Saturday, February 20, 2016

How to Avoid Having Too Many Cooks in the Phonics Kitchen!

Secret Stories® Phonics "oo" Secret!

"Too Many Cooks in the Phonics Kitchen!"
Dear Katie,
I have been a Reading Specialist for thirty years, as well as an adjunct university professor. I have enjoyed great success with the Secret Stories, and my kindergarten through fifth grade students have had such an easy time mastering them and their reading levels have soared! Have you ever thought about adding more Secrets? For example, what about for these patterns, below?

—dge (as in edge)
—tch (as in catch)
—que (as in question)
—old (as in hold)
—ost (as in most)
—ind (as in kind)
—ink (as in link)
—ild (as in wild)
—ture (as in adventure)
—one (as in honk)
—unk (as in trunk)
—olt (as in bolt)
—stle (as in whistle)
—ank (as in bank)
—ive (as in give)

And finally, what are some good books and/or materials to use with, as well as to reinforce the Secret Stories? 

Best, 
Laura B., Reading Specialist

And Laura also send a little note from Ella, who asked me to write more stories, and also let me know that her favorite Secret Story was the secret about th! :-)
"We had fun learning the Secret Stories. Can you write (more) stories?
My favorite is TH!"  From Ella 

I LOVE these kinds of questions, so thank you to Laura and Ella for asking them! Questions like this provide the perfect opportunity for me to open up a big can of worms when it comes to the way we traditionally think about phonics and reading instruction, in general.

Secret Stories® is not like traditional phonics, nor is it like any phonics program. The Secrets simply put meaning where there would otherwise be none, so as to shift instruction from brain antagonistic to brain compatible!

Secret Stories Phonics — Accelerated Access to the Phonics Code

Our brain is a pattern-making machine, and Secret Stories® feeds its craving to make sense of letter sound behavior in a way that very young (and upper grade, struggling) readers can easily understand. The rule of thumb when creating the Secrets was not to align them with traditional phonics rules, but with the brain science. The Secrets are tools, not rules, which means that they are designed for the sole purpose of helping kids crack words apart (decoding/reading) and put them back together (encoding/writing.) 

Secret Stories® Phonics— The Brain is a Pattern-Making Machine!

Filtering Out the Fringe and Streamlining Letter Sound Behavior

Take -le,  for example, as in words like little or middle. There is no Secret for the --le sound because it's not necessary in to read the words— not if learners know that the e at the end won't talk anyway (as Mommy e® only tells the vowel she can reach to say its name, but she has no sound!) Likewise, if a phonics pattern is so rare that it would be of minimal use to elementary grade level readers, then it is not addressed with a Secret. In such cases, experience is the best teacher, so the key is to get enough real skills under learners' belts so that they can get up and running with text, and allow text experience to fine-tune learners' skills. An example of this would be the silent t in words containing the -st or -stle pattern, as in whistle or listen. This sound spelling applies to so few words that it doesn't merit the time and space it would take up in beginning or struggling readers' brains. Moreover, learners how know just enough Secrets to read the rest of such words would likely be able to make the adustment to figure out the word.

The key to being able to successfully give beginning grade learners everything they need is not to burden them with anything they don't need. (Sorry for the double negative, but hopefully you get the drift!) In simpler terms, don't get caught up in the minutia. Focus on what really matters and allow text experience do the rest. It is a far better teacher than either you or I will ever be!


In addition to providing the logical explanations for letter sound behavior that the brain craves, Secret Stories® also account for the common "default" sounds of letters in text— all of which are embedded into the graphics anchor sound posters. Because these defaults follow the same social emotional "feeling" based logic that drives learners' own behavior, even inexperienced, beginning (and upper grade, struggling) readers are can think-through the alternative sound behaviors of letters in text, rather than always having to memorize  them as "exceptions." Filtering out the fringe and streamlining the most common letter sound behaviors serves to foster an "if not this, than that" hierarchy of likelihood, helping navigate learner decision-making with unfamiliar text.

So before I specifically address the potential new Secrets requested, it is important to understand that just as the apple won't fall too far from the tree, the letters won't stray too far from their sounds! This handy saying can be used to help both students and teachers, alike to convey the flexible thinking needed when working through various sound options of letters in text.

Secret Stories® Phonics— Thinking OUTSIDE the Box About Letter Behavior!

Working with text requires learners to think "outside the box," something they cannot do if they don't first know what's IN it. The Secrets ensure that learners know everything that's IN the box so that they can easily think outside of it, something that working with text, demands. Students as young as kindergarten are easily able to identify the most and next-most likely sounds of letters in words they've never seen— stretching their analytical thinking and problem solving capabilities far beyond just the Secrets!


This critical analysis and diagnostic thinking game takes the form of "What else can it be? What else can we try?"..... much like the deductive reasoning process that doctors must employ when attempting to diagnose symptoms that don't always "present" in the way that they should. When learners are equipped and excited to engage with text in this way, daily reading and writing is transformed into a virtual playground for critical thinking and deep literacy learning! By anchoring abstract letter sound and phonics skills into social and emotional frameworks that are already deeply entrenched within the learner, they become personally meaningful and relevant.

Click Here or on the video below to see just how HARD it is to make phonics make SENSE! 




Secret Stories® Phonics— GH "Thinking OUT of the BOX!" (No more sight words!)

Now, let's attack that list of potential "new" Secrets and see if we really do need to "add a few more cooks" to our phonics kitchen!

-dge  (as in ridge, sludge, budget, etc...)
Secret Stories® Phonics— C E, CI CY/ GE, GI, GY
Secret Stories® CE, CI, CY/ GE, GI, GY
If kids know the ce, ci, cy/ ge, gi, gy Secret then the addition of the letter d should pose no problem when sounding out the word. Even if they include the d sound, they would still be able to "get" (recognize) the word. Additionally, the e at the end would also cause no worry, as kids who know the Secrets know that Mommy E® can only tell the vowel to say its name if she's one letter away, close enough to reach it!

Therefore, creating a new Secret for the -dge pattern is unnecessary and would only result in our having "one too many" cooks in our kitchen! That's not to say that knowledge of -dge as a spelling pattern wouldn't be useful to upper grade learners, abut the primary goal is to get kids reading.  All of the research shows that reading is by far the best teacher for fine-tuning spelling, and kids who know the Secrets will be able to that experience, tenfold!


Next up— 
-tch (as in: scratch, itch, crutch, etc...)
Same as above.  
If learners know the ch Secret, then initially attacking it with the t sound before the ch won't interfere with a reader's ability to ultimately decode the word, even for kindergartners.

-que (as in: question, delinquents, frequency, queen, etc...)
Secret Stories® Phonics— QU
Secret Stories® QU
Knowing the qu Secret is all that is needed here, along with recognizing that as with -dge, the e at the end makes no sound. And keep in mind that when working with words not of English origin, Secret Stories® will get you close, but not all the way, as the same rules don't apply, as with words like: bouquet, applique, etc... 

-ive (as in: dive, give, active, lives, etc...)
Secret Stories® Phonics— Mommy E® and Babysitter Vowels®  (silent E- VCV & VCCV)
Learn More About Mommy E® and the Babysitter Vowels®!

The first word, dive poses no problem at all, as Mommy E® is doing just what she should, which is  in telling i (who's one letter away) to say his name! However, in the other words— give, active and live — Mommy E® is just "too tired to care," as sometimes mommies are! Which is why sometimes,  she'll just sit back and let the vowels do whatever they want... because even moms aren't perfect!
It's words like these that require kids to put on their "Dr. Hat" and think-through to the next most likely sound!

Secret Stories® Phonics—  Reading Sight Words, Not Memorizing Them!

-old (as in: bold, cold, mold, etc...)
This one's easy, with the only possible glitch being that the letter o is making its long (Superhero) sound instead of the short and lazy one it's supposed to when Mommy E® or the Babysitter Vowels®´aren't around. Even still, simply encouraging learners to "think like doctors" and trying the next most likely sound for o will enable them to get the word.


-olt (as in: bolt, molten, revolt, etc..)
Same as above.  

-ank (as in: bank, sank, ankle, etc...)
Same as above.  
Secret Stories® Phonics—  Superhero Vowels®
Superhero O and his "short and lazy" disguise!

-ost (as in: cost, post, lost, most, etc...)
Same as above, as o should short and lazy, since there is no Mommy E® or Babysitter Vowel® in sight, so again, learners need to "think like doctors" and try both sounds to be sure, just like any good word doctor would do.

-ind (as in: kind, windy, find, Indian, etc...)
Same as above.  

-ild (as in: mild, wild, child, build, mildew, etc...)
Same as above.  

-onk (as in: honk, bonkers, donkey, monkey, etc..)
This is like those above, with the exception of words like monkey, in which the short o can sound more like short u. Rather than having to "hire another cook" for our kitchen,  there is actually a handy trick called "Thinking Vowels—Head-Bop" that takes care of this, as well as other seemingly non-decodable sight words, like: come, of, was, love, some, does, above, etc... You can read  about it here!

Secret Stories® Phonics— "Head-Bop" Trick for Fickle Vowels/ Easy Sight Word Reading
The "Head-Bop" Trick for Thinking Vowels

While we have a trick for the words above, every now and then,  kids will need to use a little more elbow grease to "bend" the letter sounds and "get" the word. Practicing is very helpful and can actually be a lot of fun, and a great way to do it is to read the books Hungry Thing and Hungry Thing Returns by Jan Slepian and Ann Seidler"What else could it be? What else can I try?" 

-unk (as in: bunk, chunk, dunk, etc...)
No secrets needed, as the letters are doing exactly what they should!

-ink (as in: sink, blink, drink, etc...)
One of my favorite Secrets is I tries E on for Size, and it's all that's needed to explain why i will sometimes make e's sound instead of his own!

Secret Stories® Phonics— "I tries E on for size"
Secret Stories® "I tries E on for Size"
-ture (as in: future, mature, lecture, etc...)
This one's easily taken care of with the ER, IR & UR- Secret, as the t just makes its regular sound, and like some of the other patterns above, Mommy E® is just hanging out at the end, doing nothing!

Secret Stories® Phonics— ER IR UR
Secret Stories® ER, IR, UR



-stle (as in: wrestle, castle, jostle, listless, etc...)
As mentioned earlier in this post, this pattern occurs too infrequently to mandate having another cook in our kitchen.  And even though Mommy E® is at the end, she isn't interfering with how the word is sounded out, as she's too far away to reach the vowel and make it say its name, anyway. And as for the silent t, even if learners did include it when sounding out the word, they should still be able to "get" (recognize) the word. It really doesn't take much deductive reasoning (even for kinders!) to sound out a word like castle (with the t-sound) and be able to figure out that the word is actually castle (without the t sound)


Fostering this fluid and flexible thinking about letters and the sounds they make is what helps to  transform daily reading and writing into a playground of critical thinking and deep learning opportunities! And while the kids enjoy seeing the Secrets work, they have much MORE fun playing word doctor when they don't— trying to figure out what else the letters might are doing and how best to tackle them! And as the more they engage, the more powerful they feel when working with text, and the more their confidence grows across the instructional day! they  over text grows by the day,

This is easy to see when watching these first graders at work, trying to account for why the i is long in words like light, right and fight, when there is no Mommy E® or Babysitter Vowel® there to make it say its name!  (This clip of Mrs. Mac's class is one of my favorites!)



Former early grade teacher turned Harvard University Neuroscientist, Dr. Mary Helen Immordino-Yang sums up what is evident in the short video clip above, which is that, "It is neurobiologically impossible to think deeply about things you don't care about."  These kids really care! Not about long and short vowels, but about mommies, babysitters, vacations, the behavior of other kids, etc... all of which are woven into the Secret that they are passionately debating in the word light.  

Secret Stories® Phonics— Apathy to Engagement

Now for the final part of Laura's question regarding what books are best to use with Secret Stories®. That one's easy— anything and everything! Books, magazines, posters, road signs, cafeteria menus, logos, etc.... literally everything with text is fair game! 

The daily course of your instruction will dictate much of what kids are reading and writing each day, as Secrets are introduced in context of daily instruction across the course of the entire instructional day— whenever and wherever they are needed! From hallway signs to cafeteria menus to math books, Secrets are everywhere, just waiting to be discovered! 

                                       

Secrets are easily introduced and reinforced with any text, and are especially helpful during guided reading. I have created a limited set of Secret Stories® Guided Readers to help teachers when working with guided groups and helping learners use the Secrets to decode text. These are especially helpful as they include an additional version with the Secrets in the text to help build learners' visual acuity for easier pattern recognition, as well as teacher notes for added insights (similar to those made in this post) to help guide teachers through the process of helping learners when decoding trickier words.  It's as if I were sitting right beside you and your students at the guided reading table! :-)

Secret Stories® Phonics Guided Readers
Access the Complete Set in the Guided Reader Description 

Until Next Time,
Katie :-)

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