Review: Pam Allyn’s Core Ready Lesson Sets for Grades 3-5

If you are thinking of adopting Pam Allyn’s Core Ready series for teaching the Common Core English Language Arts standards, be sure to check out our review based on our experience with the program!


Background

Core Ready lesson sets picAs teachers, we know that it’s difficult to truly evaluate a program until we’ve actually used it for a solid time-period.  At the same time, we also know it’s not often practical just to try out programs, due to financial and time constraints.  For this reason, I’d like to share my experience with teaching using Pam Allyn’s Core Ready books, in the hopes that it assists teachers considering their implementation.  My fifth grade team decided to adopt the series this past year since we wanted a Common Core-aligned reading and writing workshop program.  We had previously been using The Complete Year in Reading & Writing: Year 5 by Pam Allyn with much success, so we had high hopes for the new series.  I was personally able to teach using all of the books this year except The Journey to Meaning, due to maternity leave.

Run-Down

Each of the four books have 1 “lesson set” or unit per grade, which includes:
  • 10 lessons each for reading and writing (reading and writing to be taught simultaneously)
  • 1 Language Lesson (to be taught at some point within the lesson set)
  • Appendix of resources, including graphic organizers and rubrics
Grades 3-5 Books (can be taught in any order you prefer):
  • The Power to Persuade: Opinion & Argument
    • Focuses on strategies on what makes writing persuasive
    • Main published piece for 5th grade: a persuasive text
  • The Road to Knowledge: Information & Research
    • Focuses on how to gather research, note-taking skills, and how to correctly cite others’ work
    • Main published piece for 5th grade: an informational text; topic chosen by students
  • The Journey to Meaning: Comprehension & Critique
    • Focuses on reading poetry & essays to analyze themes, subjects, and author point of view
    • Main published piece for 5th grade: analytical essay
  • The Shape of Story: Yesterday & Today
    • Focuses on various types and components of stories, including character development and conflict, with an emphasis on fantasy for the 5th grade lessons
    • Main published piece for 5th grade: a narrative fantasy story
Other Corresponding Resources
  • Be Core Ready: Powerful, Effective Steps to Implementing and Achieving the Common Core State Standards: Detailed introduction both to the Core Ready series and to the ELA Common Core Standards themselves.
  • PDToolKit: An online resource in which you can access additional resources for the lessons

Pros

♥Common Core-aligned, vertically and horizontally!

This is obviously a major attraction to this series.  Now that the Common Core has simplified the focuses of ELA standards, it can be difficult to revise your current ELA program to be completely Common Core aligned–especially across an entire school!  The beauty of the Core Ready books is that not only is it completely Common Core-aligned within your own grade level, but it masterfully builds learning between grades.

Simple structure in each lesson (Warm up, Teach, Try, Clarify, Practice, Wrap-up)

I enjoyed this framework both because it facilitates plenty of guided student application, and because it allowed me to easily divide up the lessons into multiple days (if we needed to break it up, we would often end with “Clarify” one day, and begin with “Practice” the next).

Fosters teacher authenticity

The series thoroughly embraces the 21st century view of teachers as readers and writers growing right alongside students (rather than as wizened experts or sources of knowledge). A perfect illustration of this approach lies in the fact that as students create a published piece in each lesson set, the books also encourage teachers to do the same.  The benefits here are reciprocal; first, it builds in authenticity as teachers model their own warts-and-all literary process.  As a result, students glimpse the true nature of literary learning: not a neat, manufactured, step-by-step process, but one that is messy, purposeful, and beautiful.

Denise Krebs
Denise Krebs
Student-centered –> Plenty of room for inquiry!

Rather than teachers directly pointing out literary concepts, it encourages students to discover the concepts themselves within texts.  The lessons also constantly invite students to consider their own literary backgrounds, to identify their personal inspiration, and to make purposeful choices as unique readers and writers.

Encourages critical thinking and metacognition

The lessons are designed to continually challenge students to ask, “WHY?”  For instance, any time students are asked to find examples of literary concepts in texts, they are also nearly always asked to locate text evidence that defends their reasoning.  This makes for lively student discussions as they share their personal analyses. Additionally, every lesson set involves student reflection, and I definitely saw growth in my students as they regularly examined their own thinking and decision-making processes.

Flexibility

During a webinar early in the school year, I asked Pam Allyn and Debbie Lera whether 40 lessons would be enough to span the entire school year, as we worried this seemed like more of a supplemental program.  They assured me that many lessons would likely take more than a day to teach, and they were absolutely right; particularly when students gathered research or revised, some lessons took more than a week!  Additionally, our grade kept a couple small units from previous years, which we found easy to incorporate alongside the Core Ready series.

Encourages digital literacy

For the informational text unit, my students turned essays into multi-media blog posts.  For the fantasy narrative, my students created illustrated Storybirds.  The Core Ready books are packed with suggestions for engaging and natural technology integration.

Abundant resources

This is part of the reason that each lesson can be extended well beyond a day.  They include:

  • Ideas for both high-tech & low-tech classrooms
  • Suggestions to bridge concepts for English Language Learning students
  • Suggestions for Speaking & Listening development
  • Concrete ideas for formative assessments throughout the lessons.
  • Fantastic Appendix of resources and rubrics
Few anchor texts required

If you previously used the Complete Year in Reading and Writing books, you understand the financial strain of programs that require many anchor texts.  While this series does recommend a few anchor texts, it more frequently gives suggestions for online-accessible texts!

Cons

♦Time-consuming

Of course, dedicating time for daily reading and writing is essential.  However, this program requires at least 40 minutes each for the reading and writing lessons.  You will also likely want to find time to incorporate guided reading groups, and while it’s been suggested that these groups can be run during the “practice” component of each reading lesson, that simply isn’t always practical.  For one thing, it keeps you from one-on-one interactions available during their practice time.  Plus, that practice time doesn’t happen the same way every day since some individual lessons are stretched over multiple days, which makes it very difficult to predictably schedule guided reading within the reading/writing workshop time.

Language Standards not fully integrated

Throughout the 4 books for 5th grade, some of the Language standards are only covered once–and a couple, not at all (Standards 4 and 5).  While a wonderful characteristic of the Core Ready books is that each lesson masterfully integrates a variety ELA standards, this can also make it difficult to keep track of which areas need to be supplemented if they aren’t included.  For how time-consuming this program is, I found myself wishing that the entire ELA standards were covered so we didn’t feel we needed an additional grammar program to provide complete Language instruction and spiraling practice.

Teacher talk can be lengthy

Each phase of each lesson includes detailed sample teacher talk, which is positive in that it gives teachers clear ideas on the lesson’s intended direction.  However, it can get quite long–the “Teach” component in particular.  For this reason, the lengthy teacher talk only becomes a “con” when teachers don’t realize it’s essential to adapt it to their own timetable and student needs.

Conclusion

The strengths of this series clearly outweigh the few drawbacks.  I would highly recommend these books to any teacher, especially if they are looking for a way to naturally build reading and writing skills in an interdependent, authentic manner!

Photo Credit:

R. Nial Bradshaw (featured image)

Denise Krebs

Pride & Prejudice & Zombies – #HGBookClub

Every month, we at HGU have decided to read a book and break our “under 5 minutes” rule to discuss it. The book for August was Pride & Prejudice & Zombies–see the original video here.

Well, we read it. Sort of. Brittany got the farthest, reading a little past halfway. The general consensus of the book was “if you have something better to do, do that instead. If you’re bored with nothing better to do, read the book.”

It was definitely entertaining, in a very grim sort of way. Did you end up reading the book, or have you read it before? If you’ve even finished it, you got way farther than we did.


Join us next month for our September Book Club read: Remains of the Day <<— That’s a link to Amazon.com page for the book.

You have to read it by September 30th (plenty of time, right?) and send us your review by then! We’ll be posting our video that day. Join the conversation! We want to hear from you guys!

Featured Image: Roslyn