A Pioneer Valley Books fan recently asked me about my decision to write decodable books. The fan recognized that in the past I had expressed the thinking that students learn best when their teacher reacts to their reading miscues in the moment during text reading and that I objected to using decodable text that was contrived and inauthentic.
Here is my response.
We recommend using a robust benchmarking assessment that looks at students’ progress three times a year: early in the school year, in the middle of the year, and at the end of the school year. We also recommend short progress monitoring check-ins on students’ literacy learning each week or every other week. With students who are struggling to learn to read, you will want to check in even more often.
For your benchmarking assessment needs, Pioneer Valley Books offers a number of options. We are currently working on a digital phonics assessment that can be administered at the beginning of the year and at the midterm and end-of-year assessment times. This assessment will focus on how students have progressed along the phonics continuum, as well as how their decoding and encoding skills have developed. (more…)
Decodable books have been used for reading instruction for years. They can be very useful for providing students with opportunities to practice new phonics skills. But many teachers resist using them because of a variety of flaws in some of the decodable books on the market. A great number of decodable books have silly, nonsensical stories that are poorly illustrated. They also often have awkward or strange language structures. This makes reading the books very challenging for novice readers, especially English language learners.
The good news is that with the renewed interest in decodable books, much better options are now available.
What makes a quality decodable book? Here are some criteria for selecting a decodable book to use with your students:
Making Words is an engaging word building activity that helps link your students’ knowledge of letter-sound relationships with phonemic awareness.
If you have used this activity in the past, you know how much students learn from it, but I now recommend some changes in how the activity is done so students can practice both encoding and decoding skills. Going back and forth between encoding and decoding helps to create flexible word solvers and solidifies visual and auditory synchrony.
When it comes to using decodable texts in the classroom, today’s educators are often divided. Many are advocating for using only decodable books to teach reading, while others say that they would never use decodable books. However, there is room for both decodable books and leveled books in our primary classrooms. Both kinds of books provide readers with important learning opportunities. Decodable books allow readers to practice phonics skills in the context of authentic reading, while leveled books are carefully sequenced to provide just the right amount of support and challenge to readers, along with opportunities to develop a rich vocabulary, background knowledge, and comprehension skills. A quality leveled reader also provides opportunities for building a sight vocabulary and decoding skills.
What Makes a Book “Decodable”? (more…)
I am thrilled with the newest Digital Reader feature: Reading Goals. When we first built the Digital Reader (digitalreader.com), we were thinking about a simple platform that could help teachers access books remotely. We did not imagine it would become such an important resource for you now that you are back in your classrooms!
There have been many recent articles of late regarding the push for using decodable texts for reading instruction. Many districts are requiring a shift away from leveled readers toward decodable books.
But what makes a book “decodable”?
Many books that are labeled “decodable” follow a scope and sequence for introducing letters and sounds. Commonly, the sequence involves teaching consonant sounds, short vowels, digraphs, blends, long vowels, and vowel teams. Most of the words in a given decodable book feature sounds that have been previously introduced. These texts are, of course, leveled in their own way. Simply put, books with short-vowel words are easier to read than books with vowel-team words.
Shared reading provides a wonderful opportunity to guide and support students as they read aloud together from a large version of text. Our kindergarten students enter school with a wide variety of experiences with books and print. Some may already be readers, while others may have only a little knowledge of letters, sounds, words, and/or early concepts of print. As we bring them together to share a book, there will be different learning opportunities, but it is important that all students are engaged.
Here are some tips to ensure an engaging shared reading experience for all your students.
by Amy Bowlin
When we talk about guided reading, we don’t often think about writing being an important part of the lesson—but it is! Embedded in every Literacy Footprints lesson is an opportunity for students to write about what they read. Writing plays an important role in building students’ literacy skills. Unfortunately, in the hectic schedule of our school day, sometimes guided writing gets placed on the back burner.
As we get ready to launch a new batch of emergent readers–hopefully, this year in school and not remotely–I think it is a good time to consider the purpose of the early-level books we use for instruction. I suspect critics of leveled books misunderstand their purpose. We need to do a better job of explaining to parents and other concerned people how we use these books as well as why.