Setting fire to the ultimate straw man : Phonics only!

There seems to be this gigantic straw man in the phonics debate that those that advocate systematic phonics want there to be only phonics taught. When pushed there doesn’t seem to be one valid example of anyone who advocates a phonics only approach. If you can find one let me know. This blog is about setting fire to the phonics only straw man and outlining evidenced based literacy instruction.

So what are the phonics zealots advocating for?

Systematic Synthetic Phonics (SSP) is often mentioned in the phonics debate but I prefer to use the terminology systematic explicit phonics instruction as this not only distinguishes itself from phonics in context, embedded phonics and analytic phonics but includes SSP and linguistic phonics. Evidenced based literacy instruction includes systematic explicit phonics early as a foundational concept otherwise many children will fail to comprehend text once reading becomes more difficult. I like Louisa Moats labelling “scientific based reading research (SBRR).

Why the focus on phonics in the debate?

Decades of research shows the importance of explicit phonics instruction as a foundational reading skill. Phonics in context is not enough and phonics instruction is often embedded in a balanced literacy program where students are expected to learn to read by some level of magic osmosis. This approach works for some children but leaves a significant number of children at risk of reading failure.

Phonics is an essential foundational skill that for many years has either not been taught at all (whole language) or been sprinkled onto a whole language approach in “balanced literacy”. Such phonics in context teaching has an ideological strangle hold in teacher training as it represents the romantic view of reading instruction. The evidence shows that such an approach will leave many children behind. Phonics needs to be explicitly taught by the teacher in a systematic fashion.

“… studies of reading development, studies of specific instructional practices, studies of teachers and schools found to be effective – converge on the conclusion that attention to small units in early reading instruction is helpful for all children, harmful for none, and crucial for some” (Snow & Juel, 2005, pp. 501–520).

Evidenced based literacy instruction

Evidenced based literacy instruction includes 5 key elements that must be taught explicitly and systematically. Phonological awareness, Phonics, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension are all essential components of evidenced based literacy instruction. Without a solid foundation of essential reading skills comprehension will be impacted.

Oral language at the core

Oral language is a skill that should be achieved naturally before school and is also an essential foundation to achieve literacy. Oral language should be achieved through everyday interactions with adults. However some children may have language delays and should be referred for specialist intervention. Children with Dyslexia can often initially present with speech language delays due to an underlying phonological deficit.

Unlike the acquisition or oral language, literacy is a skill that needs explicit instruction. Only a small handful of children will achieve the skill of reading seemingly effortlessly and with little instruction through exposure to books. Explicit and systematic teaching in the 5 elements of literacy instruction are beneficial for all children and absolutely essential for a significant percentage of children.

Whilst exposure to a rich language environmental is essential to literacy acquisition it is certainly not enough to enable the great majority of children to become capable readers.

Phonological awareness and phonemic awareness

Phonological awareness (PA) is the ability to perceive and manipulate the sound and language components of words onset, rimes, phonemes and syllables. Many children develop the basic skills of phonological awareness through songs, rhymes and listening to children’s books. Poor phonological awareness is a very good predictor of reading failure.

Researchers have shown that this strong relationship between phonological awareness and reading success persists throughout school” (Calfee, Lindamood, & Lindamood, 1973; Shankweiler et al., 1995). http://www.ldonline.org/article/6254/

Phonemic awareness is a sub skill of phonological awareness which where children identify and manipulate individual sounds (phonemes) in a word. It includes the ability to separate a word into the sounds that make it up and to blend single sounds into words. It is like phonics without the actual association with letters. It is the top tier of phonological awareness. The development of phonemic awareness, being a higher order phonological awareness skill, can be difficult for most children and very difficult for some children. It is often an area of difficulty for children with Dyslexia and for children who have not been exposed to a rich oral language environment. For those children at risk of reading failure phonemic awareness needs to be explicitly taught.

http://www.ldonline.org/article/6254/

PA instruction helped all types of children improve their reading, including normally developing readers, children at risk for future reading problems, disabled readers, preschoolers, kindergartners, 1st graders, children in 2nd through 6th grades (most of whom were disabled readers), children across various SES levels, and children learning to read in English as well as in other languages.” National Reading Panel Report: An evidenced based assessment of the scientific research literature on reading and its implications for reading instruction.” https://www.nichd.nih.gov/sites/default/files/publications/pubs/nrp/Documents/report.pdf

Phonics

That direct instruction in alphabetic coding facilitates reading acquisition, is one of the most well established conclusions in behavioural science” Stanovich, progress in understanding reading

Phonics is the alphabetic code of the English language. It is the relationship between speech sounds and how we represent them in writing using letters of the alphabet. Phonics utilises the ability to break down the code of a word into individual phonemes and attach them to graphemes. This is particularly important for children with Dyslexia who will often need a much more intensive approach to the teaching of phonics. All students benefit from an explicit and systematic approach to teaching phonics.

Current research tells us unequivocally that struggling learners benefit: When the structure of spoken and written language, beginning with phonemes, is represented for them explicitly, sequentially, directly and systematically in the context of a comprehensive reading program” Birsh and Ghassemi 2010

The evidence is clear that the teaching of systematic synthetic phonics is the most effective way of teaching young children to read, particularly those at risk of having problems with reading.” Rose review, England (2006)

Fluency

Fluency is achieved when children have gained enough mastery and automaticity of phonics and high frequency words that their reading seems effortless. Children who are fluent read out loud with expression. Children who have achieved fluency at an appropriate level for the text do not guess but read with accuracy and sound out unknown words. Often children with Dyslexia don’t have the automaticity of the alphabetic code to achieve accurate reading at a flowing speed and their reading is laboured and choppy as a result. Lack of fluency will require a much greater load on working memory and processing speed and thus hinders comprehension of text.

Fluency can be assisted by the use of decodable readers in the early stages of reading. Decodable readers enable faster recognition of words, which in turn reduces the amount of mental energy required to decode the text. This facilitates the building of automaticity, fluency and confidence.

Students should be given ample opportunities to read out loud. Guessing and the use of multi cueing strategies should be discouraged in early reading acquisition. Children should be encouraged to decode unfamiliar words..”

Vocabulary

Knowing the meaning of words is essential for comprehension. The ability to read a word is essentially meaningless without understanding the word. Early exposure to conversations and being read to is of paramount importance to developing a rich bank of spoken vocabulary.

Achieving early reading fluency is essential to prevent the Mathew effect which will have a significant impact on a students acquisition of reading vocabulary. The Mathew effect is where poor readers are limited to restricted vocabulary in their reading and leads to a widening gap between readers as those who are successful early in reading are able to build a huge store of vocabulary through reading more complex texts.

Audio books and adults reading text can assist children to build vocabulary who are struggling to read at grade level.

It is also important to explicitly teach children vocabulary.

http://www.readingrockets.org/article/teaching-vocabulary

Comprehension

Comprehension is the extraction of meaning from text and is the end point for reading. It requires a set of complex foundational skills as discussed. Any deficit in any of these skills will hinder comprehension. A child who cannot read at a word or sentence level or a child will poor vocabulary will have impaired comprehension. A child without adequate fluency, poor working memory or attentional issues may lose the meaning of the text.

“Teaching reading [comprehension] strategies is worthwhile, but we should bear in mind that knowledge of strategies is only a small part of what makes an effective reader. A good reader also decodes fluently, has a broad vocabulary, and has wide-ranging background knowledge.” Willingham (2006)

Fewer than 1% of children who a good decoders with adequate vocabulary will have comprehension difficulties. (Lyn Stone, Reading for Life, 2019)

The simple view of reading

The ‘Simple View of Reading’, (Gough & Tumner, 1986) describes that reading comprehension is achieved when decoding and linguistic comprehension is achieved. Deficiency in either area will lead to poor comprehension. My daughter is an excellent example of the importance of each aspect. Assessed at age 8 ½ she had a reading comprehension age 1 ½ years below her peers. But testing also revealed a superior level of oral comprehension. My daughter was exposed early to a rich language environment. She enjoyed having complex text read to her much earlier than my other child. In preschool the teachers noted her huge vocabulary. Yet she struggled to learn to read because for children with dyslexia explicit systematic phonics is absolutely essential.

Strands of early literacy development. Reprinted from Connecting early language and literacy to later reading (dis)abilities: Evidence, theory, and practice, by H. S. Scarborough, in S. B. Newman & D. K. Dickinson (Eds.), 2002, Handbook of early literacy research, p. 98,

Classroom instruction best practice

The 5 keys to evidenced based literacy instruction must be taught explicitly, systematically, early and well.

The National Inquiry into Teaching of Literacy in Australia (2005) states; “in sum, the incontrovertible finding from the extensive body of local and international evidence-based literacy research is that for children in the early years of schooling (and subsequently if needed), to be able to link their knowledge of spoken language to their knowledge of written language, they must first master the alphabetic code – the system of grapheme-phoneme correspondences that link written words to their pronunciations. Because these are both foundational and essential skills for the development of competence in reading, writing and spelling, they must be taught explicitly, systematically, early and well.

Explicitly: “Explicit teaching is where teaching follows a very important direct principal of instruction when helping students to acquire essential skills.” Julie Mavlian 2018

 Systematically: Students are introduced to one concept or skill at a time before moving onto more complex areas. “Explicit instruction is also systematic: there is a carefully planned sequence for instruction, not simply a spur of the moment approach. The plan is constructed in a logical sequence that proceeds in a hierarchy from simple to complex objectives.”Hempenstall (2016) Read About It: Scientific Evidence for Teaching of Reading (p31)

Early: Before school students need to be exposed to a rich language environment in order to develop foundational vocabulary and phonological awareness. When children start school they should be explicitly taught phonological awareness and phonics due to the fact that they form an essential foundation to reading.

Well: Skills should be assessed and monitored and mastery of each skill should be achieved before progression to higher order skills.

We are leaving too many children behind. Illiteracy has devastating consequences. One child struggling to learn to read, who could have been taught, is one child too many. I know because that one child was my child. With the assistance of a tutor I was able to teach her to read. But the emotional scars remain years later. What I would like to see in this debate is less ideology, rhetoric and straw men and more facts and evidence!

Resources and further reading

Examples of High Quality, Evidence-Based Phonics Programs DSF https://www.education.sa.gov.au/sites/g/files/net691/f/examples_of_high_quality_evidence-based_phonics_programs.pdf

Reading for life Lyn Stone

https://www.bookdepository.com/Reading-for-Life-Lyn-Stone/9781138590922

Understood

https://www.understood.org/en/learning-attention-issues/child-learning-disabilities/reading-issues/phonological-awareness-what-it-is-and-how-it-works

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Recovering from Reading Recovery

I read about the new Reading Recovery research with great skepticism. I have learnt a great deal in the last 5 years since my daughter struggled to learn to read. I have read literacy research until I wore my eyes out and gone to numerous professional developments. Most of all I have learnt from my daughter’s amazing specialist literacy tutor. I have’t been to one professional development where the strategies being taught were ones already being used by our tutor. She was our saviour when Reading Recovery failed spectacularly.

Being our first child and an ex high school teacher I trusted the professional advice of the primary teachers even though alarm bells rang early and things didn’t really make sense. The signs were all there. She struggled to learn the 200 sight words she was suppose to memorise. She flung the PM readers across the room. In my mind I questioned instinctively the value of learning sight words when she didn’t even know how to sound out base sounds. I questioned the value of repetitive and boring PM readers.

I was relieved a little when she was placed in a special reading group. The Reading Recovery teacher was lovely and encouraged her a gave her lots of attention. In first class her reading seemed to make some progress. So I set aside the parental worry at the back of my mind. I regret to this day I did not act sooner.

She started Year 2 fresh from a year of Reading Recovery on a respectful level 20 of PM readers. But unfortunately running records are not the best indicator of an early readers ability to read. A smart child like my daughter had an awesome ability to guess. Reading recovery had taught her this was acceptable. A few mistakes were even let through…”Close enough is good enough!” At home my daughter could finish a sentence without even turning a page and often be correct. This is most certainly NOT a good strategy. This is not reading. It took us years to undo guessing.

We started year 2 with an air of positivity. The year 2 teacher promised me that her reading wasn’t that bad. My daughter, having greater insight than the rest of us, was already displaying some level of school anxiety and avoidance. She knew she couldn’t read. She was a master of camouflage. Mid way through year 2 concerns escalated and anxiety soared. Reading became more difficult. Reliance on multi-cueing strategies taught in reading recovery quickly showed their deficiencies. Her reading totally stalled. Teachers told me “we don’t understand she seems really bright.”

In Year 2 under new NSW government funding we had the arrival of another of my daughter’s saviours. A new learning support teacher who had training in explicit and systematic phonics instruction. She tested her phonics. She could not even sound out the entire alphabet let alone decode words. The school counsellor undertook psychometric tests which showed she was above average in verbal comprehension but had difficulties in processing speed and working memory.

I started googling what it all meant and this lead me down a path to recovery for my daughter. Her anxiety had escalated so much that I delayed assessment or tutoring because it would have failed. She spent 6 months seeing a psychologist. She was so afraid of school and reading by then that we had vomiting, sickness and frequent tears. I would sit down every afternoon and have a cup of tea and calm myself as I never knew what she would be like when I picked her up from school. I became afraid of the school bell too!

I started as best I could to explicitly and systematically teach her phonics after school. She was so broken and so anxious that often even with me she would break down and cry. The Nessy learning program gave her back some of her confidence but my skills at that time teaching phonics were inadequate. Teaching reading requires a skilled teacher. She ended the school year on PM level 22. A year of virtually no progress in reading.

At the beginning of year 3 she started with her specialist literacy tutor the day before she undertook an assessment for Dyslexia. Her assessment showed at age 8 ½ she had a reading age of 7 and a spelling age of less than 5. I reinforced skills at home daily guided by the tutor which meant progress in reading was fairly rapid considering we pretty much started from zero. We reinforced phonics learnt using decodable readers which she enjoyed immensely. Suddenly she was actually reading and could decipher the squiggles on a page. The learned helplessness and fear of books took far longer to overcome.

On a positive note my daughter’s school now teaches synthetic phonics from day 1 of kindergarten. The Learning Support teacher introduced Multilit as an intervention which is evidenced based and follows the scientific criteria of a reading intervention program.

Science has repeatedly shown what is needed in early reading instruction. We also have a great understanding of what characteristics a good reading intervention should include. Reading Recovery does not meet the criteria of a good intervention program.

Phonemic awareness is the ability identify the sounds in spoken words. It is like phonics with a blindfold on. Good remediation for reading difficulties will include an assessment of phonemic awareness and appropriate intervention. “Phoneme awareness instruction, when linked to systematic decoding and spelling instruction, is a key to preventing reading failure in children who come to school without these prerequisite skills.” Moats (2010)

Phonics is the alphabetic code of the English language. It is the relationship between speech sounds and how we represent them in writing using letters of the alphabet. Phonics should be taught systematically and explicitly to automaticity and mastery. This is particularly important for children with Dyslexia who will often need a much more intensive approach to the teaching of phonics. “Current research tells us unequivocally that struggling learners benefit: When the structure of spoken and written language, beginning with phonemes, is represented for them explicitly, sequentially, directly and systematically in the context of a comprehensive reading program” Birsh and Ghassemi 2010

Fluency is achieved when children have gained enough mastery and automaticity of phonics and high frequency words that their reading seems effortless. When children have fluency issues they may fail to comprehend the text and not enjoy reading. Decodable readers, are matched to the phonemes they have been taught, enabling faster recognition of words, which in turn reduces the amount of mental energy required to decode the text. This facilitates the building of automaticity and fluency. struggling readers.”

Reading vocabulary is children’s bank of known words that they can use in writing or reading. Knowing the meaning of words is essential for comprehension. The ability to read a word is essentially meaningless without understanding the word. Early exposure to conversations with adults and being read to is of paramount importance to developing a rich bank of spoken vocabulary.

Comprehension is the extraction of meaning from text and is the end point for reading. It requires a set of complex foundational skills as discussed. Any deficit in any of these skills will hinder comprehension. A child who cannot read at a word or sentence level or a child will poor vocabulary will have impaired comprehension. A child without adequate fluency, poor working memory or attentional issues may lose the meaning of the text.

Reading recovery is based on the principles of “Balanced Literacy” and sprinkles in phonics in context. It is not an explicit or systematic approach to the teaching of phonological awareness. Science has shown repeatedly that a deficit in phonics and/or phonemic awareness (which make up phonological awareness) are the biggest predictor of reading failure.

Research on Reading Recovery has certainly been mixed and there has been much criticism of the research undertaken by Reading Recovery. This is what the experts have to say; “In this open letter, more than 30 international reading researchers expressed concerns about the continued use of Reading Recovery. These experts urged policy makers, educational leaders, researchers, and federal research organizations to acknowledge the weaknesses of Reading Recovery. They concluded, “Reading Recovery leaves too many students behind.”

“While research distributed by the developers of Reading Recovery indicates a positive effect of the program, analyses by independent researchers have found serious problems with these conclusions. Studies conducted by researchers associated with Reading Recovery typically exclude 25-40% of the poorest performing students from the data analysis.”

“The lack of efficacy of Reading Recovery with the poorest readers is not surprising given the research base that highlights the importance of explicit teaching of phonics for this group. Reading Recovery teaches phonics, but the instruction is not sufficiently explicit. A common finding in research on Reading Recovery is that those students who do not respond are weak in phonological awareness (Snow et al., 1998; Tunmer & Chapman, in press b).”

“Reading Recovery has not met the needs of these lowest performing students. Most significantly, its excessive costs can make it more difficult for a school to provide help for all students in need, especially those who are behind in the upper grades.”

https://www.wrightslaw.com/info/read.rr.ltr.experts.htm

In 2016 NSW education dumped Reading Recovery’s $55 million a year specific funding after they commissioned a 2015 research review which found it had limited efficacy, especially considering its huge cost. The report concluded “While the current findings reveal short-term positive effects of RR on reading outcomes for the lowest performing students, they do not support the effectiveness of the intervention on other aspects of literacy achievement or the longer-term sustainability through the early years of school. One possible explanation that is asserted strongly by RR critics is that RR does not provide sufficient tuition in phonics and phonemic awareness to effectively remediate literacy performance among struggling readers (Center et al. 1995; Chapman & Tunmer 2011; Greaney 2011; Moats 2007; Reynolds & Wheldall 2007; Tunmer & Chapman 2003; Tunmer et al. 2013). Center et al. (1995) argue that “while Reading Recovery stresses the importance of using all sources of information available to access meaningful text, it may not provide enough systematic instruction in the metalinguistic skills of phonemic awareness, phonological recoding, and syntactic awareness for students to acquire these processes” (p. 244). The lengthy examination of the research is certainly worth a read here. https://www.cese.nsw.gov.au/images/stories/PDF/Reading_recovery_evaluation_FA_AA.pdf

I think the biggest indicator of the true nature of Reading Recovery is to look at the spectacular failure of New Zealand literacy in recent years, the home of reading Recovery, where the principles on which it is founded dominate the teaching of reading. New Zealand literacy and Reading Recovery are based on a constructivist approach to literacy teaching encouraging a multi-cues approach to the teaching of reading. Phonics takes a backseat and is taught (if at all) in context and not explicitly or systematically. A detailed analysis of the failure of Reading Recovery and the teaching of reading in New Zealand is given in this 2013 article in the Learning Difficulties Australia Bulletin. https://www.ldaustralia.org/BULLETIN_NOV13-RR.pdf.

Since this article was written in 2013 New Zealand has continued to be a poor performer in reading despite millions being poured into improving literacy. New Zealand according to the latest PIRLS result in 2016 is now ranked 33, making it the poorest performing country in the English-language world. In 1970 they were ranked first. Marie Clay’s Reading Recovery and the constructivist approach to literacy has been the dominant ideology in New Zealand for decades seeing a steady decline in literacy.

This article by literacy and teaching training experts at Massey University, New Zealand examines the failure of New Zealand literacy. Massey University has also undertaken research into Reading Recovery. “The problem with literacy outcomes doesn’t lie with teachers, but with teaching. As a country, we continue to rely on an approach to literacy instruction that was discredited by scientific research over 30 years ago. Our teachers have been trained and provided with teaching resources that are out of step with contemporary research, and with literacy teaching practices in other countries. Britain, for example, has made significant improvements in literacy learning outcomes since the introduction of systematic phonics instruction towards the first decade of this century.“

“Reading Recovery was introduced in the 1980s to lower the number of children experiencing literacy learning difficulties. This programme has not achieved this major goal. The Reading Recovery website claims that the programme acts as an insurance against reading failure. This is not true, as successive PIRLS results have shown since 2001.” http://www.massey.ac.nz/massey/about-massey/news/article.cfm?mnarticle_uuid=FFBE6235-9CB5-4742-97C0-E1AA4ED407B5

Certainly Reading Recovery does give a boost to those children whose failure is due to lack of exposure to a rich language environment. Hattie has shown any intervention or teaching strategy is certainly going to have an affect more than no intervention. This is particularly true for children who may have come from a neglected environment. A true examination of Reading Recovery would be to compare it to an explicit and systematic phonics intervention program.

“Thanks to new scientific research—plus a long- awaited scientific and political consensus around this research—the knowledge exists to teach all but a handful of severely disabled children to read well” Louisa Moats https://www.ldaustralia.org/client/documents/Teaching%20Reading%20is%20Rocket%20Science%20-%20Moats.pdf

Reading Recovery fails too many children. As admin of Dyslexia Support Australia we get many parent members who join our group bemused at the failure of their children fresh out of Reading Recovery. Reading Recovery is an expensive program that has not adapted to research in the last 30 years that shows what struggling learners need for reading success. Reading Recovery wastes valuable intervention dollars and time.We know how important early and appropriate intensive intervention is for struggling readers. We can do much, much better than Reading Recovery.

Decoding decodable readers

This blog has been in the pipeline for awhile. I got sidetracked with other projects. I write my best blogs when I’m mad or passionate. Misty Adoniou and her continual efforts to ensure her myths are spread makes me very passionate, sad and certainly angry. So Misty and her latest creativity interpretation of the facts in the conversation article entitled “What are ‘decodable readers’ and do they work?” spurred me into action! One must ask if Misty has ever actually seen a decodable reader. Is the misinformation she spreads deliberate and therefore unprofessional? Or does it stem from a level of astounding ignorance?

Decodable readers provide a bridge between initial phonics instruction, which is the foundation of reading, and the comprehension of more complex texts.

It takes quite some skill to construct the carefully controlled text in decodable readers as the writer is constrained by the phonics pattern and irregular words of the early reader. Though phonics readers for early readers do have engaging pictures the aim is not for readers to use these pictures to help “guess words”. Reliance on picture clues is a very unhelpful strategy which will catch up on older readers when pictures vanish from text. Phonics readers follow the sequential pattern of systematic, explicit phonics instruction which builds on the phonics knowledge of the student to allow automaticity and mastery.

Decodable readers are for the child to practise phonics skills and are aimed at the beginning reader. They should be used in conjunction with parents and teachers reading to a student to increase vocabulary.

Well written decodables with words that children are able to successfully decode boosts confidence, allows mastery of phonemes and allows children to apply their emerging skills.

There is some research to support decodable readers place in readers supporting phonics instruction and it also it certainly makes sense for children to apply knowledge in a realistic reading scenario. “This study suggests that readers with knowledge of the alphabetic principle, given the same phonics instruction, will apply it more (and with more accuracy and independence) in a highly decodable context” (Mesmer 2005)

readers (such as PM readers or levelled readers) are an example of predictable text and they are poorly designed. They need pictures because they use such words as giraffe and aquarium and rhinoceros in a beginning reader. “At the zoo I saw a ……….” if we are going to teach children to read words so they can comprehend a story then picture cues is not the way to do it. Good readers will survive this, educationally vulnerable students will not.” Julie Mavlian

Misty said “”Books like this have no storyline; they are equally nonsensical whether you start on the first page, or begin on the last page and read backwards.

My kids loved it when our tutor switched them to decodable readers. They even requested I read them to them at breakfast again after they had read them themselves. The school readers were atrocious. Some were written when I was in Kindy and I am no spring chicken. I was appalled at some of the boring and outdated topics. You can not tell me that predictable readers that have a picture on each page that go something like…. “The boy jumped.” “The boy ran. “The boy cried.” are engaging or go anyway to the teaching of reading. My daughter even brought home readers with no words. Maybe that’s ok for a child who has never seen a book before but she was read to extensively.

Once there was even a picture of a father smoking a cigar while the mother was in the kitchen preparing the meal and looking after the kids! So don’t let’s perpetuate the myth that decodables are boring. Modern decodables are engaging. Levelled readers were quite often flung across the room by my daughter. This never happened with her decodables. Often i would be perplexed out how they even came up with the levels for the predictive readers. Some weeks the words would be so complex.

Many decodable readers are certainly engaging. At the lower levels both decodables and predictive texts are limited. But at least a decodable at a low level will give the child the joy of actual reading! I remember quite well having to sit through countless children reading predictable readers to me when I helped out at school. To say they are more engaging is nonsensical.

This example of a predictable reader it is certainly dull and repetitive. I think i may have pasted the pages in the books in the wrong order but since there is no story it doesn’t matter! https://www.primaryconcepts.com/articles/SightWord_sample.pdf

My kids absolutely loved the floppy phonics books. The stories and illustrations were engaging. They couldn’t wait to read what adventure floppy would get up to next!

Extract from Floppy phonics level 5 decodable reader “The Gale” https://global.oup.com/education/content/primary/series/oxford-reading-tree/floppys-phonics/?region=international

My daughter’s specialist tutor wrote a series of digital e book decodable readers because she loves to write, knows what struggling is like personally (Dyslexic) and wanted to give adolescents topics of interest that were engaging. As a high school teacher I know how horrible it was for teenagers who were really beginning readers to have to read a predictable little kids reader! They are certainly engaging! Don’t forget these are NOT for kindy kids!!!

“Decodable books allow students to read using the level of phonic code they already know. This brings confidence. When confidence is gained, more code is explicitly taught and new books are introduced. This pattern of explicit teaching and appropriately introduced texts is the key to confident and empowered readers who, when ready, will be able to read any book they might desire! Victoria Leslie, Author Tap Decodable Readers http://www.focusontap.com/decodable-reader-decodable-books/

Misty said :”While they may teach the phonics skills “N” and “P”, they don’t teach children the other important decoding skills of grammar and vocabulary.”

This is absolute nonsense. Of course decodable readers use correct grammar and vocabulary at an appropriate level. They also introduce appropriate sight words. Decodable readers introduce vocabulary a child can actually read. No one is saying they should be the only books children are exposed to. My child has a vocabulary (has been assessed) well above her age level because she has been extensively read to. If we had relied on the vocabulary in predictable readers this would in no way be the case.

I am really not sure why Misty picked as an example of an alternative to decodables some common children’s books. These are not like any predictive or PM reader sent home from school. It is a deliberate unfair comparison. We loved reading Who sank the boat to our daughter. She knew the book off by heart. She still couldn’t read it herself until she received explicit phonics instruction supported by decodable readers. Use of decodable readers does not prevent the use and analysis of rich and authentic text in a classroom no more than predictable readers do.

Misty said: “And as many a parent will testify, they don’t teach the joy of reading.”

My daughter was read to from infancy. Books were how we would calm her, get her to sleep, comfort her when she was sick and bring her out of a rotten mood. We journeyed as parents with her to many far off places. Her first sentence was “read dis book yep!”. She would say this when she learnt to walk and would toddle around the house all day carrying a book and demanding its secrets to be revealed!

So she went to school, with a bounce in her step, adoring books and ready to read! Despite a lovely Kindy teacher she hit a road block. She hit a road block that so many kids will hit, Dyslexic or not, when instruction is not explicit or systematic enough for quick reading development.

Intensive explicit literacy instruction from a specialist tutor in year 3 taught her to read and write. Unfortunately because intervention was delayed she had developed a fear of reading. The fear and negative associations that had been fostered by poor literacy instruction in a “Balanced Literacy Environment”. The tutor introduced us to decodable readers and my daughter expressed shear joy. For the first time ever she was able to crack the hidden code to reading. You have no idea how much joy can be felt when after 3 years of schooling your child can actually read!

In the end her love of books and the skills she has learnt from her tutor outweighed her fear of reading. My daughter,at age 13, will now disappear into the world of books quite often. She reads when she is angry, bored or anxious. She reads to help her sleep. She says she prefers books to movies. We have a chuckle every time I have to say “put the book down” because she is late to dinner and school because its always just one more page. We both know how hard the journey has been.

Decodables allow children to access the joy of reading early without the reliance on picture and other cues (guessing). Children move rapidly through decodable levels.

As my daughter now says “books are the portal to magical worlds!” We need to give all children access to the same magic by using evidenced based teaching methods and not relying on myths, distortion of facts and ideology.

Please support SPELD NSW by buying your decodable readers from SPELD NSW. SPELD is a charity and all profits will go back into supporting SPELD’S goals. Available at the online store.

https://speldnsw.memnet.com.au/MemberSelfService/Merchandise.aspx

See SPELD NSW information on decodable readers http://speldnsw.org.au/news/speld-nsw-recommends-decodable-readers/

For a unique range of ebook decodables designed for struggling adolescent beginning readers please check out. http://www.focusontap.com/titles/ .

Read these great blog and articles

http://pamelasnow.blogspot.com/2018/11/who-sank-reading-boat-sad-tale-of.html

http://thekeep.eiu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2367&context=theses

http://speldnsw.org.au/phonics-and-decodable-readers/

https://crackingtheabccode.com/decodable-versus-levelled-readers/

https://www.spelfabet.com.au/2018/05/what-is-a-decodable-book/

References

http://cech.uc.edu/content/dam/cech/centers/student_success/docs/summer-institute-2009/ebbers_decodable_readers_handouts.pdf

https://theconversation.com/what-are-decodable-readers-and-do-they-work-106067

http://www.focusontap.com/decodable-reader-decodable-books/

Text Decodability and the First-Grade Reader

Mesmer, Heidi Anne E.

Reading & Writing Quarterly, v21 n1 p61-86 Jan-Mar 2005