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Still Learning: Decodable Texts
We’re still learning. This year, more than ever, we’ve noticed that learning is a process of not only adding on to what one already knows, but also revising practices and taking away practices —unlearning. And so, we invite you on this learning journey with us in this newsletter.
So, welcome. And feel free to pass this newsletter on to others who may be interested.
We anticipate that we’ll experiment with the format and frequency of these letters as we get started. In this letter, we begin with a letter to you, followed by some concrete information and recommendations for your teaching.
We hope you’ll keep in touch with us about what’s useful. Here is a quick google survey that we would love for you to fill out to let us know what you are interested in.
We’ll start our newsletter with the topic of decodable text--suggested by a reader--and one we already had in mind. We’ll share with you what we’ve learned, how we are revising our thinking and practices, and think about things we’ve begun to unlearn.
So, let’s begin…
Every year we hear you thinking about the ways to support your readers--especially those who seem to struggle. Perhaps you’re in a school where reading levels are important, and yet, you can’t figure out how to help some students grow. Historically, you may have offer strategies like “Look through the word” or “read part by part.” You may vary your amount of scaffolding and support while you read books with children in small groups. You may analyze what you see when you listen to a child read and respond to that analysis the best you can. But something’s not working.
We’ve learned that for many/most/all kids decodable texts are the support they need to allow them to practice phonics skills that they are learning. Pairing phonics instruction with decodable texts can support students in developing good word solving habits and also decoding words, which helps to store words in their long term memory. When a book is decodable for a reader, it’s not mysterious. Decodable texts make the process of reading quite simple: decode the words by looking at the letters and using what you know about phonics! Read below to find out more.
All the best,
Marie & Lizzie
So, what are decodable texts?
Decodable texts are texts in which the majority of words can be decoded (sounded out) based on the phonics the reader has learned (CVC, CCVC, CVCe, etc.). They will also have familiar high frequency words and possibly a few story words (giraffe). Decodability is relative to the reader’s phonics knowledge. If a student can read CVCe (silent e) words in isolation then a text that has lots of CVCe words in it would be decodable for that student. If they CAN’T decode CVCe words in isolation then that text would NOT be decodable for that student.
Decodable texts often have a target skill--the skill that the student is currently working on, and will include lots of words that help the child practice that skill/sound. For example, a text with the target skill of CVCe with long a, would have many words of this type.
Why Use Decodable Texts
There are a few major reasons to use decodable text.
Decodable texts support phonics transfer and phonics learning. The goal of phonics is for students to use phonics to read and write. Therefore, part of learning phonics is using phonics knowledge to read continuous text (a.k.a sentences and books). Think of it this way: a kid learning to play basketball has to learn to dribble well by doing practice and drills (isolation). But then they need to dribble well during a game (in context). Kilpatrick says that good phonics intervention (and teaching) includes three things: phonological awareness, phonics, and continuous text (words in sentences and books). Often times, our phonics work leaves out one of these three.
Decodable texts allow students to successfully apply print strategies when solving words, rather than guessing. With careful selection of decodable texts, students learn that in order to figure out an unfamiliar word, they can decode it using their phonics knowledge. Take these two examples, one which might appear in a kindergarten level text, and the second which might appear in a kindergarten decodable text.
Example 1: The dog sleeps on the yellow couch. (Picture of a dog sleeping on a yellow couch.)
Example 2: The dog can sit on the rug. (Picture of a dog sitting on the rug - or no picture at all!)
To decode the first example sentence, unless the reader knows about blends, vowel teams, and diphthongs (unlikely for a kindergarten reader), the child will need to use the picture to figure out many of the words (sleeps, yellow, couch), rather than decoding them.
To decode the second example sentence, if the reader has learned about decoding CVC words and knows the consonants and vowels featured, the child can use the letters to read the words --whether there is a picture or not. This supports the transfer of phonics learning and an important behavior--look at the letters to read!
So Where Can I Get Phonics-Based Texts or Look at Some?
Flyleaf Publishing - Flyleaf’s resources are all free this year online. We’ve found that their sequence doesn’t quite match most popular phonics sequences, but the first two categories, CVC and CCVC have been especially helpful.
Little Blossom Readers - Many of these are available on epic, last time we checked. They aren’t in a perfect phonics gradient, but rather use many short vowel words, so they are good for readers who have done work on short vowel words and short vowel words with blends and digraphs.
Elemeno - This is a helpful database of free online decodable texts.
Beyond Decodables - We’ve just started to explore these. Take a look!
Pause and Process
What are you learning? What do you want to know? (Survey Form) Let us know!
Try It: Look at an early reading text from your library. What phonics concept would the reader need to know to allow them to apply phonics knowledge to read the words and make the text decodable?
We tried this with a Guided Reading Level D text by a popular publisher. Guided Reading Level D would be a level that students read at the end of kindergarten or beginning of first grade. The first included words like: sign, puppet, plates, rocket. It would be hard for a typical kindergartener to figure out those words without some guessing! We did not see a lot many opportunities for a kindergartener to practice what would likely be their phonics knowledge--CVC and CCVC words.
Make and Take
Try writing your own decodable sentences - this is a technique that Wiley Blevins calls “Accountable Sentences.”
Consider the phonics skill you want to target with your class, a small group, or child.
Consider the phonics skills already learned up to that point.
Consider high frequency word knowledge.
Write 4-5 sentences!
Reread to ensure decodability.
Note any HFW.
Here’s an example that focuses on short o and assumes students have learned short a and short i, as well as a few high frequency words.
Read it challenge!
The dog can nap.
The pot is big and hot.
Get the mop and the bag.
Tom is on the log.
Choosing and Using Decodable Texts by Wiley Blevins
This is a super-practical book for teachers. You’ll learn more of the research behind decodable texts and ways to weave decodable texts into your practice. Don’t judge it by its cover!
See you soon.
Thanks for reading!