Decodable Books and Regular Books


Why Are Decodable Books Important and When do Students Transition out of Them?

As educators committed to nurturing young minds in the journey of literacy, we know that early reading skills form the cornerstone of academic success. In our quest to equip our students with the tools they need to become proficient readers, one invaluable resource stands out: decodable books. These specially designed texts play a pivotal role in helping young learners master foundational reading skills. They are essential in early literacy instruction, but students do not need them forever.

Decodable readers are books carefully crafted to align with the phonics patterns and rules students are learning. Unlike regular texts, which may contain irregular or advanced spelling patterns, decodable readers feature words that can be decoded using the phonics skills students have acquired. This controlled vocabulary empowers students to confidently apply their knowledge of letter-sound correspondences and decoding strategies in context. This approach to attending to all the letters in the words (instead of guessing or using context clues!) promotes orthographic mapping.

Incorporating decodable books into your literacy curriculum is crucial for young students to:

  1. Reinforce Systematic Phonics Instruction: By repeatedly encountering phonetically regular words in decodable texts, students reinforce their understanding of letter-sound relationships and spelling patterns. This reinforcement is essential for solidifying phonics skills (for reading and spelling!) and orthographic mapping.
  2. Build Confidence: When students can successfully decode words in text, it boosts their confidence and motivation to read independently. Decodable readers offer a supportive environment where students experience success, fostering a positive attitude towards reading.
  3. Promote Transfer of Skills: As students become proficient in decoding words within the context of decodable readers, they gain the ability to apply these skills to more diverse texts. This transfer of skills is a crucial step towards reading fluency and comprehension.
  4. Build Decoding Skills while Accessing Language Comprehension w/ Read-Alouds: While young students are learning to decode, immerse them in rich literature with quality read-alouds. Model questioning, access their background knowledge, discuss story elements, and expose them to different types of literature. As you foster their language comprehension through these read alouds and they master decoding with decodable books, students will be set up for reading success!
Happy children reading oral language practice

Now, the question arises:

When is the appropriate time to transition students from decodable readers to regular, less controlled text?

While decodable books serve as a valuable scaffold in early literacy instruction, they are intended to be a stepping stone rather than a permanent fixture in a student’s reading journey. As students demonstrate proficiency in decoding and encoding skills, gradually introduce them to more complex texts with irregular spelling patterns and sight words.

Here are some indicators that students may be ready to transition to regular text:

  1. Consistent Decoding Proficiency: Students consistently demonstrate the ability to decode words accurately and fluently, especially when encountering unfamiliar words.
  2. Increasing Sight Word Recognition: As students develop sight word recognition, they become less reliant on decoding every word phonetically and can comprehend text more readily.
  3. Mastery of Phonics Skills: Depending on the phonics scope and sequence you follow, many students are ready to transition out of decodable books when they consistently read words with:
    • Short Vowels
    • Silent e
    • Two-syllable words (VCCV and VCV)
    • Simple r-controlled patterns like ar and or.
  4. Application of Reading Strategies: Students begin to apply reading strategies such as context clues, predicting, and self-monitoring while reading.
  5. Reading Fluency and Comprehension: Students demonstrate improved reading fluency and comprehension, indicating readiness to tackle more challenging texts. This is because their brain no longer has to spend its energy on decoding. The student has freed up that space in the brain for comprehending!

Transition Time with Decodable Books – A Phase and Not a Line in the Sand

Most students will benefit from a transition time of reading both decodables AND regular books. So think of this as a flexible time of using both types of texts with your students. Read with your students. Monitor their reading in regular texts. YOU KNOW YOUR STUDENTS BEST! If you think they are ready, give them a less controlled book to try. If they stumble on several words each page or you need to provide them with too many words, then go back to using decodable texts. You will not hurt them with one book, but we do not want to encourage poor reading habits like guessing. So move as quickly as you can, but as slowly as you must. 🙂

Think of this as a time of exploration for you and your students. You have given them the foundational skills needed to decode and not guess at words. They can apply those skills in regular texts with your guidance and prompt feedback.

As educators, our goal is to equip students with the skills and confidence they need to become proficient readers. Decodable books serve as a vital tool in achieving this goal by providing a solid foundation in phonics and decoding. By providing a structured and supportive environment for developing phonics skills, decodable readers lay the groundwork for future reading proficiency. By judiciously transitioning students to regular text when they are ready, we ensure that they continue to progress on their journey to literacy success. As educators, let’s harness the power of decodable texts to empower our students on their path to becoming lifelong readers.

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