would be easier to understand if

Figure 2 Figure 3

some of them were combined into more complex sentences so the connecting thoughts could be

completed and chunked correctly (Alvermann, 2010); as Beers and Probst (2016) determine,

“level cannot be determined solely by a Lexile.” The instructions and directions are made of

simple, cut and dry, boring sentences and are not very engaging to readers. Most of the text is

made of very formal, prescriptive grammar. However, some of the readings do use more

descriptive grammar, like “The Challenge” (see Figure 10).

Figure 4 Figure 5

Overall, the readability level is not realistic because the average that is calculated does

not account for subject specific terms, poetry, play scripts, or excerpts from novels; nor does it

account for the fact that the syllabic count is skewed by passages like the one from page 190 (see

Figure 5), where the sentences are long, but filled with short words, which generates a higher

syllabic count.


Considering this text is built for middle learners and being used by 9th graders who are

reading significantly below grade level, the skills and concepts covered in the textbook are

generally appropriate to students’ prior knowledge; however, the content is not relevant to the

high school students who are currently reading it. The textbook covers reading strategies and

comprehension skills, like asking questions and summarizing, through a variety of fiction and

non-fiction texts, as well as vocabulary (and word-parts, or root words) and grammar (from

different kinds of sentences to participles as adjectives). Because there are multiple texts within

each unit, there are many skills, strategies, and vocabulary words in each unit, which could seem

overwhelming to a student. Some skills the textbook explains, like summarizing, that are very

difficult to explain or understand through a textbook (see Figure 6). Inside would be a good

resource to support the learning of these complex concepts and strategies, but teachers will need

to be sure to scaffold the concepts enough for the students to complete these exercises. There are

also many vocabulary words in

Figure 6
each chapter; there are usually

about eight new words

preceding each reading that are

more text-specific, as well as

academic vocabulary introduced throughout the unit. The words relating to the specific readings

are highlighted and in bold face while being introduced an in the text, and are accompanied by a

pronunciation a definition, an example, and a picture (see Figure 7).

Figure 7

The textbook uses an essential question as a guide or theme for each unit, which does

offer some connections across different subjects. Many of the text selections and essential

questions are current and relevant to students lives, like the units on “Global Warnings” or

cultures “crossing paths.” And while selections like “Kids Are Inventors, Too” and lyrics to

“Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” could be relevant to middle schoolers, they seem to simplistic

and juvenile to interest many high schoolers that use this book because they are below reading

level. There is one text that feels rather dated: I doubt many students in middle or high school

know who Cameron Diaz is, or the irony of her “going green,” until they turn to the article.


Inside has a total of eight units, and each unit contains an essential question, two to four

reading and vocabulary skills (taught in “I do, we do, you do” modeling, as seen in Figure 8), a

language and grammar lesson, one to two readings with vocabulary preceding it, and writing and

grammar exercises (the pattern of lessons, vocabulary and readings,

and exercises is repeated twice). Each unit ends with a “close

reading” selection, exercises to “compare across texts,” and a unit

wrap-up with exercises to help students explore the essential

questions. The textbook’s exercises are extensive, with opportunities

to practice reading fluency and think-pair-share discussions, as well

Figure 8
as chances to practice writing different kinds of texts (see Figure 9).

The reading selections have useful “sidebars” (Mikelman, et al.,

2017), reminding students to use reading strategies (like setting a Figure 9

purpose or predicting), highlighting and bolding vocabulary words,

and providing cultural background. However, sometimes these annotations

can feel overwhelming; especially when combined with a picture (see

Figure 10). The glossary and index are also thorough, easy to use, and have

good definitions (Mikelman, et al. 2017). The appendix also includes an

index of skills, an index of authors and titles, and index of art and artists.

Figure 10


There is great variety in the types of texts used. Inside includes everything from an

excerpt from Lord of the Rings to an excerpt from a social science textbook; from a poem by

Nikki Giovanni to a magazine article; from myths and legends to an environmental report.

Women, people of color, and various cultures seem to be well represented, and there is true

attempt at differentiation of student interest and opportunities to analyze fiction and non-fiction

texts. However, not all of these texts are equally complex or challenging. It is easy to understand

the more simplistic texts like the one in Figure 5, but the lack of complexity in Figure 4, which is

a text selection towards the end of the textbook is astounding. At this point in the textbook,

students should have more opportunities to apply reading strategies to more complex texts, not

be bogged down by numerous, simplistic sentences and concepts (Beers and Probst, 2016). The

questions and exercises also offer some differentiation possibilities, and ask students to think

critically and call for interpretation, evaluation, and application as well as literal recall

(Alvermann, 2010).

In some of the before reading exercises, a CD is mentioned. After researching, I found

that a CD, a teacher’s manual, and student practice books are offered on the Cengage website,

but I am unable to access and evaluate these tools. Depending on the quality of the CD, it could

be a very useful tool: I have noticed that many of the students in my practicum have better

reading comprehension when listening, and the CD could provide more opportunities for read

alouds. The idea of a teacher’s manual seems a bit redundant, though: the typical strategies and

activities most teachers would use are listed in the textbook, and, overall, most of the concepts

and readings are scaffolded well.

Strengths and Weaknesses


National Geographic and Cengage have truly crafted a useful, well planned

textbook. The sidebars, vocabulary notes, and captions are helpful and informative, and give

students a good idea of what an annotated text might look like. The topics are specific enough to

lead a unit, but broad enough to allow student choice if the textbook is used as a supplementary

source. It can be helpful for students to practice with at home since it gives such good

explanations and plenty of opportunities to practice concepts. The extension activities have

relevant activities that reinforce what has been taught and ask students to do more than just recall

basic information (Alvermann, 2010 & Mikelman, et al., 2017). The textbook also includes both

fictional and non-fictional sources within each unit, and gives students examples of different

genres and kinds of texts.

Inside: language, literacy, and content is thorough, and it would be very easy to fall

into the trap of solely teaching from the textbook since it has everything laid out so clearly.

Many widely used teaching strategies, like modeling and think-pair share, are laid out and would

be convenient for planning, but that would be extremely boring and disengaging for students to

follow the textbook so closely. Although the textbook attempts to have differentiation based on

student interest by having a variety of science, history, and fictional texts, it does not leave much

room for student choice or have a lot that is truly relevant to their lives. There are also very few

alternative assignments to differentiate for readiness level or interest. By teaching almost all the

concepts through modeling, the textbook also limits students in the ways they can learn and

approach different concepts and ideas; this could lead students to feel like if they do not

understand a concept through modeling, they are simply not smart. There are, however, ways to

make the restrictive explanations more flexible; for example, teachers could use the pictures that

accompany vocabulary words as adjunct displays (Fisher, 2015), or begin a discussion by putting

the pictures on the board and having students discuss which vocabulary words they think best fit

the picture and provide support for their thinking. Teachers could have students make their own

vocabulary cards to be more actively engaged with the content (Fisher, 2015). Coupling the

strategies and texts in the book with other, more relevant examples and anchor text would be

more beneficial; using the essential questions within the units as a spring board could then allow

more student choice. Including activities where students need to get up and move around the

room would be helpful and more engaging as well.



Alvermann, D. E., Phelps, S. F., & Gillis, V. R. (2010). Content area reading and literacy:

Succeeding in today’s diverse classrooms (6th ed.). New York: Allyn & Bacon.

Ansary, T. (2004, November 10). A Textbook Example of What's Wrong with Education.

Retrieved October 11, 2017, from


Beers, G. K., & Probst, R. E. (2016). Reading nonfiction: notice & note stances, signposts, and

strategies. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Fisher, D. (2015). 50 instructional routines to develop content literacy. Boston: Pearson.

Mikelman, R., Ecenbarger, L., Reyes, S., Hilty, K., Middendorf, C., & Hollas, B. (n.d.). SDE –

Resource Center: Differentiating Textbooks. Retrieved October 11, 2017, from

Moore, D. W., Short, D. J., Smith, M. W., Tatum, A. W., & Tinajero, J. V. (2014). Inside:

language, literacy, and content: Level B Reading & Language grade 6-8. Monterey,

CA: Cengage Learning.