Making The Most of HMH Collections Curriculum (Or Whatever Dry, White Centered Series You Teach)

July 03, 2020

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt's Collections curriculum is often criticized for its dry, not so diverse texts and the lack of supplemental materials. You may find that the curriculum you are using has similar issues. Read on for how I deal with both.
This will be my third year using Houghton Mifflin Harcourt's Collections curriculum in my sixth grade classroom. I know that the series is often criticized for its dry, not so diverse texts and the lack of supplemental materials. You may find that the curriculum you are using has similar issues. Here's how I deal with both.

Dry Texts That Lack Diverse Representation
1. Not all collections (units) within Collections are created equal The textbook includes six. Look closely at the themes of each collection and focus on those that would be of greatest interest to your students, connect with other content areas, or tie into your school's mission. Depending on the length of time I spend on each collection, i usually teach only three or four of the collections in a school year.

2. Get picky with your text choices within a collection. Each one usually has at least two short stories, a poem or two, several nonfiction pieces, a multimedia text plus the texts included in the Close Reader. Choose the texts that are high interest, match the standards that you are teaching, and/or help you meet your end goal (for example, writing an informational piece on a topic covered in the collection like animal intelligence).

3. Add in other texts that tie into the theme of the collection. For each collection, I add in a novel or run literature circles connected to the theme. I make sure that the whole class text I choose or the choices I offer students for literature circles bring in non-white authors and present students with a variety of experiences and perspectives since the authors and characters included in Collections are overwhelmingly white. Adding additional poems, spoken word pieces, or song lyrics are easy ways to add other voices into a collection since these text types are shorter than the usually lengthy pieces in the Collections textbook. Sites like Common Lit can be very helpful for finding additional texts by theme.

The Lack of Supplemental Resources
1. Before I start to create or look for additional resources, I take a close look at what is included in Collections for the text, terms, and skills in focus. Sometimes these can be used as is or just need a little tweaking. The Interactive Whiteboard Lessons can be used to introduce a term or skill and the Level Up Tutorials can be used to reinforce those same terms and skill (though I wish they collected data on students' responses). The Close Read Application is perfect to assign for homework (though sometimes I have to reformat these handouts to add the section of the text in focus) and then discuss the next day.

I use the selection quizzes as a starting point for an after reading assessment. I usually remove the vocabulary multiple choice questions, add a sixth multiple choice question focused on applying key terms or skills, and revise the other multiple choice questions if there are too many focused on reading comprehension rather than application of skills. I make similar revisions of the short written response questions. Similarly, I use the collection assessments as a starting point, edit them down into a more manageable length, and remove questions focused on terms and skills I didn't touch on in the collection due to omission of certain readings.

2. Once I've looked at what is already mostly ready to go from the Collections offerings, I start working on creating the rest of the materials I need to support my students. While these I have to make "from scratch," there are a variety of places within the teacher's edition that I turn to as I create these materials.

I create a Google Slides presentations with the terms and definitions we'll be focused on with a text. I find these right after the selection (it's the "Teach" page in the teacher's edition). We review this Slides presentation in class before beginning the text and then I post it on Google Classroom for my students' reference.

Collections has guiding questions in the teacher's edition, which can also be downloaded as a Word document online, but these questions are mostly very skill focused and for many texts my students need support with basic comprehension of the text. I like to generate one or two questions per page that ask students to find a key text detail or specific lines in the text to make sure that they are understanding what they read and keep them engaged in the text if we are reading aloud or listening to the audio of the text as a whole class. Sometimes I have students respond to these questions on whiteboards so that I can have 100% participation and other times I use them as turn and talk questions and then call on a few students to share out.

While the guiding questions Collections includes are focused on literary elements, I like to have a concise handout that allows students to identify and/or analyze sections of the text related to those terms. The "Extend and Reteach" page after a selection in the teacher's edition can be a good starting point for thinking about examples of those terms in focus. 

I usually alternate between giving students a traditional quiz to assess their understanding of a story and the related terms/skills and having students write a text dependent analysis (TDA) essay. The Collections curriculum includes a Performance Task on the "Practice and Apply" page of the teacher's edition that is often a writing piece, but the prompts do not align with the types of prompts my students see on standardized state tests. I do look at the "Analyze the Text" questions, also on the "Practice and Apply" page of the teacher's edition, for inspiration for building a TDA prompt. While I do not teach in Nebraska, I often reference these TDA examples when I am building on of my own.

In addition to using TDAs throughout a collection, I like to have a major writing assignment at the end of each collection. There are Performance Tasks at the end of each collection and sometimes I find inspiration there, but I still need to develop all of the graphic organizers, outlines, rubrics, etc. that will support students through the writing process.

3. What is missing altogether from the Collections curriculum is anything that would be fun, require creativity, or allow students to express their learning in less traditional ways. I don't have any singular approach to remedying this, but I try to add in something a little different with each selection that I use from Collections, whether it is getting students out of their seats for a question trail, engaging in academic conversation in a debate, or utilizing their art and design skills to create a one pager.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt's Collections curriculum is often criticized for its dry, not so diverse texts and the lack of supplemental materials. You may find that the curriculum you are using has similar issues. Read on for how I deal with both.



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