J went in and talked with C's teacher... C is supposed to be reading these stories on her own! They have a reading tutor coming to work with her 30 minutes a day because she is considered behind! The next book she will be working in has Spanish under the English! The teacher said, "Wait till you see what she will be bringing home in second grade."
I called another parent from my church whose child attends a different school. I wasn't sure how helpful her input would be since the curriculum would be different. E is reading Dr. Seuss's The Foot Book. C read that book months ago with no problems. I did find out that supposedly all schools in the district are to be using the same curriculum due to the number of mobile families. I don't know how, but I intend to research this more thoroughly. The other mom is a school district employee familiar with the two first grade teachers at C's school, and she told me that the other teacher is much more strict but is not using the Houghton Mifflin series.
I don't know what I will do if C comes in with another Houghton Mifflin reader. I can't in good conscience make her try to read those things. I taught second graders during my internship in the mid-1990s. They were reading much easier texts than this. I see what Houghton Mifflin is doing: they are using pictures to teach word memorization and recognition rather than decoding skills. This is very different from Dolch sight words. I have no problem with sight words. But the words that C was having difficulty with are words that can be decoded by a child who has knowledge of advanced phonics. A first grader just doesn't have that knowledge yet. Some kids don't do well with phonics, and I guess that's why these memory and recognition programs have been developed; but I am not at all surprised that C is having trouble here. When I pull out anything phonics-based, she flies through it and moves on to the next harder book very eagerly, even if a few hard words are thrown in as a challenge. Bringing in a book with Spanish underneath is only going to complicate the issue. C is not distractable necessarily if she knows what she needs to do; but the Spanish will make her curious and she will want to read it and know what it means. It will only complicate her existing frustration with the English she can't read.
I have been emailing parents all over the country, asking for experiences and opinions. I understand that my internship was a long time ago and times do change. But I haven't been sitting in a hole during all that time. I've been running parent groups online, keeping abreast of teaching discussions via the AER list and various web forums, working in child care environments, nurturing friendships with local parents and teachers, keeping up with my niece's development (who is now in the fifth grade)... The parents who have written back to me have provided a lot of useful information. Their first graders are reading some chapter books. I can go to Bookshare and get scans of these and work on them with C. She will love this, and it helps me to know what's reasonable.
I've gotten very negative responses about Houghton Mifflin's math series. I don't know if this is what is being used at C's school; but I do know that J told me that algebra would be introduced in third grade! The following examples are from Houghton Mifflin's fourth grade math series.
22 + n = 31
I can see some kids figuring this out... Maybe as a bonus problem. Some of the activities I do with C are meant to build the kinds of thinking skills that would allow her to do this: "What's missing?" "Finish my sentence," etc.
n + (n + 33) = 45
How many nine-year-olds will have the reasoning skills to figure out that in this problem both instances of n have to represent the same number? I'm tempted to run it on a few test nine and ten-year-olds next time I have them in my house. I suspect they would all make the same mistake: picking two random numbers out of the air that add up to 45, and not have a clue why the answer was wrong.
The parent says:
After they covered multiplication & division in class, they had these
x / 7 = 6
5 + 3 = x / 4
5x = 20 + 5
Again, some kids might figure these out; but a number of kids struggle with very basic multiplication and division. Why put them into algebra at age nine?
Here are some more
y = x + 6
use the chart to answer the question above:
This would be another interesting test problem to put out. I suspect that many fourth graders don't yet have the skills to deal with this much information flow. This kind of problem requires the child to take numbers from both sides of the chart, plug them in on the right parts of the equation, do the calculation... The x and y columns on the chart are reversed from the presentation of the equation; so this also requires a bit of abstract thinking in order to get the numbers from the chart to the right places on the equation. There are reasons why algebra has traditionally been taught to adolescents. These little kids are still learning how to read a chart, let alone reverse it!