Decodable Books- What are they and why should we use them?

The debate is over. Reading words by attending to all of the letter-sound correspondences is how our brain learns to read efficiently. This is not new science, nor is it a pendulum. This is over 40 years of research. The science tells us that students need to focus on the letter-sound correspondences (word reading) to decode. Students should not use context clues or pictures. Are pictures bad? No, they are a great way to check the decoding and comprehension. But encourage your students to read the WORDS FIRST and then CHECK WITH THE PICTURES if they need.

Thankfully, even balanced literacy proponent, Lucy Calkins agrees. She and her colleagues at Teachers College have embraced some parts of the science of reading and encourage decodable books. Lucy Calkins said in her 2020 Postcards from a Journey: “Decodables help young children solidify their phonics by giving them opportunities to apply the phonics skills they’re learning…We recommend that decodables are part of a student’s reading diet.”

SO WHAT ARE DECODABLE BOOKS?

A decodable book focuses on one new grapheme (sh), spelling pattern (the drop e rule when adding a suffix), or morphological unit (prefix re-). It uses a controlled set of vocabulary with spelling patterns and morphological units that have already been explicitly taught to the student.

A Sample Decodable text for the spelling pattern Vce (Silent e)

WHY DO WE USE DECODABLE BOOKS?

Especially in the earlier stages of literacy instruction, decodable books require students to use their phonic decoding skills instead of guessing. While this reading approach has long been used for students with the Orton Gillingham approach and students with dyslexia, current research tells us that this is the correct reading approach for ALL students!

We TEACH reading in different ways; they LEARN to read proficiently in only one way. Teaching is what we do- learning is what their brains do.

— Dr. David Kilpatrick

Reading decodable texts helps lead to orthographic mapping. Orthographic mapping is the long-term, efficient way that readers seemingly read “by sight.” But in fact, proficient readers do not use their visual memory at all for reading those words “by sight.” Instead, orthographic mapping builds the relationship between letters and sounds to bond the spellings and pronunciations of words in the most efficient manner. Once a word is correctly orthographically mapped, the reader does not have to laboriously decode it each time he encounters the word. Instead, the word becomes permanently stored (“mapped”) as sight words for future, instant recall. This improves fluency and allows the brain to focus its energy on comprehending the text…the ultimate goal of reading!

Beginning Blends Decodable by Orton Gillingham Mama- Teachershttps://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Reading-Comprehension-Phonics-Decodable-Passages-w-Questions-Level-1-Orton-3070185 Pay Teachers

WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A DECODABLE BOOK AND A LEVELED BOOK?

Both types of books improve fluency, comprehension, and vocabulary. At some point both types should be a part of a reader’s personal library. While a decodable book focuses on one phonic/spelling pattern, leveled books combine many phonetic patterns, sight words, and vocabulary. As the word knowledge, vocabulary, and sentence structure increase in difficulty, the level of the book increases. Depending on the difficulty of these components, publishers “level” the text accordingly. Some companies use letters A-Z and some use numbers to level, but they all increase in text difficulty. Leveled reading texts use the terms Independent, Instructional, and Frustration levels to assess a student’s reading ability within a level.

Teachers use leveled readers most effectively when used as part of a guided reading lesson and close teacher monitoring of student progress. For most students, the use of leveled readers is appropriate after the students have mastered many of the decodable reading strategies for orthographic mapping. Some may ask, “Why we should wait to use leveled readers when they are so engaging?” If we push too many skills at one time in a text, we encourage the student to guess at words. We don’t want them to use memorization, pictures, or context clues to read. We want them to use all of the letters from left to right to attack each word.

So, when students are learning to put sounds together to form simple words, encourage them to use decodable text. Instead of using those early leveled readers A-H for independent reading time, teachers can use them for read alouds to build background knowledge, vocabulary, and comprehension. Then once the decoding skills are solid, introduce leveled readers. It’s not an either or approach. But instead it is a balanced “diet” with decodables first and leveled readers introduced later.

WAIT, I WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT DECODING AND HOW THE BRAIN WORKS. WHERE DO I LOOK??

Brain Words: How the Science of Reading Informs Teaching

Language at the Speed of Sight: How We Read, Why So Many Can’t, and What Can Be Done About It

The International Dyslexia Association Digital Library

https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Reading-Comprehension-Decodable-Passages-73-w-Questions-Bundle-for-Orton-3961659

What is Orton Gillingham?

Orton Gillingham is not a program. It is an approach to teaching literacy in a direct, explicit, multisensory, structured, sequential, diagnostic, and prescriptive manner. It is most often used to support students who do not read/spell easily such as those with dyslexia.

WHAT IS THE HISTORY OF ORTON GILLINGHAM?:

The name “Orton Gillingham” comes from two pioneers of reading in the 20th century. Samuel Torrey Orton was a neuropsychiatrist who blended research and principles of reading intervention. He helped to dispel the idea that dyslexia was “word blindness.” He worked closely with Anna Gillingham, a gifted educator and psychologist. From Orton’s research and Gillingham’s thorough knowledge of the English language, she published instructional materials and trained teachers to teach students who struggled in reading. These materials are the foundation for what the Orton Gillingham approach is today.

“The ‘whole word’ method is an obstacle to reading for the majority of students.”

-Samuel T. Orton

““The success of your students will depend upon your skill as a teacher .”

-Anna Gillingham

WHAT IS IN AN ORTON GILLINGHAM LESSON?:

The Orton Gillingham approach is most often used in a one-on-one or small group setting. Each lesson is individualized for the needs of each student. It teaches the direct relationship between letters and sounds so that students do not guess at whole words. Components include (but aren’t limited to) a visual and auditory drill (letter-sound correspondence), phonological awareness, reading and spelling of review words/skills, new information, reading, morphology, grammar, comprehension, and written expression.

There are a number of reading programs influenced by the Orton–Gillingham approach. These include the Barton Reading Program and the Wilson Reading System. These programs vary somewhat, but they all use a structured, multisensory approach.

WHERE TO FIND AN ORTON GILLINGHAM TUTOR:

Are you looking for an Orton Gillingham tutor? The International Dyslexia Association is a great place to start. You can click here to look up trained and certified OG tutors in your area.

WANT TO BE TRAINED IN THE ORTON GILLINGHAM APPROACH?:

There are many independent training centers. The International Dyslexia Association (IDA) has an accreditation program that rigorously reviews educator preparation programs based on an accreditation model that is uniquely aligned with IDA’s Knowledge and Practice Standards for Teachers of Reading (KPS).

These programs “produce educators who have engaged in intensive supervised practicum experiences that were sufficiently designed and staffed to promote applied mastery of the principles and practices of structured literacy in the service of preventing reading failure and remediating off-track readers with profiles characteristic of dyslexia.” To find a training center, click here.

A Little About Me

First and foremost, I am a proud mama. But who says you have to stop at just one passion? I also have a love for all things related to Structured Literacy and the Orton Gillingham approach. So, I am Orton Gillingham Mama. Nice to meet you!

I work full-time as a director at an elementary school, lead a board of phenomenal women in the state of NC for the International Dyslexia Association, I am working towards my master’s in reading, and I help support fellow Orton Gillingham tutors and teachers.

I am a self-proclaimed “word nerd” and love learning about reading!

It’s an exciting time to be in education and I want to share current research, articles, videos, books, games, activities, etc. to help other educators learn about structured literacy.

Thank you for joining me on this journey. Our students deserve the best of us and I hope that you will continue to learn alongside me for their benefit.