Saturday, July 26, 2014

Chit-Chatting About the Phonics "Secrets!"


Imagine you're a beginning learner in Kindergarten, 1st, or 2nd grade, and you're told about the grown-up reading & writing ""secret"  al, and the sound they make when they get together in a word...

A and L love balls!
ALL balls... 
Footballs, baseballs, basketballs, volleyballs... 
ALL balls, ALL the time!!
Armed with this new reading and writing tool, you naturally begin looking for opportunities to use  it, not in a workbook or on a skill sheet, but in real life, just like real grown-ups do! 

Take a moment and look around wherever you happen to be. Do you see the al Secret anywhere?   Maybe on a newspaper headline, or on a magazine cover?  Now imagine the text-rich environment of your classroom where opportunities for spotting this and other Secrets are literally EVERYWHERE!

I'm often asked to create SECRET STORIES® practice pages and skill packs targeting individual Secrets, but aside from the few I've done for the "core" Secrets (i.e. Secrets of the Superhero Vowels®, Spotting Secrets, and Beethoven Blends) I've never felt this was necessary.

The best way to hone new skills is to use them, and the best use of the Secrets is for real-life, learner-driven purposes.... which abound in daily reading and writing! Applying the Secrets on workbook pages can't compare to applying them to the reading and writing activities that are ongoing across the curriculum and throughout the entire instructional day!

And besides, there are so many outstanding and creative resources already available that offer natural reinforcement the Secrets! And since I'll be doing a few guest posts for Deanna Jump this month on her blog, I thought I'm going to use one of her "Chit Chat" units as an example.
Katie Garner Guest Post on Deanna Jump's Blog
One of the best ways to build learner-automaticity with the Secrets is to provide rich, daily literacy experiences and activities that spur learner-interest so as to inspire use of the Secrets. Activities like Mrs. Jump's Chit Chat (or any other flexible "open-ended" learning activity/framework) provide an ideal springboard for use of the Secrets for multi-purpose learning! 

A consistent, yet flexible format makes for easy differentiation!

The consistent, and yet flexible format of the activities makes it easier for beginning learners to "multi-process." The open-ended format encourages learners to simultaneously apply the Secrets they know, in conjunction with the individual letter/sound skills targeted (i.e. writing additional words that "start with the letter B" and contain one or more Secrets).

Combing both skill sets for one purpose allows learners to more fully engage with the activities while reinforcing their natural integration (i.e. use of the individual letter sounds and Secretssimultaneously, rather than having to wait to acquire/apply one before the other.) The result is natural, and thus, easy differentiation for a variety of skill-levels and instruction.

Mrs. Jump's "Chit-Chat Morning Messages" on TpT!
These non-fiction Chit Chat units (below) 
are rich in content and naturally motivate learners application of the Secrets...





Rich, informational content, combined with vivid photographs and realistic illustrations inspire learners to read and write!

Connecting high-interest, non-fiction concepts to what learners already know and understand inspires them to "dig deeper" by reading and writing even more— sparking an interest in further reading, or planting a seed for an exciting, new writing idea, appropriately leveled, non-fiction text activities provide learners with unlimited opportunities to put the Secrets they know to use! 



Secret Stories® are literally hiding behind every corner! 
More than anything else, what I love most about using the Secrets to read and write across the instructional day is that it clearly demonstrates the power that comes with owning these tools of our language! The Secrets give those who know them power over text!

For beginning learners, the ability to figure out new words on their own, as well as to write the words they want to use in their stories (regardless of whether or not it is on a sight word wall to copy) is an empowering feeling. And it's this "power over text" that ignites learners' desire to read and write MORE!  

The better we are at something, the more we like to do it... and the more we do it, the better we get...
and the better we get, the more we love to do it....
The worse we are at something, the less we like to do it... and the less we do it, the worse we get....
and the worse we get, the less we want to do it....

Get the idea?

Secret Stories® can be found around every corner and on every page of any book OR TpT activity! Anywhere there is text, there are an abundance of opportunities for introducing new Secrets and revisiting/reinforcing old ones! 

Can you spot the Secrets on this page of Mrs. Jump's Non-Fiction Chit Chat unit below?  
(HINT- I've included some "secret: visual clues to help you spot them!)

FREE Secret Stories® Phonics Mini-Poster Sampler Pack

or to view the complete Classroom Kit versions, see the picture link, below.

Until Next Time,
Katie :-)

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Secret Stories® Makes Phonics Make SENSE!
Try a "taste" of the Secrets with YOUR class 
and see the difference they make!
Click to Download the FREE Secret Stories® Mini-Sample Poster Pack!

For a list of upcoming conferences, or for information on scheduling a school or district professional development workshop, click here. 

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Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Brain Loves Novelty!

Secret Stories® Phonics — The Brain Loves Novelty!

   Novelty & the Brain 

I'm often asked why it is that the SECRET STORIES musical skill-manipulation exercises (on the CD that comes with Class Set) aren't in the form of actual "songs" (i.e. no musical/ instrumental accompaniment, repetitive lyrics, etc...).

Secret Stories® Phonics Classroom Kit— "Fun & Funky" Poster Version

If you have the classroom kit and are already using the Secrets, then you probably know what I'm talking about, and perhaps have even wondered the same thing!  

While it's true that the musical exercises on the SECRET STORIES CD are very different from traditional, skill-based 'sing-along' songs so often used in early grade classrooms, there's a reason!  As like everything else with the SECRET STORIES, it's always about getting the most 'instructional brain-BANG' for the buck!!!  
Secret Stories® Phonics "Musical  Brainteasers" CD

As teachers, we've all seen how easily and effortlessly students can sing through the daily array of familiar, skill-based songs... almost as if they're singing on "autopilot!"  The familiar, repetitive and 'skill-based' lyrics of these daily-ditties literally roll off the tongues of learners.  No thinking required! 

And that's a good thing, right?  
Not necessarily. 

It depends on the type of skill and how learners are going to use it.  

Familiar and repetitive songs work well for acquiring finite or sequential skill sets, like the days of the week, months of the year, names of the planets, fifty nifty states, etc...  

Skills like these can be easily acquired through traditional song, as they allow learners to store away the content sung in their muscle-memory, much like storing information on a 'read-only' disc, where they are easily retrievable for later use.  

Letters and sound skills, however, are a different story altogether!

Because letters and sounds are taught for the sole purpose of using them to read and write, learners must be able to put them together (for writing/ spelling) and take them apart (for reading) in a variety of ways, which makes these skills very different from those skill-sets mentioned above. 

For this reason, singing the letters in repetitive order (as in a song) does NOT equip learners to actually use them as reading and writing tools!  To do this would require an ability to manipulate them fluidly, in a free-form and flexible manner closely mimicking the decoding and encoding processes. 




The "unfamiliar and unexpected" are the brain's BEST FRIENDS!

Singing through the virtually endless letter, pattern and sound combinations in a variety of constantly changing musical exercises is a great way to ensure that learning them remains a novel experience for learners!

And the Brain LOVES Novelty!


The following is taken from an article written by Belle Beth Cooper-  
Why Getting New Things Makes Us Feel So Good: Novelty and the Brain 

We all like novelty! In fact, our brains are made to be attracted to novelty.  And it turns out that it could actually improve our memory and learning capacity.

It’s actually hardwired into my brain—and yours—to appreciate and seek out novelty. Anything that’s new, different or unusual... we can even be drawn to novelty without being conscious of it. Of course, this makes a lot of sense—we wouldn’t get much done if ordinary things captivated us constantly!

The cool thing about this is how intricately novelty seems to be associated with learning, which means we can use this knowledge to our advantage for learning new things and improving our memory. 

It’s been thought before that novelty was a reward in itself, but, like dopamine, it seems to be more related to motivation. Our Dopamine pathways become activated whenever we are exposed to novelty, and only completely new things will activate our midbrain area. 
Studies show that the plasticity of the hippocampus (the ability to create new connections between neurons) was increased by the influence of novelty—both during the process of exploring a novel environment or stimuli and for 15–30 minutes afterwards.  
As well as increasing our brain’s plasticity—and therefore potential for learning new concepts and facts—novelty has been shown to improve the memory of test subjects. 
Studies suggest that dopamine (a "reward" chemical in the brain) levels increase in the context of novelty.  Each new stimuli gives you a little rush of motivation to go further, to find more new stimuli that will generate more dopamine rewards.  

Here is a graph that shows activity in your brain on this:
Secret Stories® Phonics —"The Brain Loves Novelty"

 According to a study conducted by Dr. Emrah Duzel from University College in London:
Subjects performed best when new information was combined with familiar information during learning.  After a 20 minute delay, subjects’ memory for slightly familiar information (i.e. letters/ letter patterns & sounds) was boosted by 19 per cent if it had been mixed with something new (i.e. new combinations of constantly changing skill-content) during learning sessions.
This research suggests that we use the brain's increased plasticity wisely by setting aside time to learn right after novel stimuli, as learners' brains are more open to making new connections during and right after this time.  So why not take advantage!

Dr Düzel pointed out additional benefits that could come from his research:
“We hope that these findings will have an impact on those with poor memory. Current practice aims to improve memory through repeatedly exposing a person to information. This study shows that it's more effective if you mix something new with the old. You actually learn better, even though your brain is also tied up with new information. 
So what does this mean for teachers?  
It means that you can significantly improve knowledge retention and make new ideas and concepts stick by introducing novelty into the learning process.  And doing this is easier than you think!
Above is just one example of MANY research studies showing the significant impact that novelty has on the brain, and for purposes of teaching and learning, novelty can take many forms! 

Incorporating novel experiences into daily learning doesn't mean having to continually add on new skills and information to what you're already teaching!

Novelty can be easily achieved by simply framing 'slightly-familiar' content in new and unique ways. This causes our brains to notice and recognize it more easily because it's been offset by the new way in which it's being presented. 

If this sounds confusing, I promise, it isn't.... not once you see it in action! 

And it's not just the musical exercises in the SECRET STORIES that make use of this "novelty-effect," but the Secrets, themselves! Every time you share a Secret, learners are hearing a brand new story about already-familiar letters and sounds... and the higher the grade level, the more significant the "novelty-effect!"  

Intermediate-grade struggling readers who have "been there" and "done that" in their many failed attempts at acquiring these critical reading and writing skills, often have completed hundreds, if not thousands of remedial skill sheets and still "don't get it!"  

For these learners, framing these "all-too-familiar" skills as a novel Secret that explains WHY the letter patterns make the sounds that they do, re-ignites their interest and curiosity, motivating them to capture what they found previously unattainable.

The Secrets make letters and sounds novel!  It's that simple. 
So remember, whether a you're four or forty, "novelty is the key" to easier learning!  

The short video clips below show how easy infusing novelty into daily skill practice can be!
For more videos, subscribe FREE to my SECRET STORIES YouTube Channel.

Beethoven Blends & Beethoven Blends 'In-Reverse!'

The "Beethoven Blender" Pack" on TpT


Apples & Bananas to the EXTREME!


Singing the Sounds "Every Which Way to Sunday!" 
*This one we would also do backwards, as well as to different tunes (i.e. Star-Spangled Banner, Happy Birthday, etc...) while continually switching vowel sounds back and forth, from long to short... 
so many ways, so little time!

Secret Stories® Phonics BETTER Alphabet Vertical AnchorSecret Stories® Phonics BETTER Alphabet Vertical Anchor




And check out this first grade class singing the BETTER Alphabet Song "Jedi-style!" (You can't see from the way that the teacher is facing, but the teacher is referencing the vertical alphabet anchor, above.)


So have you noticed novelty affecting your memory or how you learn? 
If so, I would love to know your thoughts!

And if you don't already have the Secrets, but would like to try sharing them with your students, you can download this mini-sampler poster pack FREE! 
FREE Secret Stories®  Phonics Mini-Poster Sample Pack
FREE Secret Stories® Phonics Mini-Poster Pack
Until Next Time,
Katie :-)

Never Miss a Secret! Subscribe to the Newsletter! 



Katie Garner Secret Stories LinkedIN pageSecret Stories BlogSecret Stories Facebook PageSecret Stories Youtube PageSecret Stories TwitterSecret Stories PinterestSecret Stories Instagram
Secret Stories Banner
Secret Stories® Makes Phonics Make SENSE!
Try a "taste" of the Secrets with YOUR class 
and see the difference they make!
Click to Download the FREE Secret Stories® Mini-Sample Poster Pack!

For a list of upcoming conferences, or for information on scheduling a school or district professional development workshop, click here. 

Katie Garner Secret Stories Linkedin pageSecret Stories BlogSecret Stories Facebook PageSecret Stories Youtube PageSecret Stories TwitterSecret Stories PinterestSecret Stories Instagram

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