Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Skip the Bus and Catch the Merry-Go-Round!

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Does it ever feel like every day is a new day in Johnny's head?
What I mean is, have you ever spent an entire week teaching something, only to have some kids look at you like they have NEVER seen it before on the following Monday? With so much to cover in so little time, teachers have to ensure that what they teach actually sticks.
Imagine that you are a bus driver and that the skill you are teaching is a stop along your route. Some kids make it to the stop in time to catch the bus. Others do not and so they are left behind. So what happens when kids miss the bus? Will there be another one coming up behind it for them to catch? And what if they're still not ready? How many more chances will they have to get on board?

Now, instead of a bus driver, imagine that you are a merry-go-round operator, and imagine that the skill you are teaching is one of the manypretty little horses on the merry-go-round that just keeps on spinning, around and around. Opportunities to jump on are not only plentiful, but ongoing, as it's literally impossible to "miss" the merry-go-round!
Consider this same "merry-go-round" analogy as a framework for what brain science says helps to make memories stick, which is to provide spaced repetition at designated intervals (below) so that the new information "keeps coming back around" and can be successfully transferred into learners' long-term memory. Once there, it will be their's forever—never to be forgotten, nor subject to the "summer-slide!"
Skills that are traditionally introduced in a linear fashion over multiple grade level years (like letter sounds and phonics patterns) can be the most challenging to "bake" with this recipe. With so many skills to cover, so little time to teach them, and so many students not developmentally ready to learn in kindergarten, teachers are often having to reinforce skills that many learners don't even have.
If preK or kindergarten teachers introduce a letter of the week, what happens when a student is out sick for "D" week? Worse yet, what if he is out for two weeks and misses both "D" and "E" weeks? What if he isn't developmentally ready for kindergarten and barely picks up any of the letter sounds introduced all year?
Will the first grade "bus" have time to circle back around through each of those individual letter sounds "stops" missed in kinder? If it does, will it be at the expense of being able to make all of the first grade stops—th, sh, ch, ph, wh, gh, etc..? As he gets further and further behind having missed so many stops, how will he compensate for all of those skills he didn't get? Will he just memorize more sight words to make up for the sound sound skills that he doesn't have?
When it comes to reading and writing and the skills kids need to do it, this conversation becomes even more critical. Traditionally, the "code" needed to read and write (the individual letter soundsblendslong and short vowel "triggers" (Mommy e® & Babysitter Vowels®Sneaky Y®digraphs, vowel combinations, etc....) are "chopped up and divvied-out" for formal introduction across preK to 2nd grade, which means that kids cannot afford to miss even ONE bus along the way, not if they're going to be done with "learning to read" by the end of second grade and begin "reading to learn" in third. Closing the distance on all of those "missed stops" (i.e. skills) in such a short amount of time is very difficult and rarely happens. Instead, kids learn to compensate for all of those "holes" in their skill ability by memorizing even more sight words and doing more guessing. They then carry those gaping holes with them into the upper grade levels, where they become stuck on the instructional hump between learning to read and reading to learn.
Skills this important must be banned from the bus! They belong on the merry-go-round, and if you are using Secret Stories® to underscore your existing reading curriculum and instruction, then the merry-go-round is already spinning round and round in your classroom, even though you probably never noticed it! Each time you tell or retell a Secret, you are giving your kids, yet another chance to jump on. Every time you ask if there is a Secret in a word they are trying to read, or if they hear a Secret sound in a word they can't spell, that merry-go-round is spinning... solidifying the "deep-in-the-gut" level of skill-ownership for those already on it, and continuously coming back around for those who aren't quite ready to hop on. Sharing Secret Storties® in your classroom makes it impossible for anyone to miss the boat (or bus!) because the Secrets just keep coming back— shared and re-shared, told and re-told, used and re-used as kids read and write across all content areas throughout the entire instructional day.

"The Secrets are the 'life-blood of our classroom, always within reach and ready for use, whenever and wherever they are needed" (Thank you, Tara Settle, for that great description!)
The spaced repetition and staggered reinforcement that the research shows makes skills stick happens naturally. It's not intentional, but automatic, and it continues at each subsequent grade level as Secrets are shared, when needed. The code doesn't change, only the text level to which it is applied, so while kindergartners may need the Babysitter Vowels® "secret" to crack words like going or making, struggling, upper grade learners may use it to crack bigger words, like hibernating or migration. That merry-go-round just keeps on spinning providing ongoing and never-ending opportunities for all kids to hop on when they are ready. And hop on, they will, because letter sounds and phonics patterns are no longer skills they have to learn, but "secrets" they WANT to know!
There are so many things that great teachers just naturally do that are instinctive, and I love it when the brain science can shed light on WHY those instincts are spot on! When we understand the science behind the things we do that work so well, we become empowered to take them even further— making them work better, stronger and faster! (Think "Bionic Man!") Those who know about and understand how to in their classrooms are able to better hone their best teaching tools to perfection!
If you would like to dive deeper into the research behind the Secret Stories® and targeting phonics instruction to the affective (social emotional) learning networks for accelerated access to the code, you can download the newly-released, white paper by Dr. Jill Buchan, here. Dr. Jill Buchan is also the author of the 2 Sisters Daily CAFE / Daily5 white paper.
Secret Stories Reading Phonics White Paper Research
Finally, I want to let everyone know that I have dragged myself out of my comfort zone to learn about and become more active on Instagram. If you're already on Instagram, you can find me @TheSecretStories, and if you're not, you can get started with me! I've learned (and posted!) there every day over this past week, and have really enjoyed the more personal level of engagement and interaction that Instagram offers. I will continue to post there daily (cuz it's a lot easier than composing a semi-well worded email— Lol!) sharing the latest research, live videos, YOURS and other teachers classroom pics and vids, as well as some behind-the-scenes conference and PD fun!

My hope is to create a special space where we can communicate, collaborate, grow and share as a Secret Stories® tribe, as well as continue discussions started in emails like this one. I really hope that you will join me! (And if you do, be sure to use the hashtag #SecretStoriesReading and #BrainRead in your post or comment, as I am planning a special surprise for later this week!)
With Warmest Regards Until Next Time,
Katie :-)
PS I will be doing multiple featured sessions at the Michigan Reading Conference next weekend, and the North Carolina Reading Conference the weekend after that, followed by the Montana State Title I Conference, where I'll be doing a morning keynote and multiple breakouts. And if you would like to check out my spring/summer speaking dates, or schedule a school or district PD/workshop, just click here.

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Secret Stories® makes use of muscle memory for individual letter sound mastery in just 2 weeks to 2 months, while simultaneously targeting phonics skill instruction to the earlier-developing, affective (social emotional) "feeling" domain for accelerated learner-access to code and increased momentum in both reading and writing.
Secret Stories Reading Phonics
Try a "taste" of the Secrets with YOUR class and see the difference they make!
Click for the FREE Secret Stories® Mini-Pack!
Never miss a Secret!  Join the Secret Stories® tribe by subscribing to my newsletter! 
Katie Garner Educational Keynote and Featured Speaker and Literacy Consultant Website

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Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The Secret Stories® Classroom Kits vs. the Supplemental "Digital" Resources on TpT

Hi there!
Secret Stories® Subscribers— Check your inbox for 2 FREE DOWNLOAD WINDOWS just posted!
For those who are not signed up to receive the Secret Stories® Newsletter & Freebies, you can do so by clicking here. You can also find the subscription box to the right of this blog post, or at the bottom of any page on the Secret Stories website.  After signing up, you should receive the newsletter within just a couple of minutes! 

Given the big TpT Sale, now seemed like the perfect time to post this commonly asked question about how the Secret Stories® Classroom Kits are different from the digital Secret Stories® products listed for sale on TpT, as many of you have probably wondered this, as well....

Dear Katie,
I am totally in L-O-V-E with my recently purchased kit of "The Secret Stories!" My K-5 intervention reading groups are absolutely reaping amazing rewards with this resource! I really wish that I had had it years ago. Okay, enough gushing... Here's my question:
Since I do have the classroom kit, which TpT resources would you recommend to supplement it? I am about to purchase the Guided Reader books available here, as well as "Sneaky Y's Secret!" Are there any others supplements that I might like to consider? 
Ideally, I'd love to see all supplements listed in one place—here or on your website/blog—so that I don't replicate parts of the full kit, but can purchase all of the additions to it. 
Thanks so much for any advice you can offer! :-)

So just in case you've been wondering the same thing, here's the scoop—
First and foremost, it's important to know that everything needed to successfully implement the Secret Stories® IS included in the classroom kits— the book, all of the posters and the musical practice CD, and that the complete classroom kits are only sold in hardcopy format on the Secret Stories® website. And if you're wondering what the difference between the three different kits— OriginalFun & Funky and Space Savers— it's simply the look and size of the posters. There are also some hardcopy supplements that teachers who use and love the Secret Stories® often get, which are the Dual-Use Placards (for hands-on manipulative use anywhere in the classroom) and the Porta-Pics (for portable use both at home as well as in the classroom). The only other important point here that I would like to make is that if you are a primary grade teacher (preK-2), go for the larger posters (as opposed to the space-savers) as your kids will be using referencing them constantly, and from everywhere in the classroom! For this reason, easy visual access is a must!
Secret Stories® "Fun & Funky" Classroom Kit
So now let's talk about the Secret Stories® on TpT...
All of the Secret Stories® digital products on TpT are supplemental resources that serve one or more of three purposes:
1. Flexibility of size options of the core Secret Stories® graphics for multi-purpose use and reproducibility, via the digital format.  Whether you already have the classroom kit and want the added flexibility of owning these core pieces in a digital format, or if you've never tried the Secrets, but would like to test out some bits and pieces in your classroom— the following TPT products are ideal:
                                               FREE Secret Stories® Sampling
FREE Secret Stories Mini-Pack 
FYI—The "Headband Packs listed in #3 also offer the smaller size options and are ideal for home-sharing, although they are not listed in this section, as their primary purpose is to provide practice both decoding and encoding by turning the kids into manipulatives! Similarly, the Mini-Mats (in #2) and Sneaky Y's® Secret w/ Reading Puppet (#3) are also ideal for reproducible "home-sharing!")
2. A "ready-to-use" and "sound-accurate" alternative to a traditional classroom alphabet anchors. All too often when I visit classrooms, I see alphabet trains (or whatever you want to call the above-board alphabet display) that contain picture sound cues that are either completely inaccurate or that identify the least most-likely sound option (i.e. an orange or an oyster for the letter o, a xylophone for the letter x, etc...) The following products were created to solve this problem, as well as a couple of others!
Each set has the Secrets for the individual letter sound secrets (i.e. Superhero & Short & Lazy Vowel sounds, Sneaky Y® and QU) already embedded, along with accurate picture prompts for each sound a letter can make by itself (i.e. hard and soft G and C, 3 sounds of Y, etc...)  They also make for ideal references when singing the the Secret Stories® Better Alphabet Song— which teachers kids ALL of the possible sounds that the letters can make by themselves AND in the most likely order! And the vertical-display option is a life-saver when trying to keep up with thefast-paced Letter Runs while pointing to each letter as you sing its sound/sounds! (And the mini-mats are also ideal for home practice and use!)
3. Provide for authentic, targeted practice of the Secret Stories® phonics patterns and sounds. In addition to enhancing learners' visual acuity to more quickly recognize the Secret Stores® patterns in text, the following products help learners to both see and understand how the Secrets can be applied to text to help them read and/or write words. These TpT products include: 
FREE Math Anchor Poster Set
FREE "Write Like They Read" Zoo Keeper Pack
And the Secret Stories® Guided Readers— 
Additionally, all of the Common Core Poster Sets (including the FREE Literacy Posters for PreK-3rd!) also contain Secret Stories® graphic references, where applicable, and the Science Sets are FREE, so be sure to check those out, as well! 

FREE Common Core Posters for Literacy!
FREE Science Posters for PK-3rd! (Click link and search for grade level needed)

I hope this helps to clarify the differences between the actual Secret Stories® Classroom Kits and the digital supplements that are offered on TpT! And now for some freebies!!!
And don't forget while doing your last-minute shopping tonight on TpT to download the free goodies that I've put in the "Free Download Window," as they'll be gone one the sale ends! You will see the links for them in your newsletter (see top of post if you missed this!)
Until Next Time,
Katie Garner :-)

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Friday, May 5, 2017

The "Head-Bop" Trick for Fickle Vowels!

"The Secret Stories are the life-blood of our classroom. They are always in view, always in our whole group and small group conversations. We couldn't read words without them. They are our best friends. They are the tools the students are taking with them to the next grade!"                                                                 — Tara Settle/1st Grade Teacher 
Kids who know the Secret Stories® are able to understand WHY the letters make the sounds that they do. For example, they know that the Superhero Vowels® have a power that no other letter in the alphabet has—they can "SAY THEIR NAMES!" (like "i" in hike or "a" in hate) But when they don't want to be recognized, they will hide in their "short and lazy" sound disguises (like "i" in hit or "a" in hat).  

Secret Stories Superhero Vowel® I 
(and his "short & lazy" sound disguise!)  
They also know the secret "triggers" that determine whether a vowel will most likely be long or short in a word, which are the close presence of  Mommy E® or the Babysitter Vowels®.  (To see how, click here or on the clip below from the Secret Stories® YouTube Channel)

But what about words where vowels just aren't making the sounds that they should? 
Well thanks to Tara Settle and her brilliant "head-bop" trick, we can become even better Word Doctors AND clear out some of the most frequent "sight word" offenders that clog up your Word Jail! 

So here is a brand new word doctor strategy to share with your kiddos....

Sometimes vowels just can't make up their minds what to do— "Should I be long? Should I be short? "Uhhhhhhhhh....?" and BOP! (this is where you bop yourself on the forehead with the palm of your hand, as if to say, "duh?!") And that's the sound you will hear vowels make in these (and more!) otherwise non-decodable sight words: of, was, some, done, want, from, again, nothing, brother, another, etc...

So now our Word Jail is transformed from this....

to this....
(Special thanks to Cathy Delaney for sending me this great pic of her Word Jail and Wardens!) 

So to Tara Settle, you and your kiddos are AWESOME word doctors to have identified this pattern that occurs in so many high frequency (non-decodable) sight words— which is that the vowel sound shifting to a schwa (or short u "uhhhh") sound—  Brilliant!

Good word doctors are prone to  "out-of-the-box" thinking, but in order to think outside the box, you have to first know what's IN it! And that's Secret Stories® do— equip learners with everything that's IN the box when it comes to the letters and all of the crazy sounds they can make so that they can easily think outside it when working their way through text.   (For more on how to get kids to think outside the box when working with unfamiliar text, click here or on the Youtube clip, below.)  

Luckily for us, Tara Settle's first graders (Settle On In) and her wonderful word doctor team could easily think "outside the box" because they knew what was in it, and while doing so, they developed this cutting-edge, diagnostic tool that all Word Doctors can now keep under their belts. It's technical name is the "Head-Bop," so named because prompting learners to use it is as easy as a "bop on the head," as   Mrs. Settle's word doctors can be seen demonstrating, below. 

For more Word Doctor tricks, click here!

Summertime is almost here!

Did you know that the summer is jam-packed with some of the most awesome teacher conferences?  It's true! And one of the best one of all is the International Literacy Association Conference in Orlando on July 15-17! 

For those who have never been, it's an incredible experience.  And for those who have, well you know how hard it can sometimes be to squeeze into the sessions that you reeeeeeallllly want to see— even just to sit on the floor, which teachers are usually more than happy to do! 

Unfortunately, those pesky fire marshals don't like floor-sitters too much, and will often ask them to leave, which is why I personally prefer to take cover underneath a nearby table cloth (and out of fire marshal view) if it's a session that I really want to hear and it's full.  Otherwise, I'll just hang outside of the session room door and strain to listen, which is a lot less fun! 

But for those planning to attend my session at ILA, I have great news! It's going to be in a BIG session room!!!  So, unlike last year, it's highly unlikely that you'll have to resort to hiding under a table cloth to get in!  If you would like session details or information on registering, click here.

Another great one is the National Charter School Conference on June 11-14 in  Washington, D.C., but don't let the name fool you, as this conference is great for ALL educators, not just those who work with charter schools. It's a big as ILA, but includes all subject areas, not just reading. And the best part (for me, anyway) is that my sessions are two and a half hours long instead of one...and there is a repeat for those unable to get into the first one, which means that once again, the chances of having your view obstructed by a table cloth is minimal! For more information on this conference, you can click here.

And while this one isn't a national conference, I want to mention it for all of my PK-2 teaching friends out there in South Dakota, as I'll be in Beresford for the South Dakota Kindergarten Academy June 19-22 for two 2-day workshops! (The first 2-day session is already full and the other is almost capped, so register now if you want to go!) You can obtain more information here, including how to get college credit for attending through the University of South Dakota.

And for those who just can't get away this summer, no worries! The National Title I Association brings the speakers to you with their Video On Demand series! There are so many amazing sessions, most all of which are FREE to watch!
You can view the highlights from my featured presentation at this year's 2017 National Title I here, or by clicking directly on the video, below.  The full-length presentation is available as part of Title I's subscription series, but you can view it free in its entirety here, along withlots of other video clips from conferences, school and district PD Workshopsvideo blogs and more on the Secret Stories® Youtube Channel.

That's all for now! 
So until next time... HAPPY "ALMOST" SUMMER!
Katie :-)

PS View the original "Head-Bop" post on the Secret Stories® Facebook and join the conversation!