Sunday, December 30, 2012

Best K-5 Common Core ELA Curriculum | Grade 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

The Best Common Core ELA Reading Materials | Using the Revised Publishers’ Criteria for the Common Core State Standards in English Language Arts and Literacy. | CCSS ELA Grades 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5

Selecting the Best Grade Level (1, 2, 3, 4, and 5) English Language Arts Curriculum to Prepare Students for The New Common Core English Language Arts and Literacy Standards. 

A few question that I ask when evaluating a Reading Program!

  1. Do they measure and meet the highest levels of Blooms Taxonomy and Webb's DOK?
  2. Is the curriculum spiral in design, meaning concepts are introduced and repeated to maximize learning and memory?
  3. Are lesson plans designed to maximize declarative knowledge and retention of key ELA concepts?
  4. Are the students provided with higher order thinking question stems to create a erudite dialogue during reading instruction.
  5. Are the goals explicit and easily known to students and teachers before the lesson?
  6. What is the quantity of tier 2 and tier 3 vocabulary concepts in the curriculum.
  7. Are kids inspired and excited to read the literature provide in the readers.
  8. Can a "harried" teacher with an oversize class really use the materials?
  9. Are lessons designed to be taught in a cooperative learning structure?

Number 1: Scott Foresman: Reading Street  Common Core Edition

My cursory selection for the best overall K-6 Common Core ELA curriculum is, "Scott Foresman: Reading Street ( Common Core Edition 2012 )". I reviewed many Common Core ELA Curriculum Editions and all of them met the criteria but one stood out above the rest. Scott Foresman: Reading Street is not the perfect set of boxed curriculum yet it is vastly better than the old vocabulary controlled basal readers of the past. I will write a complete review of the Reading Street curriculum when I have completed a more extensive tier 2 and 3 academic vocabulary analyses, spiral curriculum appraisal, examined the text differentiation quality, content of inspirational and motivational literature, and my overall opinions and conclusion. I will examine the frequency and use of higher order thinking questions and the breakdown of Blooms level questions stems as they relate to the text. I will evaluate correlations between the released PARCC ELA assessments and the Reading Street curriculum.
Most students need extra extended response questions practice to prepare for the PARCC assessments.

Highlights of  Scott Foresman: Reading Street  Common Core Edition

The Envision It reference materials throughout the books are one reason I picked Scott Foresman: Reading Street ( Common Core Edition 2013 ). The Envision It books that are part of all the Readers as a supplemental reference at the front and back of each text book. The "Envision Books" are styled as a graphic comic that teachers the most difficult tier 3 academic ELA concepts.

  1. Integrated Cooperative Learning Structures
  2. Collection of Fluency Drills
  3. Giant collection of online and digital content
  4. Materials in English and Spanish
  5. Tier 3 Vocabulary Covered
  6.  Teacher Scalable
  7. Online Tutorials of all Content and Comprehensive Teacher Training
  8. Lexile Reading Levels on All Reading Passages
  9. Great Collection of Literature
  10. Quality ELA Extensions 
  11. Quality Test Prep
  12. Revised Blooms and Webb's Aligned Questions 
  13. Pearson is Writing the Content for PARCC and Smarter Balanced 
Areas that Need Improvement
  1. Overall Print and Graphics Quality
  2. Word Work Materials and Drills Need Work
  3. No Reading or Literacy Board Games

Scott Foresman: Reading Street: Meeting the Common Core ELA Curriculum Criteria
  1. Strongly disagree
  2. Disagree
  3. Agree
  4. Strongly agree

I. Key Criteria for Text Selection My Rating 3 plus
II. Key Criteria for Questions and Tasks My Rating 3
III. Key Criteria for Academic Vocabulary My Rating 3 plus

Criteria Used For Evaluation 

 Revised Publishers’ Criteria for the Common Core State Standards in English Language Arts and Literacy, Grades 3–12

David Coleman • Susan Pimentel


Developed by two of the lead authors of the Common Core State Standards and revised through conversations with teachers, researchers, and other stakeholders, these criteria are designed to guide publishers and curriculum developers as they work to ensure alignment with the standards in English language arts (ELA) and literacy for history/social studies, science, and technical subjects. The standards are the product of a state-led effort — coordinated by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers — and were developed in collaboration with teachers, school administrators, and experts to provide a clear and consistent framework to prepare students for college and the workforce.
The criteria articulated below concentrate on the most significant elements of the Common Core State Standards and lay out their implications for aligning materials with the standards. These guidelines are not meant to dictate classroom practice but rather to help ensure that teachers receive effective tools. They are intended to guide teachers, curriculum developers, and publishers to be purposeful and strategic in both what to include and what to exclude in instructional materials. By underscoring what matters most in the standards, the criteria illustrate what shifts must take place in the next generation of curricula, including paring away elements that distract or are at odds with the Common Core State Standards.
At the heart of these criteria are instructions for shifting the focus of literacy instruction to center on careful examination of the text itself. In aligned materials, work in reading and writing (as well as speaking and listening) must center on the text under consideration. The standards focus on students reading closely to draw evidence and knowledge from the text and require students to read texts of adequate range and complexity. The criteria outlined below therefore revolve around the texts that students read and the kinds of questions students should address as they write and speak about them.

The standards and these criteria sharpen the focus on the close connection between comprehension of text and acquisition of knowledge. While the link between comprehension and knowledge in reading science and history texts is clear, the same principle applies to all reading. The criteria make plain that developing students’ prowess at drawing knowledge from the text itself is the point of reading; reading well means gaining the maximum insight or knowledge possible from each source. Student knowledge drawn from the text is demonstrated when the student uses evidence from the text to support a claim about the text. Hence evidence and knowledge link directly to the text.


This document has two parts: The first articulates criteria for ELA materials in grades 3–12 and the second for history/social studies, science, and technical materials in grades 6–12. Each part contains sections discussing the following key criteria:
I. Key Criteria for Text Selection
II. Key Criteria for Questions and Tasks
III. Key Criteria for Academic Vocabulary
IV. Key Criteria for Writing to Sources and Research Omitted

The criteria for ELA materials in grades 3–12 have one additional section:
V. Additional Key Criteria for Student Reading, Writing, Listening, and Speaking

ELA and Literacy Curricula, Grades 3-5; ELA Curricula, Grades 6–12

I. Key Criteria for Text Selection

1. Text Complexity: The Common Core State Standards require students to read increasingly complex texts with growing independence as they progress toward career and college readiness.

A. Texts for each grade align with the complexity requirements outlined in the standards. Reading Standard 10 outlines the level of text complexity at which students need to demonstrate comprehension in each grade. (Appendix A in the Common Core State Standards gives further information on how text complexity can be measured and offers guidance to teachers and curriculum developers on selecting the texts their students read.)1 Research makes clear that the complexity levels of the texts students are presently required to read are significantly below what is required to achieve college and career readiness. The Common Core State Standards hinge on students encountering appropriately complex texts at each grade level to develop the mature language skills and the conceptual knowledge they need for success in school and life. Instructional materials should also offer advanced texts to provide students at every grade with the opportunity to read texts beyond their current grade level to prepare them for the challenges of more complex text.

1 A working group has developed clear, common standards for measuring text complexity that are consistent across different curricula and publishers. These measures blend quantitative and qualitative factors and are being widely shared and made available to publishers and curriculum developers. The measures are based on the principles laid out in Appendix A and have been further developed and refined. These criteria recognize the critical role that teachers play in text selection. 

B. All students (including those who are behind) have extensive opportunities to encounter grade-level complex text. Far too often, students who have fallen behind are only given less complex texts rather than the support they need to read texts at the appropriate level of complexity. Complex text is a rich repository of ideas, information, and experience which all readers should learn how to access, although some students will need more scaffolding to do so. Curriculum developers and teachers have the flexibility to build progressions of texts of increasing complexity within grade-level bands that overlap to a limited degree with earlier bands (e.g., grades 4–5 and grades 6–8).
Curriculum materials should provide extensive opportunities for all students in a classroom to engage with complex text, although students whose reading ability is developing at a slower rate also will need supplementary opportunities to read text they can comprehend successfully without extensive supports. These students may also need extra assistance with fluency practice and vocabulary building. Students who need additional assistance, however, must not miss out on essential practice and instruction their classmates are receiving to help them read closely, think deeply about texts, participate in thoughtful discussions, and gain knowledge of both words and the world.
Some percentage of students will enter grade 3 or later grades without a command of foundational reading skills such as decoding. It is essential for these students to have age-appropriate materials to ensure that they receive the extensive training and practice in the foundational reading skills required to achieve fluency and comprehension. The K–2 publishers’ criteria more fully articulate the essential foundational skills all students need to decode to become fluent readers and comprehend text.
C. Shorter, challenging texts that elicit close reading and re-reading are provided regularly at each grade. The study of short texts is particularly useful to enable students at a wide range of reading levels to participate in the close analysis of more demanding text. The Common Core State Standards place a high priority on the close, sustained reading of complex text, beginning with Reading Standard 1. Such reading focuses on what lies within the four corners of the text. It often requires compact, short, self-contained texts that students can read and re-read deliberately and slowly to probe and ponder the meanings of individual words, the order in which sentences unfold, and the development of ideas over the course of the text. Reading in this manner allows students to fully understand informational texts as well as analyze works of literature effectively.

D. Novels, plays, and other extended full-length readings are also provided with opportunities for close reading. Students should also be required to read texts of a range of lengths — for a variety of purposes — including several longer texts each year. Discussion of extended or longer texts should span the entire text while also creating a series of questions that demonstrate how careful attention to specific passages within the text provide opportunities for close reading. Focusing on extended texts will enable students to develop the stamina and persistence they need to read and extract knowledge and insight from larger volumes of material. Not only do students need to be able to read closely, but they also need to be able to read larger volumes of text when necessary for research or other purposes.

E. Additional materials aim to increase regular independent reading of texts that appeal to students’ interests while developing both their knowledge base and joy in reading. These materials should ensure that all students have daily opportunities to read texts of their choice on their own during and outside of the school day. Students need access to a wide range of materials on a variety of topics and genres both in their classrooms and in their school libraries to ensure that they have opportunities to independently read broadly and widely to build their knowledge, experience, and joy in reading. Materials will need to include texts at students’ own reading level as well as texts with complexity levels that will challenge and motivate students. Texts should also vary in length and density, requiring students to slow down or read more quickly depending on their purpose for reading. In alignment with the standards and to acknowledge the range of students’ interests, these materials should include informational texts and literary nonfiction as well as literature. A variety of formats can also engage a wider range of students, such as high-quality newspaper and magazine articles as well as information-rich websites. Range and Quality of Texts: The Common Core State Standards require a greater focus on informational text in elementary school and literary nonfiction in ELA classes in grades 6–12.   

A. In grades 3–5, literacy programs shift the balance of texts and instructional time to include equal measures of literary and informational texts. The standards call for elementary curriculum materials to be recalibrated to reflect a mix of 50 percent literary and 50 percent informational text, including reading in ELA, science, social studies, and the arts. Achieving the appropriate balance between literary and informational text in the next generation of materials requires a significant shift in early literacy materials and instructional time so that scientific and historical text are given the same time and weight as literary text. (See p. 31 of the standards for details on how literature and informational texts are defined.) In addition, to develop reading comprehension for all readers, as well as build vocabulary, the selected informational texts should build a coherent body of knowledge both within and across grades. (The sample series of texts regarding “The Human Body” provided on p. 33 of the Common Core State Standards offers an example of selecting texts that build knowledge coherently within and across grades.)2
B. In grades 6–12, ELA programs shift the balance of texts and instructional time towards reading substantially more literary nonfiction. The Common Core State Standards require aligned ELA curriculum materials in grades 6–12 to include a blend of literature (fiction, poetry, and drama) and a substantial sampling of literary nonfiction, including essays, speeches, opinion pieces, biographies, journalism, and historical, scientific, or other documents written for a broad audience. (See p. 57 of the standards for more details.) Most ELA programs and materials designed for them will need to increase substantially the amount of literary nonfiction they include. The standards emphasize arguments (such as those in the U.S. foundational documents) and other literary nonfiction that is built on informational text structures rather than literary nonfiction that is structured as stories (such as memoirs or biographies). Of course, literary nonfiction extends well beyond historical documents to include the best of nonfiction written for a broad audience on a wide variety of topics, such as science, contemporary events and ideas, nature, and the arts. (Appendix B of the Common Core State Standards provides several examples of high-quality literary nonfiction.)

2 The note on the range and content of student reading in K–5 (p. 10) states: “By reading texts in history/social studies, science, and other disciplines, students build a foundation of knowledge in these fields that will also give them background knowledge to be better readers in all content areas in later grades. Students can only gain this foundation when the curriculum is intentionally and coherently structured to develop rich content knowledge within and across grades.”
C. The quality of the suggested texts is high — they are worth reading closely and exhibit exceptional craft and thought or provide useful information. Given the emphasis of the Common Core State Standards on close reading, many of the texts selected should be worthy of close attention and careful re-reading for understanding. To become career and college ready, students must grapple with a range of works that span many genres, cultures, and eras and model the kinds of thinking and writing students should aspire to in their own work. Also, there should be selections of sources that require students to read and integrate a larger volume of material for research purposes. (See Appendix B of the standards for grade-specific examples of texts.)

D. Specific texts or text types named in the standards are included. At specific points, the Common Core State Standards require certain texts or types of texts. In grades 9–12, foundational documents from American history, selections from American literature and world literature, a play by Shakespeare, and an American drama are all required. In early grades, students are required to study classic myths and stories, including works representing diverse cultures. Aligned materials for grades 3–12 should set out a coherent selection and sequence of texts (of sufficient complexity and quality) to give students a well-developed sense of bodies of literature (like American literature or classic myths and stories) as part of becoming college and career ready.

E. Within a sequence or collection of texts, specific anchor texts are selected for especially careful reading. Often in research and other contexts, several texts will be read to explore a topic. It is essential that such materials include a selected text or set of texts that can act as cornerstone or anchor text(s) that make careful study worthwhile. The anchor text(s) provide essential opportunities for students to spend the time and care required for close reading and to demonstrate in-depth comprehension of a specific source or sources. The additional research sources beyond the anchor texts then enable students to demonstrate they can read widely as well as read a specific source in depth.

II. Key Criteria for Questions and Tasks

1. High-Quality Text-Dependent Questions and Tasks: Among the highest priorities of the Common Core State Standards is that students be able to read closely and gain knowledge from texts.

A. A significant percentage of tasks and questions are text dependent. The standards strongly focus on students gathering evidence, knowledge, and insight from what they read and therefore require that a majority of the questions and tasks that students ask and respond to be based on the text under consideration. Rigorous text-dependent questions require students to demonstrate that they not only can follow the details of what is explicitly stated but also are able to make valid claims that square with all the evidence in the text.

Text-dependent questions do not require information or evidence from outside the text or texts; they establish what follows and what does not follow from the text itself. Eighty to ninety percent of the Reading Standards in each grade require text-dependent analysis; accordingly, aligned curriculum materials should have a similar percentage of text-dependent questions. When examining a complex text in depth, tasks should require careful scrutiny of the text and specific references to evidence from the text itself to support responses.
High quality text dependent questions are more often text specific rather than generic. That is, high quality questions should be developed to address the specific text being read, in response to the demands of that text. Good questions engage students to attend to the particular dimensions, ideas, and specifics that illuminate each text. Though there is a productive role for good general questions for teachers and students to have at hand, materials should not over rely on "cookie-cutter" questions that could be asked of any text, such as “What is the main idea? Provide three supporting details.” Materials should develop sequences of individually crafted questions that draw students and teachers into an exploration of the text or texts at hand.
A text-dependent approach can and should be applied to building knowledge from multiple sources as well as making connections among texts and learned material, according to the principle that each source be read and understood carefully. Gathering text evidence is equally crucial when dealing with larger volumes of text for research or other purposes. Student background knowledge and experiences can illuminate the reading but should not replace attention to the text itself. 

B. High-quality sequences of text-dependent questions elicit sustained attention to the specifics of the text and their impact. The sequence of questions should cultivate student mastery of the specific ideas and illuminating particulars of the text. High-quality text-dependent questions will often move beyond what is directly stated to require students to make nontrivial inferences based on evidence in the text. Questions aligned with Common Core State Standards should demand attention to the text to answer fully. An effective set of discussion questions might begin with relatively simple questions requiring attention to specific words, details, and arguments and then move on to explore the impact of those specifics on the text as a whole. Good questions will often linger over specific phrases and sentences to ensure careful comprehension and also promote deep thinking and substantive analysis of the text. Effective question sequences will build on each other to ensure that students learn to stay focused on the text so they can learn fully from it. Even when dealing with larger volumes of text, questions should be designed to stimulate student attention to gaining specific knowledge and insight from each source. 

C. Questions and tasks require the use of textual evidence, including supporting valid inferences from the text. The Common Core State Standards require students to become more adept at drawing evidence from the text and explaining that evidence orally and in writing. Aligned curriculum materials should include explicit models of a range of high-quality evidence-based answers to questions — samples of proficient student responses — about specific texts from each grade. Questions should require students to demonstrate that they follow the details of what is explicitly stated and are able to make nontrivial inferences beyond what is explicitly stated in the text regarding what logically follows from the evidence in the text. Evidence will play a similarly crucial role in student writing, speaking, and listening, as an increasing command of evidence in texts is essential to making progress in reading as well as the other literacy strands. 

D. Instructional design cultivates student interest and engagement in reading rich texts carefully. A core part of the craft of developing instructional materials is to construct questions and tasks that motivate students to read inquisitively and carefully. Questions should reward careful reading by focusing on illuminating specifics and ideas of the text that “pay off” in a deeper understanding and insight. Often, a good question will help students see something worthwhile that they would not have seen on a more cursory reading. The sequence of questions should not be random but should build toward more coherent understanding and analysis. Care should be taken that initial questions are not so overly broad and general that they pull students away from an in-depth encounter with the specific text or texts; rather, strong questions will return students to the text to achieve greater insight and understanding. The best questions will motivate students to dig in and explore further — just as texts should be worth reading, so should questions be worth answering. 

E. Materials provide opportunities for students to build knowledge through close reading of specific texts. Materials should design opportunities for close reading of selected passages or texts and create a series of questions that demonstrate how careful attention to those readings allows students to gather evidence and build knowledge. This approach can and should encourage the comparison and synthesis of multiple sources. Once each source is read and understood carefully, attention should be given to integrating what students have just read with what they have read and learned previously. How does what they have just read compare to what they have learned before? Drawing upon relevant prior knowledge, how does the text expand or challenge that knowledge? As students apply knowledge and concepts gained through reading to build a more coherent understanding of a subject, productive connections and comparisons across texts and ideas should bring students back to careful reading of specific texts. Students can and should make connections between texts, but this activity should not supersede the close examination of each specific text.

F. Questions and tasks attend to analyzing the arguments and information at the heart of informational text. As previously stated, the Common Core State Standards emphasize the reading of more informational text in grades K–5 and more literary nonfiction in grades 6–12. This emphasis mirrors the Writing Standards that focus on students’ abilities to marshal an argument and write to inform or explain. The shift in both reading and writing constitutes a significant change from the traditional focus in ELA classrooms on narrative text or the narrative aspects of literary nonfiction (the characters and the story) toward more in-depth engagement with the informational and argumentative aspects of these texts. While the English teacher is not meant to be a content expert in an area covered by particular texts, curriculum materials should guide teachers and students to demonstrate careful understanding of the information developed in the text. For example, in a narrative with a great deal of science, teachers and students should be required to follow and comprehend the scientific information as presented by the text. In a similar fashion, it is just as essential for teachers and students to follow the details of an argument and reasoning in literary nonfiction as it is for them to attend to issues of style.

2. Cultivating Students’ Ability To Read Complex Texts Independently: Another key priority of the Common Core State Standards is a requirement that students be able to demonstrate their independent capacity to read at the appropriate level of complexity and depth.

A. Scaffolds enable all students to experience rather than avoid the complexity of the text. Many students will need careful instruction — including effective scaffolding — to enable them to read at the level of text complexity required by the Common Core State Standards. However, the scaffolding should not preempt or replace the text by translating its contents for students or telling students what they are going to learn in advance of reading the text; the scaffolding should not become an alternate, simpler source of information that diminishes the need for students to read the text itself carefully. Effective scaffolding aligned with the standards should result in the reader encountering the text on its own terms, with instructions providing helpful directions that focus students on the text. Follow-up support should guide the reader when encountering places in the text where he or she might struggle. Aligned curriculum materials therefore should explicitly direct students to re-read challenging portions of the text and offer instructors clear guidance about an array of text-based scaffolds. When productive struggle with the text is exhausted, questions rather than explanations can help focus the student’s attention on key phrases and statements in the text or on the organization of ideas in the paragraph.

When necessary, extra textual scaffolding prior to and during the first read should focus on words and concepts that are essential to a basic understanding and that students are not likely to know or be able to determine from context. Supports should be designed to serve a wide range of readers, including those English language learners and other students who are especially challenged by the complex text before them. Texts and the discussion questions should be selected and ordered so that they bootstrap onto each other and promote deep thinking and substantive engagement with the text. 

B. Reading strategies support comprehension of specific texts and the focus on building knowledge and insight. Close reading and gathering knowledge from specific texts should be at the heart of classroom activities and not be consigned to the margins when completing assignments. Reading strategies should work in the service of reading comprehension (rather than an end unto themselves) and assist students in building knowledge and insight from specific texts. To be effective, instruction on specific reading techniques should occur when they illuminate specific aspects of a text. Students need to build an infrastructure of skills, habits, knowledge, dispositions, and experience that enables them to approach new challenging texts with confidence and stamina. As much as possible, this training should be embedded in the activity of reading the text rather than being taught as a separate body of material. Additionally, care should be taken that introducing broad themes and questions in advance of reading does not prompt overly general conversations rather than focusing reading on the specific ideas and details, drawing evidence from the text, and gleaning meaning and knowledge from it.

C. Design for whole-group, small-group, and individual instruction cultivates student responsibility and independence. It is essential that questions, tasks, and activities be designed to ensure that all students are actively engaged in reading. Materials should provide opportunities for students to participate in real, substantive discussions that require them to respond directly to the ideas of their peers. Teachers can begin by asking the kind and level of questions appropriate to the reading and then students should be prompted to ask high-quality questions about what they are reading to one another for further comprehension and analysis. Writing about text is also an effective way to elicit this active engagement. Students should have opportunities to use writing to clarify, examine, and organize their own thinking, so reading materials should provide effective ongoing prompts for students to analyze texts in writing. Instructional materials should be designed to devote sufficient time in class to students encountering text without scaffolding, as they often will in college- and career-ready environments. A significant portion of the time spent with each text should provide opportunities for students to work independently on analyzing grade-level text because this independent analysis is required by the standards.

D. Questions and tasks require careful comprehension of the text before asking for further evaluation or interpretation. The Common Core State Standards call for students to demonstrate a careful understanding of what they read before engaging their opinions, appraisals, or interpretations. Aligned materials should therefore require students to demonstrate that they have followed the details and logic of an author’s argument before they are asked to evaluate the thesis or compare the thesis to others. When engaging in critique, materials should require students to return to the text to check the quality and accuracy of their evaluations and interpretations. Often, curricula surrounding texts leap too quickly into broad and wide-open questions of interpretation before cultivating command of the details and specific ideas in the text.

E. Materials make the text the focus of instruction by avoiding features that distract from the text. Teachers’ guides or students’ editions of curriculum materials should highlight the reading selections. Everything included in the surrounding materials should be thoughtfully considered and justified before being included. The text should be central, and surrounding materials should be included only when necessary, so as not to distract from the text itself. Instructional support materials should focus on questions that engage students in becoming interested in the text. Rather than being consigned to the margins when completing assignments, close and careful reading should be at the center of classroom activities. Given the focus of the Common Core State Standards, publishers should be extremely sparing in offering activities that are not text based. Existing curricula will need to be revised substantially to focus classroom time on students and teachers practicing reading, writing, speaking, and listening in direct response to high-quality text.

F. Materials offer assessment opportunities that genuinely measure progress. Aligned materials should guide teachers to provide scaffolding but also gradually remove those supports by including tasks that require students to demonstrate their independent capacity to read and write in every domain at the appropriate level of complexity and sophistication. Activities used for assessment should clearly denote what standards and texts are being emphasized, and materials should offer frequent and easily implemented assessments, including systems for record keeping and follow-up.

III. Key Criteria for Academic Vocabulary

Materials focus on academic vocabulary prevalent in complex texts throughout reading, writing, listening, and speaking instruction. Academic vocabulary (described in more detail as Tier 2 words in Appendix A of the Common Core State Standards) includes those words that readers will find in all types of complex texts from different disciplines.
Sometimes curricula ignore these words and pay attention only to the technical words that are unique to a discipline. Materials aligned with the Common Core State Standards should help students acquire knowledge of general academic vocabulary because these are the words that will help them access a wide range of complex texts.
Aligned materials should guide students to gather as much as they can about the meaning of these words from the context of how they are being used in the text, while offering support for vocabulary when students are not likely to be able to figure out their meanings from the text alone. As the meanings of words vary with the context, the more varied the context provided to teach the meaning of a word is, the more effective the results will be (e.g., a state was admitted to the Union; he admitted his errors; admission was too expensive). In alignment with the standards, materials should also require students to explain the impact of specific word choices on the text. Materials and activities should also provide ample opportunities for students to practice the use of academic vocabulary in their speaking and writing.
Some students, including some English language learners, will also need support in mastering high-frequency words that are not Tier 2 words but are essential to reading grade-level text. Materials should therefore offer the resources necessary for supporting students who are developing knowledge of high-frequency words. Since teachers will often not have the time to teach explicitly all of the high-frequency words required, materials should make it possible for students to learn the words’ meanings on their own, providing such things as student-friendly definitions for high-frequency words whose meanings cannot be inferred from the context. It also can be useful for English language learners to highlight explicitly and link cognates of key words with other languages.
IV. Key Criteria for Writing to Sources and Research
1. Materials portray writing to sources as a key task. The Common Core State Standards require students not only to show that they can analyze and synthesize sources but also to present careful analysis, well-defended claims, and clear information through their writing. Several of the Writing Standards, including most explicitly Standard 9, require students to draw evidence from a text or texts to support analysis, reflection, or research. Materials aligned with the Common Core State Standards should give students extensive opportunities to write in response to sources throughout grade-level materials. Model rubrics for the writing assignments as well as high-quality student samples should also be provided as guidance to teachers.
2. Materials focus on forming arguments as well as informative writing. While narrative writing is given prominence in early grades, as students progress through the grades the Common Core State Standards increasingly ask students to write arguments or informational reports from sources. As a consequence, less classroom time should be spent in later grades on personal writing in response to decontextualized prompts that ask students to detail personal experiences or opinions. The Common Core State Standards require that the balance of writing students are asked to do parallel the balance assessed on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP):
• In elementary school, 30 percent of student writing should be to argue, 35 percent should be to explain/inform, and 35 percent should be narrative.
• In middle school, 35 percent of student writing should be to write arguments, 35 percent should be to explain/inform, and 30 percent should be narrative.
• In high school, 40 percent of student writing should be to write arguments, 40 percent should be to explain/inform, and 20 percent should be narrative.

These forms of writing are not strictly independent; for example, arguments and explanations often include narrative elements, and both informing and arguing rely on using information or evidence drawn from texts.
3. Materials make it clear that student writing should be responsive to the needs of the audience and the particulars of the text in question. As the standards are silent on length and structure, student writing should not be evaluated by whether it follows a particular format or formula (e.g., the five paragraph essay). Instead, the Common Core State Standards have been carefully designed to focus on the elements or characteristics of good writing including drawing sufficient evidence from texts, writing coherently with well-developed ideas, and writing clearly with sufficient command of standard English.
4. Students are given extensive practice with short, focused research projects. Writing Standard 7 emphasizes that students should conduct several short research projects in addition to more sustained research efforts. Materials should require several of these short research projects annually to enable students to repeat the research process many times and develop the expertise needed to conduct research independently. A progression of shorter research projects also encourages students to develop expertise in one area by confronting and analyzing different aspects of the same topic as well as other texts and source materials on that topic.
V. Additional Key Criteria for Student Reading, Writing, Listening, and Speaking
1. Materials provide systematic opportunities for students to read complex text with fluency. Fluency describes the pace and accuracy with which students read — the extent to which students adjust the pace, stress, and tone of their reading to respond to the words in the text. Often, students who are behind face fluency challenges and need more practice reading sufficiently complex text. Materials aligned with the Common Core State Standards should draw on the connections between the Speaking and Listening Standards and the Reading Standards on fluency to provide opportunities for students to develop this important skill (e.g., rehearsing an oral performance of a written piece has the built-in benefit of promoting reading fluency).
2. Materials help teachers plan substantive academic discussions. In accordance with the Speaking and Listening Standards, materials aligned with the Common Core State Standards should show teachers how to plan engaging discussions around grade-level topics and texts that students have studied and researched in advance. Speaking and Listening prompts and questions should offer opportunities for students to share preparation, evidence, and research — real, substantive discussions that require students to respond directly to the ideas of their peers. Materials should highlight strengthening students’ listening skills as well as their ability to respond to and challenge their peers with relevant follow-up questions and evidence.
3. Materials use multimedia and technology to deepen attention to evidence and texts. The Common Core State Standards require students to compare the knowledge they gain from reading texts to the knowledge they gain from other multimedia sources, such as video. The Standards for Reading Literature specifically require students to observe different productions of the same play to assess how each production interprets evidence from the script. Materials aligned with the Common Core State Standards therefore should use multimedia and technology in a way that engages students in absorbing or expressing details of the text rather than becoming a distraction or replacement for engaging with the text.
4. Materials embrace the most significant grammar and language conventions. The Language Standards provide a focus for instruction each year to ensure that students gain adequate mastery of the essential “rules” of standard written and spoken English. They also push students to learn how to approach language as a matter of craft so they can communicate clearly and powerfully. In addition to meeting each year’s grade-specific standards, students are expected to retain and further develop skills and understandings mastered in preceding grades. Thus, aligned materials should demonstrate that they explicitly and effectively support student mastery of the full range of grammar and conventions as they are applied in increasingly sophisticated contexts. The materials should also indicate when students should adhere to formal conventions and when they are speaking and writing for a less formal purpose.

Curriculum materials must have a clear and documented research base. The most important evidence is that the curriculum accelerates student progress toward career and college readiness. It can be surprising which questions, tasks, and instructions provoke the most productive engagement with text, accelerate student growth, and deepen instructor facility with the materials. A great deal of the material designed for the standards will by necessity be new, but as much as possible the work should be based on research and developed and refined through actual testing in classrooms. Publishers should provide a clear research plan for how the efficacy of their materials will be assessed and improved over time. Revisions should be based on evidence of actual use and results with a wide range of students, including English language learners.  


  1. Could you please tell me why you don't like the new Wonders program? What aren't you seeing in this program that you are seeing in the others that you like? Thanks so much!

    1. Hi Anonymous,
      Your assertions that I do not like something is wrong! " you don't like the new Wonders program?" My opinion is just that, and a cursory one at the moment.

      I have been teaching reading for 14 years and have always been disappointed with truncated, vocabulary controlled basal reading programs. The CCSS ELA have forced the publishers to develop more rigorous reading programs, and that is a good thing. All programs have areas that I see need improvement.

      Things I would like to see in all K-5 CCSS ELA Reading programs!

      I would like to see more fun and whimsical literature like Horrible Histories, Scary Stories, movie scripts, comic books, and collections of jokes. I would bring more novelty and games to all the programs. I would like to see a speller that coincides with the readers.

      Please share why you prefer McGraw-Hill Education Launches Reading Wonders. All opinions are welcome on this blog.

  2. Hi,
    I certainly should not have made the assertion that you didn't like Wonders and I wish I would have made my wording more clear. For seemingly putting words into your mouth I am very sorry, that was not my intention. I enjoy your frankness and openness. I too have been teaching reading for, let's just say, a long time. Yet, loving every day of my 25th year! It is refreshing to see the rigor return indeed. In the twilight of my career I can see we are moving full circle and this is very good for our children.
    We are just beginning the process of program selection for reading that is why I was interested in your opinion on Wonders. I do not know enough about any of the programs to make a judgement about them. Have you spent any time evaluating Wonders as you did for the others that are listed above? I believe/ hope we will move in the direction that there is no one program that will meet every students' needs but I have learned that you can think one thing and you show up for work the next day and every idea is all knew. Thanks for all the work you put in to advocate literacy in our country, schools, and children.
    Read because you love it, not because you have to!!! :)

  3. Hi there,

    You rated Reading Street No. 1, and I'd be interested in your relative ratings of other programs. Truly independent reviews are valuable. Full disclosure - I represent National Geographic Learning and help market their Common Core program "Reach for Reading" - but I'd like an honest rating of the other programs - and especially any that should be avoided! I'm an educator, and want kids to have access to good rigorous materials that motivate and inspire them. And that are teacher-friendly, and also accessible for populations who need extra supports.

    Thanks for sharing your expertise.

  4. After trying to teach "Wonders" for three month, just let me say that the reading selections in the core curriculum are exceedingly boring! The selections are contrived to teach a specific skill, and therefore often lack depth and substance. How are children going to learn to read and interpret difficult texts with such poor examples? The TE's are wordy, unclear, and very teacher-unfriendly. There are frequent errors in pedagogy, and the assessments are over-the-top difficult. It is NOT just a matter of rigor. The program looks like it was tossed together much too quickly. In 40 years of teaching, it is the poorest I have ever seen.

    1. All the released CCSS programs are just rehashed amalgams of their old programs! The publishers are going to make billions the next few years! Thank you for your comments, your observations, worries and sentiments are so true, thank you again!


Thank you!