Scott Foresman’s Reading Street program for grades 1 through 6 was developed for use in public schools, but the publisher has created homeschool bundles that are more reasonably priced by providing the teacher’s material and worksheets on DVD-ROM and exams on a CD-ROM.
Each homeschool bundle includes student texts (six for first grade and two each for all other grades), a Teacher Resource DVD-ROM, a Guide on the Side manual, ExamView Assessment Suite CD, and a Parent Guide.
Reading Street is not just a reading program. It is billed as a resource for comprehensive coverage of language arts that covers all reading skills (phonics, fluency, comprehension), vocabulary, spelling, grammar, and composition. Handwriting is the only thing missing! However, some parents might want more intensive coverage of grammar. Unlike most comprehensive programs for public schools, all of these subject areas are integrated around themes, with six general themes per year. Themes are very general. For example, some first grade themes are “What is changing in our world?” and “How are people and animals important to one another?” Some fifth grade themes are “What kinds of challenges do people face and how do they meet them?” and “What do people gain from the work of inventors and artists?”
In first grade, it is evident that this program really does teach phonics even though it is not a beginning reading program. It assumes the student already knows how to blend and read some short words. The first story begins with, “I am Sam. Am I Sam?” The first two books primarily use short-vowel words along with some high-frequency sight words. Long-vowel words really start to appear in the third book.
The series continues to build a solid understanding of phonics, reviewing phonetic elements of words even through the upper levels. Spelling lists often include groups of words with common phonetic elements.
Reading selections, the backbone of the program, include fiction, fables, folktales, mythology, non-fiction, biography, and poetry. Some selections are by well-known authors. Brief biographical sketches and photos of authors follow each reading selection.
The entire program reflects the Common Core Standards, and because the standards require the use of “informational texts in a range of subjects,” a large number of the reading selections are from the areas of history and science. But these readers don’t look like history or science texts. They are beautifully illustrated in full color with illustrations that rival the best in children’s picture books. All are hardcover books except for the first of the six books for first grade. The content is secular, but I did not spot anything objectionable in my sampling of a number of stories from three levels.
At the front of each reader are visual handbooks that highlight key areas in reading skills and strategies that will be covered. Student books also include glossaries and or vocabulary handbooks, differing from book to book.
The Teacher Resource DVD has reproductions of student pages with teaching information, but you should be able to work directly from the texts most of the time. (Personally, I find it easier to follow along with my child in the book, than load the DVD, find the lesson, and follow it on the computer.) Lessons begin with a “Let’s talk about” introduction. For example, one first grade lesson begins with talking about growing and changing. A fifth grade lesson begins with a discussion about courage. A few brief discussion points are provided, but it is really up the parent or teacher to lead this discussion. Skills or strategies are taught next followed by some work on phonics or vocabulary. Many reading selections have sidebars with questions that will help students to focus on story elements or that will help them to apply critical thinking skills. Readings are followed by critical thinking questions and the author’s biographical sketch. The final section of each lesson—“Let’s Write It!”—provides composition instruction and writing prompts. A grammar sidebar titled “Conventions” appears at the end of the writing lesson.
Printable worksheets are on the Teacher’s Resource DVD. There are two sets of worksheets for each lesson, and they address a range of language arts skills including reading comprehension, phonics, spelling, grammar, and composition. Some of these are critical for teaching skills. This is where you find the spelling word lists and worksheets for practicing them as well as the majority of work with grammatical concepts. Spelling lists are also in the last section of The Guide on the Side for teacher reference. (This is one of the few uses I could actually see for The Guide on the Side for most homeschoolers.) Answers are overprinted on reproduced student pages on the Teacher’s Resource DVD. There are probably more worksheets than you will want to use, so I would encourage you to be selective rather than trying to have your child complete all of them.
Weekly, unit, and end-of-year tests are on the ExamView CD. You can use the tests provided or edit these tests as you prefer.
The program might seem confusing at first glance because there are none of the usual lesson plans. You can create your own on the forms provided if you want, but I think it’s easier to just work through the textbooks. Lessons progress in an orderly fashion without the need for additional explanation.
Here’s how I suggest using the program. First, read the Parent Guide pamphlet to get an overview. Glance through the Guide on the Side so you have some idea what it contains, but don’t try to read it until you get familiar with the rest of the program. Open the first student book to the first lesson. Print out the two sets of worksheets for the first lesson so you have them all on hand as you decide which are useful. Pull of the teacher guide pages for the first lesson. Read through these pages to get an idea of the type of information they offer. Decide at that point how you want to teach—from the computer screen, by printing out the teacher pages, or by just working from the student book. Lessons are set up as weekly lessons so you can see how much you should cover each week. Experiment to figure out a daily pacing schedule that works for you. Maybe you will introduce the lesson and teach the skills on Monday, possibly completing two or more of the worksheets, including introducing the spelling words. You might then have your child read the story and go over the critical thinking questions orally then write a response to the final question. You might use more worksheets on Wednesday including a pretest on spelling words, then return to the text and the writing prompt on Thursday. Friday might be a flexible day depending upon how many worksheets you have chosen to use, although you do need to schedule in the weekly quiz. It is important to remember that there is more here than you need since teachers are trying to work with a classroom of students with varying skills and abilities. Don’t try to do everything. Once you’ve got a handle on how you might work through each week’s lesson, you’ve got enough to get started. You can easily make adjustments as you go.
Reading Street tries to individualize instruction more than some other programs. It is likely to work better in a homeschool situation than in a classroom with a single teacher trying to accommodate the needs of twenty or more students. Once you get familiar with it, it should be easy to use and require no advance preparation. Younger students will need more direct teaching while older students should be able to do much of their work independently. It might be tempting to leave older students working entirely independently, but there are important discussion components of the lessons that are lost if you do so.
The price might seem a little high, but this is a non-consumable program that you can use with your other children without purchasing anything else.
In summary, Reading Street offers a secular option for an integrated language arts program that is beautifully presented, a rare combination.