Bruce Murray, College of Education The Reading Genie


How to Evaluate a Basal Reading Series

The usual means of analyzing basal series by the application of checklists rating various features of competing texts.  This method fails to weight the most important features of elementary reading textbooks.  For example, if our checklist includes “colorful illustrations” and “decodable text,” it looks as if these features are equally important in teaching children to read–but the research literature says otherwise.

Instead, I select instructional texts at key developmental points and examine the pedagogy in these texts as I would examine the lesson designs of Auburn University students: to determine if they are effective in teaching reading. We can safely grant that all the contending series will have good children’s literature, fine illustrations, sturdy bindings, abundant resources beyond the anthology, acceptable readability levels for the intended grade, and the like. The important way in which the series differ is in how the teacher is instructed to teach children to read.

I look for various lesson components at five points in a development sequence as represented by the teacher’s manuals. Three points are in the first grade basal: lessons that teach the short vowels a and u and the long vowel i signaled by silent e.  I look at these three lessons at the first grade level because of the crucial task in first grade of teaching children how to read. Research strongly supports systematic, explicit, intensive phonics instruction built on a foundation of phoneme awareness, with decodable texts for reading practice. In large-scale, federally funded experiments, children learning to read with such a program gained reading independence faster, rapidly acquired sight vocabulary, and improved reading comprehension relative to peers who learned from incidental, analytic, and gradual phonics programs.

I also examine a representative fluency lesson in grade two and a lesson on summarization in grade four.  For an evaluation, I apply criteria established by scientific studies of reading, given the crucial achievements of each developmental phase: phoneme awareness, accurate decoding, fluent reading, and acquisition of comprehension strategies.

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Last modified: January 8, 2018