My Thoughts on the Journeys Basal Program

Is your district thinking about adopting Journeys?  My district switched to Journeys after years of Reader's Workshop.  Although I prefer Reader's Workshop to a basal program, sadly it just wasn't an option anymore once the pressures of Common Core got real.  My district wanted to buy something with a "Common Core" sticker stuck on the front of it.  But I've learned to make it work, so I thought it would be helpful to share what I think of the materials.  

In fourth grade, my partner teacher and I agree that most of the excerpted stories and texts are very high interest for the kids, which is half the battle!  The leveled readers are a mixed bag in terms of quality.  Some are great, one in particular was laughably bad (I ended up using it for a lesson in literary analysis; how could we improve the quality of this author's writing?). The texts also have a good balance of fiction and non-fiction as long as you use the second selection with each lesson.  
The vocabulary is probably the best thing about this program.  The words selected are tier 2 words, (for more information, see Beck, Isabel L., McKeown, Margaret G., and Kucan, Linda, Bringing Words to Life) and they are highlighted in the anthology as well as in the leveled readers.  They are used in varying contexts, which is perfect for talking about shades of meaning.  The kit comes with vocabulary cards which I talk more about in this post. 

The workbook is, well, not the best.  We ended up not purchasing any more after the first couple years.  Some of the "transparency" pages are better than the workbook for whole class lessons on reading comprehension skills.  There are also pages for each leveled reader that are a mixed bag.  Some are great, but as with any program be ready to supplement. only thing I missed when our school scrapped the workbooks was the grammar.  It mostly aligned with Common Core, although a few of the pages actually had errors (for example, the linking verbs/helping verbs pages).  Check carefully before assigning, whip out your White Out, and hand out copies of those pages and you should be fine.  Or, if you decide not to use the workbooks, you could try teaching grammar using Mentor Sentences, like my team did.  I created a yearlong Mentor Sentences bundle that I have available for purchase in my store. 

Another downside to Journeys is the lack of written response prompts.  There are no written responses for the weekly assessments; they only show up in the 6 unit/benchmark tests.  Although there are questions for practice for each leveled reader, they don't require more than a single sentence for a response. You would be better off developing your own Close Reading prompts to get the kids thinking deeper about what they are reading.  A text does not have to be at a more difficult reading level in order to practice Close Reading; you can make it work with this anthology.

As for the writing portion of the program, I can't say much about it.  We were encouraged to continue using Writer's Workshop instead of following Journeys' trajectory, so I can't really talk about its effectiveness other than TPTB felt like it was not up to snuff.  I looked it over and wasn't impressed, but I didn't actually teach it.   

I don't know how Journeys compares to other basals (I used Trophies prior, and as it's also by Harcourt it's not much different).  But overall, I think you can make this program work for you. 

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Playing with Our Food, Nutrition, and Fraction Line Plots

Fraction line plots did not come naturally to my learners or my teaching.  Then I found a way to relate it to food, and suddenly it made so much sense!

It all started when I discovered the Smash Your Food site.  It's not only educational but also really gross.  So of course, my fourth graders loved it.  We affectionately referred to it all week as "Squish My Food Dot Com."

Originally our Health teacher (yes, my kids have health as a special, which is pretty great) told my class about it.  As you can guess, (sadly) our specialists don't get time built in to bring kids to the computer room, so he could only talk about the site.  He said it was a fun way to see how unhealthy various foods really are.  "You might be surprised to see how much sugar is in some foods."  I was waiting at the door to pick up my class when I heard him so I offered, "Hey, our class has a blog (besides this one).  I can put a link on there and even introduce it during our computer time."

He was so grateful.  :)  I put the link on our blog, and a couple kids tried it that evening.  Then on Friday, during our computer lab time, I set up the program on the big screen for everyone to experience the messy info.

With a quick poll for the median age, majority gender, and the law of central tendency dictating that the majority activity level should be moderate, we looked at the selection of foods available for squishing.

The first vote was for a slice of pizza.

The kids guessed there would be 1 cube of sugar, 3/8 tablespoons of salt, and 3 teaspoons of oil.

Next we watched the press come down and pulverize the nasties out of it.  There goes that oil.  Ewwwwww.

The next screen showed that one of their guesses was correct, but one of them was half of the actual amount!

Although we did spend time on other activities in the computer room, I always give my kids some guided choice time (sometimes they are allowed to read and comment on the blog, other times they are allowed to play any math game I've linked from the blog, and so on).  This time playing on Smash Your Food some more independently was on the agenda, and it was a "smash" hit.  Most kids happily watched every available food get smashed, then went back and watched their favorites on repeat. This was key to give them background information about the nutritional information of foods before reducing them to numbers on fraction line plots. [Update:  This site seems to have vanished and possibly became an app.  The good news is you can still watch a Smash Your Food video on YouTube.]

Investigating Nutrition Information on Fraction Line Plots

In order to capitalize on their excitement, I carried the subject of nutrition into our study of fraction line plots.  You know that pesky common core standard that math textbooks don't cover at all (CCSS Math 4.MD.B.4)?  Yeah, that one.

I plotted some nutritional information I got from the website, plus a few other popular foods.  Having various data points plotted on a fractional number line became more clear to them because they already had some background on the subject matter.

Further Practice with Fraction Line Plots created a couple worksheets to help kids practice reading and interpreting line plots with fractions.  One of them is based on the sugar content of the foods we researched.  The other worksheet uses a novel context, which was perfect for homework.

You don't have to do one in order to do the other, but this math concept worked really well in conjunction with the site.  Have you smashed your food with your class?

Update: Due to popular demand, I've created a fraction line plots resource with even more practice! This new resource is perfect for you if you want: Additional practice for your fourth graders
2. Task cards instead of worksheets
3. Differentiated materials for learners who struggle to get started or recall directions.

Here's how I like to use both.  I start with the sugar lesson with the whole class.  I assign the plant worksheet for homework.  Then I use the fraction line plot task cards in small groups/centers on days that we are doing spiral review.  Click to take a look at the preview and see if these are right for your learners!  
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