The Best K-12 Reading and Language Arts Programs
Essentially, there are really just three big educational publishers left - MacMillan McGraw-Hill, Pearson, and Houghton-Mifflin. While others exist, the market is dominated by these three and, as such, the majority of the business from schools tends to go to one of these companies.
The reading programs below should not be considered an exhaustive list. However, they are among the more popular choices today, and ones that should be considered for a shortlist if you are looking to invest in a new series.
Treasures: MacMillan/McGraw-Hill (Pre-K-6)
The Treasures elementary reading program is a research-based curriculum solution that is designed to cover vocabulary, fluency, comprehension, phonemic awareness, spelling, grammar and writing. A student textbook accompanies the series and it includes a variety of fiction and nonfiction texts. Leveled reader books are available for the instruction of guided reading groups, and online activities that mirror the key objectives can be used to help reinforce some essential skills. Although Treasures is a very well-balanced series with good attention to all the main facets of reading, the vocabulary instruction is perhaps the strongest element of the series, and something that it should be commended for.
Imagine It!: SRA/McGraw-Hill (Pre-K-6)
Imagine It! has a strong technology component to their reading program. They openly boast that their E-Suite of interactive teaching resources is "the only standards-based, fully integrated technology program" for elementary students, and there is no denying that it looks to have some really good components. It includes everything from lesson slides and online assessment programs to videos, alphabet books and more. However, the core reading elements are about as good as you will find with an emphasis on the explicit instruction of five key reading skills. Big books, student readers, teacher read alouds and more are included, as are a variety of genres to help engage your students. The latest version of this series is also aligned to the Common Core Standards.
Storytown: Harcourt School (K-6)
When Harcourt set about creating the Storytown series, they recruited Dr. Isabel Beck, a renowned educational professor who has researched and written about reading and vocabulary instruction at some length. So, as you can imagine, the vocabulary components of Storytown are handled very well. However, there is a lot more to it than just good vocabulary instruction. Cross- curricular study links, leveled readers, and a sound writing component make up the rest of this versatile series. All of this makes Storytown one of the best all-round reading programs for elementary students.
Reading Street: Scott Foresman/Pearson (Pre-K-6)
Reading Street is a thematic-based reading program that opts for one main idea to connect all the texts in a unit. This is a popular concept, and one that is employed by many publishers, but it includes some more unique variations that help set this series apart. For instance, the publishers are aware that great teaching does not necessarily mean following everything that there is to do in the teacher's manual. As such, they provide alternative options for how you might want to customize or adapt the lessons to better meet the needs of your class. They also place a slightly greater emphasis on speaking and listening objectives. Lessons often start with a think-pair-share question that is related to the theme of the week.
Literature: Glencoe/McGraw-Hill (6-12)
Glencoe's Literature series, for middle and high school students, uses a scaffolded skill set to provide students with all the necessary reading skills that they need. Each unit of this program includes a big idea question which is meant to help initiate an inquiry-based learning approach that personalizes the curriculum to the student's own experiences. Skills assessments are modeled on state tests and a writing workshop is included for each unit of study. Differentiated instructional models are included for the teacher who needs to teach above or below grade level, and a wide variety of genres like fiction, poetry, historical documents, informational websites, and biographies are also featured.
Daybooks: Great Source/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (2-12)
Daybooks is kind of a unique series among K-12 reading programs. Publishers don't often span a grade level as wide as this with a textbook series, but a lot of thought has gone into making this work. The texts are a combination of high interest fiction and nonfiction works, and they provide some good variety of themes and genres. Student textbooks are in a journal-like format with a space on each page for students to record observations or questions they have about the texts. A strength of this series is the explicit comprehension skills that are taught, as well as the links it makes to writing instruction.
Literature (Common Core Edition): Prentice Hall/Pearson (6-12)
This new series from Prentice Hall is based around the very latest Common Core reading objectives, and this alone could be a great time saver for schools that are looking to make sure that their reading curriculua are compliant with these new regulations. However, it also includes a strong technology component that has award-winning digital resources for students, online diagnostic tests for teachers, and even iPad apps to support key skill sets. The Prentice Hall Media Studio program is also a great way for students to analyze and interpret the media that they are exposed to on a daily basis. It looks at film, news and advertising media. As a result, there is a lot to like about this Prentice Hall Literature series.
How to Choose
Knowing what is out there is the first step in choosing a new reading series, but you can't make any real decisions until you see them first hand. Contact the publishers directly, (links below), and ask about having some sample materials sent to your school for evaluation. Most publishers are more than happy to do this.
Then, construct a checklist of what you and your colleagues consider to be the fundamental aspects of a truly great reading program, and be sure to take into account any district priorities. What are your reading test scores telling you? What do you think is missing from your current reading series? What is really going to have the biggest impact on learning in your classrooms?
Ultimately, there will likely be a degree of compromise involved as there may not be one program that fulfills the needs of every grade level. In cases like this, all you can do is go for the one that comes closest to your criteria. After all, good teachers can always find time to customize it to meet the needs of their students.
Resources and References
Treasures: Information and logo courtesy of MacMillan/McGraw-Hill
Imagine It!: SRA/McGraw-Hill
Reading Street: Scott Foresman/Pearson
Storytown: Information and images courtesty of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Daybooks: Great Source/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Literature (Common Core Edition): Prentice Hall/Pearson