Monday, May 23, 2011

Crew Review: Pearson's Reading Street

I was happy to volunteer to review and try out Pearson/ Scott Foresman's Reading Street (2008 edition) grade 2 readers. We've never used a textbook/ basal reader before. I'm always on the lookout for good reading material for my on-grade-level reader Luke (2nd grade) to inspire him to want to try reading for fun (he'd rather play outside or dress-up like a Revolutionary War soldier).

First, I wanted to verify what I thought a basal reader was.  I've heard the educational-ese phrase used for decades (and guessed at it's meaning) and assumed what the term meant, but never really knew what the purpose, goal, need for one was. Gotta love, Wikipedia for quick answers: 
Basal readers are textbooks used to teach reading and associated skills to schoolchildren. Commonly called "reading books" or "readers" they are usually published as anthologies that combine previously published short stories, excerpts of longer narratives, and original works. A standard basal series comes with individual identical books for students, a Teacher's Edition of the book, and a collection of workbooks, assessments, and activities. A sequence of readers of increasing difficulty are called graded readers.[1]
Yep.  A basal reader is pretty much what I thought it was, and Reading Street fits the definition to a T.  From the Pearson website, the Easy Street series of readers are:
High-interest, authentic literature [which] provides opportunities for cross-textual reading in the content areas. Practice with higher-order thinking skills and writing tasks prepares students for state tests.
The product.  The 2nd grade readers are a set of two books, labeled 2.1 and 2.2.  For the set I reviewed, the price is $ 81.97.   They are $40.97 individually (view prices here).  This does not include the teacher books or any student workbooks.  The teacher books are really priced out of reach for any home educator I know -- over $400 for the set of 6 books!

Back to the books I have in hand. Each book is divided into 3 themed units with 5 stores in each unit:

             Book 2.1
Unit 1: Exploration 
Unit 2: Working Together 
Unit 3: Creative Ideas 

             Book 2.2
Unit 4: Our Changing World
Unit 5: Responsibility
Unit 6: Traditions

Within these units, each book is "linked" to a science or social studies topic.

So, in all, that's 30 stories for a school year.  In a public school setting, that would be one story per week for 30 weeks. 

How we used it. I think the best way for me to explain what reading one of the selections from the first book looks like is to explain what we did:
  • Each book starts with a visually appealing double page spread entitled "Oral Vocabulary" with drawings or pictures of kids doing something related to the unit's topic.  We haven' done much with this.  I'm sure the teacher's guide has some good suggestions for teacher to elicit conversations using specific vocabulary.  
  • Next is a 2-page spread called "High-Frequency Words."  Luke and I read through the words on the first page, then the words are put into a short, half-page piece of prose.  At the bottom of this page is an explanation of the literary genre this book fits into. I liked being able to talk about this with Luke.  This was more than just "is this fiction or non-fiction?"  Rather, we discussed things like animal fantasy, fairy tales, realistic fiction, and expository nonfiction.  Did the "expository nonfiction" catch your eye, too?  Thankfully, the editors of the book have made everything very 2nd-grade accessible, such as:
"Expository nonfiction gives information about a topic.  In the next selection, you will read about...."
  •  Finally we read the story!  Each story is full of the original illustrations that were published in the self-contained book.  I like that the print is large.  For Luke, he's just getting to the point where a single, full-page of text is not too intimidating, and the 2.1 book gradually introduces a 2-page spread with text on nearly one full page.  
  • After we read the story, there are questions to answer.  Under each question is a hint to the student (or me) of what type of question is being asked:  main idea, retelling, sequencing, predicting, etc.  I like that there are factual and inferential (critical thinking) type questions.
There's also this part called "Test Practice"  which directs the child to "look back and write" about the story.  I suppose we could do this on paper, but since standardized testing isn't our goal, we just talk through the appropriate responses.
Also on this two-page spread, titled Reader Response, along the bottom are selected pictures which can be used to retell the story.  A "Meet the Author" biography of each writer is provided with snapshots of other books the author has written. 
  • Next is another shorter piece of writing.  I've seen excerpts from books as well as poetry.  These pieces relate to the science/ social studies link for each main story.  For example, a story about two friends making a robot for the science fair was followed by an excerpt from a book by Clive Gifford called "Robots."  I usually read this to look -- kinda like a present to Luke after reading a much longer piece to me. 
  • The final part of each selection is "Write Now" which encourages a writing and grammar assignment related to the book.  The grammar focus will be on one topic -- verbs, nouns, verb tenses.  A definition is given and an example is provided.  The writing practice focuses on a trait:  word choice, constructing sentences or paragraphs within the context of a type of writing:  list making, writing an advertisement, making a poster.  
I hope you can sense that there is ALOT of information here!  In practice, it really isn't that overwhelming to student or teacher.  In about an hour's time, we manage to cover the basics of the pre-story, story and post-story material.  Certainly, we *could* make the story last a whole week if we wanted to, and I'm sure Luke would get more out of it if we did.  And, if we were doing more written work, I'd want to spread it out more. Obviously for a public school setting, all this information is meant to help students with standardized testing and meeting state level of Common Core standards.

At the 2.2 (second half of second grade) level book, the flow of activities for each story is generally the same.
  • Each story beginngs with a "Comprehension" section which targets a learning Skill and Strategy.  Here's a list of what is covered:
    • Skills:  compare/contrast,  fact/opinion, realism/ fantasy, plot/theme, main idea
    • Strategy: ask questions, prior knowledge graphic organizers, story structure.
The strategy is meant to help you acquire the skill.  For example, the children are encouraged to actively ask questions as they read to determine the author's purpose.
  • A two-page "Words to Know" section replaces the high-frequency words from the 2.1 book. A vocabulary strategy is given as well to help kids with word-building skills -- suffixes, compound words, word endings.  I'm not really seeing a connection between the strategy and the "Words to Know" however I like that topics that are being addressed in the strategy section.
The second page uses the Words to Know in a short reading passage.
  • The post-story activities are basically the same.
My Thoughts.

  1. I consider this a great anthology of currently published children's litearture.. These are real stories by real children's authors, not a group of editors at a publishing house trying to cobble stories together with dry, drab vocabulary and story lines. The variety of non-fiction and ficiton books is wonderful and the illustrations represent a huge diversity of styles and techniques.  It is a visually interesting book.
  2. I love the factual and inferential questions that are at the end of each story.  
  3. I love the sequenced pictures that a student can use to retell the story.  This is great for checking comprehension, sequencing, memory.  You could take dictation of this from your student (an excellent pre-writing task).
  4. I think introducing a second grader to short writing assignments when models are provided is very helpful to those who might have not-very-prolific-writers like I do. It is great exposure to different types of writing styles and genres.   In one book (2.2) the student assigned to write a news report about a storm they might have experienced.  Margin notes remind kids to answer Wh-questions, and to focus on the main topic.  A "Writer's Checklist" is provided to hep the child with focus, oganization, support, and conventions (basic punctuation).
  5. A mom who loves unit studies could probably design social studies/ science activities around the literature selections in these books. You'd have a literature rich year of study!
  1. The "visually interesting" thing could be a problem with distractible students (I have one).  Left to my son's own devices, we might have a 3 minute intermission when a new page is turned (and you know how 3 minutes can feel like 30 minutes, right?).  I need a gentle cattle prod sometimes.
  2. My biggest con may not be yours:  price.  For $80 I'm getting two great hard covered books that were written to conform to the most modern of educational standards.  Understandably, the research, time, and expertise behind these books doesn't come cheap.  However, I cannot even begin to touch a complete set of teacher's books, so I know that I'm not able to access all that research and teacher helps that would help me to meet these standards.
  3. Along this line, Pearson has a web portal called which is only accessible with the purchase of....teacher guides.  Each of the six units have an activity related to online communication and reading.  I could certainly sit with Luke and discuss email, web-searches, etc.  but I suspect there's some good stuff at the portal. Some reviewers have found some supplementary material on this website. It appears to belong a teacher who uses this reader text.
In all, the opportunity to review this set has made me open to the idea of finding additional anthology-type texts for my younger elementary-aged, but at a more budge-friendly price point.
    What do others think? Click over to TOS Crew Review to read about others' experience with Reading Street.

    Thank you Pearson publishing for the opportunity to review Reading Street 2.   For my honest review, I was given a complementary copy of the books.  My thoughts are my own -- good, bad, and otherwise.

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