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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  1. Thank you for your thoughts on this. I do not love basal programs either, but I work in a school with very high turnover. We are hoping getting a curriculum will give our new teachers at least guidelines to follow and a decent scope and sequence.

    1. Since you have high turnover (of students? Or just teachers?) another benefit of Journeys is that it does have some spiral review. Good luck with your decision!

  2. Great post! I'm not familiar with Journeys. I've used Harcourt Trophies for a long time. I like it, but I don't use all of it, so I think that's why I like it. I like being given different resources and being able to pull what works for my students and my teaching style. I think the biggest problem is when a school system adopts a terrible program and expects it to be the end all be all! And they won't budge and let the teacher do anything else. Then when scores aren't great they blame the teacher, when it is actually the program.

    1. YES. Exactly.

      That's why I took the angle I did for this post; here's how I made Journeys work. Not, "Don't buy it because of this and that," because I think you can say that about any basal.

      So I agree, it's a different ball game if a district puts "fidelity" above differentiation. If that's the case I would say that I can't say if Journeys is a good purchase because I haven't compared it to anything else.

  3. We're still using Scotts Foresman basals that are 12 years old! I've been having to use the reading in the Science and Social Studies book to keep up with that material so I've only recently been using the basal again. Our Language book is so awful and old, I don't even use it. I'm happy to read about your experience just on the outside chance that we'll get new Reading books. It seems like basals are being used more these days.


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