Monday, September 15, 2014

Loopholes for Learning!

What's "used together becomes fused together" in the brain!

"...but Mrs. Mac, we don't have time to go home!"

As teachers, it's so important that we understand the "why" behind the "how" with regard to why we teach, what we teach, and what it is that makes a particular lesson so effective.

“When memories are supported by greater coordination between different parts of the brain, it’s a sign that they are going to last longer..... the greater the distribution of signaling, the stronger the memory takes hold in our brain."  (i.e. 'multi-layered' memories)

The excerpt from an article published by New York University (and pinned to my "Brain Bits" Pinterest Board here)  is a great example of how we can use the ongoing research findings on learning and the brain to strengthen our teaching and concentrate our efforts with regard to the strategies that we use.

This week, I'm excited to welcome back Renee McAnulty.... or as her little ones refer to her- "Mrs. Mac!" She has been kind enough to take time out of her busy 'beginning of the year' schedule to post about her new crop of first graders and their start with the Secrets! 

In-conjunction with her post, I want to take the opportunity to dive more deeply into some "loopholes for learning" that the brain research provides.
Hello from Mrs. Mac's First Grade Class at Cottonwood Elementary in Hesperia, California!
"Happy New School-Year" Folks! I hope this post finds you well, and enjoying a new beginning with your brand new munchkins!

This post title was actually a quote from one of my adorable kiddos at the end of the first school day following my announcement that it was time to go home.

Feeling a bit overwhelmed by all there was to do in this brand new first grade classroom, this sweet little boy relied-

"....but Mrs. Mac, we don't have time to go home!"

Now while I, myself, do feel this way on a regular basis, hearing one of my little guys actually say it out loud just made my whole week... so of course, I wanted to share it here with you!
After an exciting summer, I was so excited to meet my new crop of kiddos who I would get to learn with this year! I couldn't wait to start now that I have my bag of Secrets to transform my kids into successful readers and writers!  

I thought over the summer about what my next guest blog post should be, based on the feedback and questions I'd received here from you, my fellow teachers.... and then it hit me! What is the one question I am constantly asked, "Where do I start?!?!" 
So, with this in mind, I thought I would invite you to take a peek into our humble little classroom and meet my amazing new bunch of munchkins! They really are ADORABLE, and of my thirty new first graders, I currently have two identified "readers." 

That said, my goal for this school year is to take you deeper into the process of using the Secrets as I share with you my students' progress, from the very beginning of this year to the very end.

I know that Katie has said this many times, and you will see from my posts, that there is no "one way" to share the Secret Stories!  They are simply the tools learners need to read and to write, and thus are easily tailored to meet the needs of both you and your students, for use however and whenever they are needed!  (which is likely to be ALL OF THE TIME if you teach in K-2!!! :)

You will see what the Secrets look like, as well as how we use them in whole group and small group instruction, during Daily 5 and Cafe, and of course, during guided reading. Throughout our year together, we will be applying the Secrets to practically everything that we do! 

So sit back and relax.... and let the kids show you what we do to get started!
First up..... The BETTER Alphabet Song...

You might notice in this clip that the kids are using Zoo Phonics hand motions, as our kinder team had been using Zoo phonics the previous school. I just let them continue using the motions during the song, incorporating the Superhero Vowels® cues into the mix!

That's what's great about the Secret Stories. You can use it with literally ANY phonics/ reading/ writing curriculum or program! They just make whatever you're already doing even more effective....  like times TEN!!  (and you soon find that the Secret Stories® end up replacing the other programs altogether, as they did for me :)

**Note that all of the brain-based Secret 'tricks' for hooking into the individual vowel sounds and using the Mommy E to discern which sound they will make in words work just as well with PreK and Kindergartners as they do with the first graders shown below!  Need proof?  Click here and here!

 Superhero A/ "My Class" Guided Reader

Superhero E- 

Superhero I-

Superhero O-


Superhero U-
The SECRET STORIES Vertical Alphabet


One great thing about having the kids retell the Secrets is that each does so at his/her own level, and like most first grade classes at the beginning of the school year, mine are academically "all over the map!" 

While my more experienced students get the trickier sounds of the short vowels by simply retelling the story (some of which are literal dissertations!) most of my little guys are actually accessing the short vowel sounds from a different place. 

For my less experienced little ones, as well my kiddos with only limited English, they rely more strongly on the visuals (posters) and body motions/ gestures (actions) to retrieve the short vowel sounds.

The bottom line?  
ALL of my babies get the sounds!

The Secrets are like little "bridges" that all learners can easily and effortlessly find their way across- regardless of academic level, readiness issues, language background, or past experience...and that's why they're so AMAZING!!!
Okay, Katie here... Sorry to barge-in, but here's where I want to highlight the research showing that "what's used together becomes fused together" in the brain....

These students have non-consciously 'intertwined' the story (auditory) with the graphic (visual) with the gesture (physical)... each providing the learner with an alternative "route back" to the sound or skill, and all of which are processed and stored in a different area of the brain.

Connections to the Secrets are supported between different parts of the learners' brain, which means that the skills are not only easier to acquire, but will last longer and be easier for them to retrieve

The research shows that "The greater the distribution of signaling between the different parts of the brain, the stronger the memory takes hold!" 

With each retelling of a Secret, these alternate routes become more deeply "embedded" into the learner! 
Mommy e®
For me, the Mommy e® Secret has been gift from God, as my biggest challenge as a first grade teacher has always been trying to teach the kids to differentiate between long and short vowels in their writing-  a challenge to which many of you I'm sure, can likely relate!

After teaching them the long vowel sounds with silent e, my kids would add a silent e to everything, ALL THE TIME, which drove me absolutely crazy! 

But now that they know the Mommy e® Secret, this is no longer a problem, as now it just makes SENSE!  Kids can relate to the idea that "When the cats away, the mice will play"..... or in Secret Stories® terms, "when Mommy e® is away, the vowels will play," which means that they will be "short and lazy," rather than stand up tall and 'say their name!'  (You can watch Katie share the Mommy e Secret here  or in the video clip, further below.)
(You can see how Mommy e® determines the sound 'a' will make in the graphic below)

Mommy E/ Common Core Essential Questions for 1st
The last trick I want to share with you is how we transfer the Secrets into our writing. Applying the Secrets in writing from the very beginning really helps the kids grasp the inherent connection between reading and writing- one that beginning readers don't naturally perceive.

This process is simple. I ask students to draw   three lines (on individual white boards, paper, etc...)  and then give them a three-letter word, like cut. 

I then ask them to segment-out and write each of the letter sounds they hear on a different line, reminding them that "there are three letters in the word and that is why we made three lines." 

After the kids have finished writing the sounds they hear on the lines, they cover their word so no one else sees it.

When I say "Chin it!" they all hold up their words so that I can see them. This allows me to see right away who understands how to apply the Secret and who doesn't.

Quick, easy, and to the point!  All I have to do is make some quick notes, and BAM! I know with whom and on what I can work in small groups!

When I teach the Mommy E Secret, I have the kids draw FOUR lines, telling them, "The last line is for Mommy!" 

They know that Mommy sits at the end of the word (one letter away from the vowel, close enough if necessary to reach give it a reminder tap!) to make sure that the vowel "does what it should" and says his name!  
The four lines for Mommy e words serve as a visual reminder that there can be letters in words that you don't hear. This is a tremendous help, especially with  ELL and non-readers... and they ALL love to  draw the arrow from the Mommy e to the vowel that she's making say its name!

As a super bonus, Katie includes a list of words in the back of the Secret Stories book for each of the Secret sounds/ letter patterns. These lists are great! Not only for measuring student proficiency with specific Secrets in guided group, but also as a sort of Secret Word Bank from which you can quickly pull words for targeted activities or instruction, like the Mommy E one with my class, above. 

Although I always try to use examples from the words around our classroom and in text that we read,  the lists in the back of Secret Stories book do come in super handy when my mind draws a blank and I'm unable to think of words to reinforce a specific Secret!  
The most beautiful thing about this logical learning process is that I get to see these babies grow so quickly from writing and spelling simple three and four letter words, to writing multi-syllabic words with '10 letters-plus' in a matter of only a few months!

And you can watch Katie share her Mommy e® tricks in the video clips, below! 

And thanks to Katie's ongoing invitation to post here throughout this school year, we will get to share our amazing transformation into 'grown-up' readers, writers and spellers with all of you!

Thanks so much for reading, and I look forward to answering your questions, so please post them!!!
Mrs. Mac

I want to thank Mrs. Mac and her brand new first graders for sharing this post and look forward to MORE! 

If you would like to start sharing the Superhero Vowel Secrets with your class, but don't have the  complete SECRET STORIES Classroom Set, you can check out the The SECRETS of the Superhero Vowels® on TpT, which targets only the vowels. 

Because Mommy E®Sneaky Y®, and the Babysitter Vowels® all have an affect on the sound that vowels will make in words, these anchors are also included in the vowel pack, as well as the Beethoven Blends/ Blender Pack for some additional practice incorporating the blends with the changing vowel sounds.

As these pack contains these graphic anchors in digital, reproducible formats, you can print them in  various sizes for different purposes, making them an ideal companion to the SECRET STORIES® Class Set!
The SECRETS of the Superhero Vowels Pack on TpT
Once you begin telling Secrets there's no turning back for you and your students, as they will start questioning EVERYTHING about the letters and the sounds that they're making! 

Whenever and wherever letters are observed as not "doing what they should," students will demand to know its "secret" just BE PREPARED!

And one more thing to add to this already 'too-long' post.... please download the freebie on the right (below) if you haven't already done so, and click to watch the video on the left for tips on using it!

Download this FREEBIE for prompting
beginning readers to WRITE!!

(Watch the video clip on left for use in the classroom!)

All the best,

 After finishing this post, I received the following email from Mrs. Mac, which I had to share....
I had to was the first day that the Secret Stories® showed up in their writing INDEPENDENTLY!!!! I had three different students raise their hand as if it were an emergency- one had discovered a "Sneaky Y" while writing the word "Mickey" .... and the other two had noticed the "er" and "ir" while spelling the words  "dirty" and "number" ....... And sooooo it begins....(insert evil laugh here) ;) 

And THIS is what I LOVE about Mrs. Mac!  She gets as excited as her kids! She's truly their biggest cheerleader,  and her enthusiasm for is contagious!


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  1. This looks like a really good fit with my daily phonics and helpful to my struggling students! I'd LOVE to be a winner! Thanks!

    1. It will work wonders for daily phonics!!! They will All love this program!!!!

  2. I am a homeschool mom with two children that have been tested and diagnosed with dyslexia. I BELEIVE these secret stories would work miracles for them, as it uses the back door approach to learning. I would love to win this for them. Seeing as how I do not have a FB or Pinterest account, I'm hoping my one comment will win this for my children and I!

  3. I'm using the Secret Stories for the first time this year and so far my students LOVE them!

  4. I will be trying out your mommy e secret stories next week. I can't wait. Thanks for sharing.

  5. I bought the parent/home version and created a traveling bulletin board with the cards and a science tri-fold board. It would be wonderful to have a class set of posters to put up in one of the rooms I use so I can leave the poster board in the other room. I do reading intervention with Kindergarten through 6th grade. I see how much the stories help and can't recommend them highly enough.

  6. I just discovered this and think it would be perfect to use with my Title I students!!

  7. I have recently been hired on as a first year first grade teacher. I am very excited and I really want to implement the secret stories in my class. I also want to share this great resource with my new team. I first learned about the secret stories while I was student teaching and the students really had fun learning them.

  8. I am an elementary school reading specialist and have been using bits and pieces of the secret stories with my struggling readers for a few years now. I'm not sure if I am doing it 100% the way it is supposed to be implemented (since I do not own the full kit...only bits and pieces.) But, what I have used, I feel has positively impacted my students! I would LOVE to win the kit and see what happens when the program is implemented in full!! Thank you for such a wonderful program!

  9. Using the secret for the first time, Gr. 1's are getting it!