Saturday, August 13, 2016

Beginning Readers and Breathing Underwater

"Beware of the stories you'll read or tell; subtly, at night, beneath the waters of consciousness, they are altering your world."   

                                                                                                                                       —Ben Okra     
Can you breathe underwater?
The correct answer is no.

But what if you lived in a world where breathing underwater was possible? 
Then the correct answer would be yes. 

In other words, both answers are right, depending on the context.

Traditionally, the idea of teaching complex, phonemic skills to early grade, beginning learners would be considered developmentally inappropriate—a position with which I would have to agree. 

Giving them however, is a completely different story! 
By wrapping skills up into stories, we can give them what can’t be taught. 

Stories pose no developmental harm, nor are they age or grade-specific, as learners naturally take away only what is personally meaningful and relevant to them, without any expectations. In this way, the reading and writing code is transformed into 'skill-drenched' golden nuggets, buried within familiar and easy-to-remember stories, allowing learners to become their own "gate-keeper" of skills. 

And herein lies the power of the SECRET STORIES® as a backdoor delivery method for the totality of skills that all readers and writers need, but traditionally cannot have—not until they are “ready.”

So hold your breath and prepare to dive into a new way of thinking about what we do and why we do it, and in no time, you and your students will be breathing underwater! 
To kick off the new school year, I've posted a free 36 page SECRET STORIES® Reward/Incentive Bucks pack, which even includes a student purse and wallet for safe-keeping of students "secret" earnings! Inside the pack, you will find information on how it may be used with the SECRET STORIES® in the classroom. You can grab it by clicking here or on the link, below.
Free SECRET STORIES® Reward/Incentive Bucks
For more on the SECRET STORIES® as a backdoor delivery method, via the brain's affective learning domain, you can check out these previous posts, here and here. I will also be posting a new video vlog on this topic in the next couple of weeks on the YouTube Channel, so stay tuned!

And should you need a bit of inspiration, or just some new ideas for hanging your SECRET STORIES® posters in your classroom this year, check out this popular post on Posting Posters!
If you've never tried the SECRETS, you can download a free preview pack here.
Thanks so much for reading, and I hope to meet many more of you at conferences and school/district in-services throughout this coming school year–one of which I am the most excited about, being the Vulnerable Readers Summits (below promo from 2015) in cities across the US and Canada through 2017!
The Vulnerable Readers Summit Series through 2017
Until Next Time,
Katie Garner


Saturday, March 12, 2016

Not Just Simple Sight Word-Readers... but "Crack-Those-Words-Wide-Open" Readers!!!

When kids learn the Secret Stories®, there's a brief period of time during which they are almost in shock that they can suddenly read and write. I use the word suddenly because having acquired so many skills so quickly, it's as if they were literally 'transformed' overnight into readers and writers! 

Once they figure out that they hold the keys (a.k.a. Secrets™) to unlock any door (a.k.a. word) they are in shock! It usually takes about a week or two for them to fully convince themselves that they actually are readers! Not just simple sight word readers, but the "crack-that-word-wide-open" kind of readers!

They view all those tricky words in text as if they were mountains that they can barely wait to climb! And as their teacher, my job is to keep those keys coming... while simultaneously providing them with lots of rich, text experiences upon which they can practice wielding their newly attained, SECRET™ powers! 
Transforming Phonics Skill Instruction 
Into a Virtual "Playground" for Critical Thinking!
I ran across this study done by Stanford University a few days ago and thought that it belonged in this post! The excerpt below was taken directly from the SECRET STORIES® Facebook Page, and you can access the article in its entirety using the link at the bottom.

Sight Words....Friend or Foe? 
And the research says???
  • "Don't MEMORIZE what you can actually READ!" 

    Research shows that teaching kids to sound out words sparks more optimal brain circuitry than instructing them to memorize them. In other words, don't MEMORIZE what you can READ!

    And for kids who know the phonics "secrets" (a.k.a. the Secret Stories) almost ALL of the most common "Dolch" sight words can be easily read... even by kindergartners! (see "Sight Words Go to Jail" on YouTube)
  • But for kids who don't know the Secrets™, memorization is the only option, as they won't know all of the phonics patterns until second grade. Plus, many believe that kids will be able to recognize the sight words faster than they could read them.

    So here's what the research says...
    "Beginning readers who focus on letter-sound relationships, or phonics, instead of trying to learn whole words, increase activity in the area of their brains best wired for reading, according to new Stanford research investigating how the brain responds to different types of reading instruction. This is the first evidence that a specific teaching strategy for reading has direct neural impact. In other words, to develop reading skills, teaching students to sound out "C-A-T" sparks more optimal brain circuitry than instructing them to memorize the word "cat." And, the study found, these teaching-induced differences show up even on future encounters with the word. As the field of educational neuroscience grows, however, both brain researchers and educational researchers can improve their understanding of how instructional strategies can best be harnessed to support the brain changes that underlie the development of learning, he added...."

    You can access the entire study here.
    • This is such important information for all teachers, so please SHARE with your teacher-friends on FaceBook by clicking the 'CLOSE' button below, and then sharing it on your page :)smile emoticon

    I'm Renee McAnulty (aka "Mrs. Mac") and if you've read my very first guest post on Katie's blog, you may remember that I teach first grade at a Title I school in California with a very high ESL population. 

    That year I literally felt as if I were drowning.
    I had...
    -33 first graders, 24 of which were BOYS!
    -18 of my 33 were FAR below grade level (as per DRA Testing)
    -6 of the 18 knew NO letter sounds or sight words
    I had exactly 11 students functioning on grade level!!!!!
    (And I hadn't yet discovered Secret Stories®)

    But now, more than two years later, boy have things have changed!
    I still teach at the same school and our population is the same, but the level at which the kids are now coming into first grade is through the roof, as our kindergarten teachers have started using the SECRET STORIES® too... and what a difference it makes! 
    (You imagine where my firsties start now! :)

    So with that in mind, here are my little firsties, totally rocking this THIRD grade book!
    (The best part is little Landon (around the middle of the clip) who refuses to give up trying to decode the word "necessities" and applies all of his SECRET™powers to decode it... his proud little face says it all!)

    My Firsties Rocking this 3rd Grade Book!

    Now, to re-wind a bit, here's a clip from way back showing one way we honed our SECRET powers that wasn't with text, but with music! 

    Watching it, you can see how easy it is for all of the kids to remember even the trickiest phonics patterns and sounds. And take note that there is NO 'auto-pilot' singing going on here! The kids are actually mimicking the same processes they go through when decoding and encoding, but faster, and without the effort!

    As Katie likes to say, "music is the glue for building skill-automaticity!"

    Singing Sneaky Y™ Sounds with our Porta-Pics

    Writing's just like Reading....only BACKWARDS! 

    And because reading and writing are inextricably linked, I wanted to also share the reflection of our reading ability, which is our writing! Now for those who've read last year's guest post about Sparkle the Elf, she returned this year up to her old tricks, and the kids loved her just as much!

    For unfamiliar with last year's shenanigans, the Gingerbread Kids continued their bullying of poor Sparkle, and she finally had enough and ended up biting their heads off (literally!) Of course, the biting of others' heads is against the school rules, and so our principal had to give Sparkle a referral, which 'sparked' the following desperately written (aka "persuasive writing") pleas from our firsties.

    Here are just a few of the requests to our principal for leniency...
    "I'm making an inference of what Sparkle might say..."
    "The gingerbread men have been tying her up for years..."

    "I will never eat your friends again..."
    "Do you KNOW what the Gingerbread Kids did to her?"
    "Please don't send her to the North Pole and please don't torture her!"
    "She is in my family. Please give her one more change!"
    "She watches us to see if we're doing our work"

    "She was like, 'Thank you for saving me!'"
    "I infer that Sparkle tried to warn us..."
    "I know Sparkle made a bad choice, but I hope you will let her go..."
    "She brought us books to make us better writers."

    Just remember, it's our "SECRET™!"

    A Guest Post by Mrs. Mac 

    A special thanks to Mrs. Mac and all of YOU wonderful teachers (and 

    parents!) who are currently reading about how to help your KIDS read, right now on this blog! I hope that you will enter this extra special giveaway for a free SECRET STORIES® Porta-Pics Pack OR Dual-Use Placard Set through the Rafflecopter, below.
    SECRET STORIES® Porta-Pics (Set of 25)
    SECRET STORIES® Dual-Use Placards
    Aside from following the blog, all other entries are optional, with each one increasing the odds of winning. The highest-point value entry (worth 5 points!) is to post a picture on FacebookTwitter  or Instagram from your classroom (or home, if you're a parent) showing, sharing, telling, reading, writing, or acting-out the Secrets™!  

    And for those who don't already have the SECRET STORIES®, you download this Secret™ Sampling for free so that you can start posing with your kids for those pictures!

    Free SECRET STORIES® Sampling Pack
    a Rafflecopter giveaway

    For  Special "Secrets" & Free Download Offerings, Follow Below!


    Saturday, February 20, 2016

    Too Many Cooks in the Phonics-Kitchen!

    Dear Katie,
    I have been a Reading Specialist for thirty years, as well as adjunct professor at Concordia University. I have enjoyed great success with the Secret Stories, and my first through fifth grade students have had such an easy time mastering them.  

    Have you ever thought about adding more Secrets?  I have some super ideas for let's say the two sounds of ch? Ch likes to make noises like a train and a choir singing. 

    We need some Secret Stories for:

    And, finally what about some real books to accompany the Secret Stories? 
    Laura B., Reading Specialist
    And attached were the following letters from her students...
    "We enjoyed the Secret Stories. This is my favorite, it is CH."
    From Chole

    "We had fun learning the Secret Stories. Can you write (more) stories?
    My favorite is TH. "  Ella 

    First of all, I LOVE these kinds of questions, so thank you to Laura, Chloe 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 traditional "teacher-thinking" about phonics skills, and reading instruction, in general.

    First off, the ch-SECRET™
    Why is there a Secret™ for the ch-sound in the word choo-choo, but not one for the sound ch makes in the word choir? 
    The answer is simple!  
    It's because the sound that ch makes in the word choir is an anomaly. It's atypical. It is not a pattern and therefore does not necessitate adding another "cook in the kitchen!" (i.e. another "phonics rule")

    The original spelling of the word choir was actually "quyre" but was later changed to a more modern-appearing spelling. It's funny that the original spelling is so much more decodable!

    Unlike with traditional phonics books and manuals, my rule-of-thumb when creating the SECRET STORIES® was to provide logical explanations (i.e. "secrets") for letters/letter patterns not making the sounds that they should, at least 5 times or more in text, as less than five times would not be perceived by the brain as a pattern.

    Patterns occurring with the frequency of at least five times or more, however, do prompt the brain's inherent need to "pattern-out" (i.e. make sense of) the information, and therefore, would require logical explanations to do so.

    Filtering often unnecessary and arbitrary phonics rules in this way not only ensures that there aren't "too many cooks in the kitchen" (i.e. too many phonics rules to learn) but more importantly, that we always have our eye on the ball when it comes to WHY these skills are taught in the first place! They are simply a means to an end, and that end is reading for meaning and writing for a purpose!

    That said, with regard to just the hard C sound, as in words like: school, Christmas, character, ache, schedule, stomach, monarch, conch, etc... Laura may have a point, and a second, 'default' option to the existing ch-Secret™ may actually be merited! While not many, there are more than five! 

    In the meantime, an ideal Secret™strategy is to remind learners to always try all possible sounds for the letters in question, which in this case, are c and/or h. Letter sounds are like apples, in that they tend to never fall too far away from the tree (i.e. stray too far from the sounds they should make, as per their individual and Secret™ sounds ).

    By keeping this fact in mind, learners are quickly able to effectively "work through the options" for each letter, stretching their analytical thinking beyond just the Secrets™!  For example, they could try both the hard and soft c sounds, which in the case of the words above, the hard c sound (as in cat) would have worked. Had it not, however, they could have then tried the same thing with the h. With every attempt to re-attack the word, they are working their way through all possible options, until they have exhausted every possible sound (both individually and with Secrets™) that the letters in question, can make.

    It's a game of critical analysis and diagnostic thinking that takes the form of "What else can it be? What else can we try?" much like the process that doctors work through when trying to diagnose symptoms that don't always "present" in the way that they should. I love finding opportunities in text for learners to engage in this type of thinking, as it's the epitome of thinking outside of the box, which is only possible when you first know everything that's IN it- which with the Secrets™, they do!
    SECRET STORIES® Phonics-Secrets!

    Now, let's attack that list of potential "new" Secrets™and see if we DO need to "add a few more cooks (i.e. phonics secrets) to the kitchen!"

    First up-
    -dge  (as in ridge, sludge, budget, etc...)
    If kids know the ce, ci, cy/ ge, gi, gy Secret™ then the addition of the letter d should pose no problems, even if they initially try to read the word with the d-sound included. They will still be able to get the word. Therefore, creating a new "secret" for the dge-sound would result only in our having one more unnecessary cook in the kitchen! 
    And if you're wondering about the Mommy e™ at the end possibly posing a problem... no worries, as by the time learners notice her, they will have already read the word (plus, there's no vowel there for her to yell at, anyway!)

    Now that's not to say that it wouldn't be helpful for learners to have an awareness of this common spelling pattern, especially at the upper elementary grades where spelling proficiency is often required. Research shows, however, that experience is, by far, the best teacher, which is why (especially with early grade learners) the easiest way to fine-tune spelling is by reading, and knowing the Secrets™ ensures that they're equipped with everything they need to get that experience!

    Next up, 
    -tch (as in: scratch, itch, crutch, etc...)
    Same as above.  
    If learners know the ch-Secret™, then their initial attack with the t-sound just before it won't interfere with their ability to ultimately decode the word, even for kindergartners (and I can attest to this fact, as it's where I spent the majority of my teaching career!)

    -que (as in: question, delinquents, frequency, queen, etc...)
    Knowing the qu-Secret™ is all that's needed, as aside from that, the e just makes its regular, old sound. And if learners know about Mommy e™ and the Babysitter Vowels™ they will also be able to easily identify whether e will be making her long (Superhero Vowel™) sound OR her short & lazy one! (And keep in mind that the SECRET STORIES® don't apply to non-English words, like bouquet, applique, etc...) 

    -ive (as in: dive, give, active, lives, etc...)
    Even though Mommy e™ is right there, she'll sometimes just sit back and let the vowel do whatever it wants (even mom's aren't perfect!) which is why learners should be encouraged to "think like doctors" and always try a vowel's next most likely sound!
    SECRET STORIES® Mommy e™
    -old (as in: bold, cold, mold, etc...)
    This one's easy, as no "secrets" are even needed! All of the letters just make their regular, old sounds. The only possible issue is that the o is making his long (Superhero Vowel™) sound, rather than his short & lazy one, despite no Mommy e™ or Babysitter Vowels™ in sight!  Even still, "thinking like a doctor" and trying o's next most likely sound makes it easy to get the word.

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

    -ank (as in: bank, sank, ankle, etc...)
    Same as above.  

    -ost (as in: cost, post, lost, most, etc...)
    Same as above, but because the o in -ost can be either long OR short, learners must again "think like doctors" and try both....just like any good "Word-Doctor" would do!
    (making his Superhero Vowel™ sound & his 'short-n-lazy' sound) 
    -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," it's much easier to simply teach learners how to "bend" vowels, when necessary, when a word doesn't sound quite right. A great tool for practicing this is the book Hungry Thing, by Jan Slepian and Ann Seidler, as well as the sequel, The Hungry Thing ReturnsListening to these stories, kids are able to practice trying to figure out what the words are that the "Hungry Thing" is trying to say. It's the perfect tool to fine-tune their powers of deduction when it comes to decoding text, as it encourages a more flexible "What else can it be? What else can I try?" approach to sounding out words.

    -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 is needed to explain why sometimes has a tendency to make e's sound instead of his own!
    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!
    -gn (as in: gnaw, gnat, gnarly, etc...)
    Now while this one might seem to be "Secret-worthy," as it could be easily lumped in with the kn, wr & mb-Secret™, the words in which its contained are, for the most part, just too uncommon to make its inclusion worthwhile.  So while it does officially meet the 'five times or more' threshold, it would still be another unnecessary cook in the kitchen!  
    -rh (as in: rhetoric, rhythm, rhyme, etc...) 
    Same as above.  

    -stle (as in: wrestle, castle, jostle, listless, etc...)
    While this pattern is slightly more common than those above, it's still in very few words that beginning readers are likely to come across, so again it's a matter of not adding another cook to an already too crowded kitchen.

    Here again, Mommy e™ is easy enough to ignore, and as for any concern that by making the sound for t, learners would be unable to figure out the word, I say, give them the benefit of the doubt!  It really doesn't take too much deductive reasoning (even for kindergartners!) to attempt to sound out a word like castle (with the t-sound) and figure out that the word is castle (without the t sound). Learners' ability to "work around" such issues establishes yet another litmus test for determining whether or a not a Secret™ is needed, and in this case, it's not.

    Fostering a fluid and flexible thinking about letters and the sounds they make can transform daily reading and writing skill instruction into a virtual playground for critical-analysis and deep, diagnostic thinking!  

    Plus, kids are excited to figure out what letters are doing, and why they're doing it! The power they gain over text grows by the day, and so does their confidence! 

    But what really excites them most is when letters DON'T do what they should! They thrive on the challenges presented by having to think outside the box and work through all the options when working with text!  

    And as for the final part of Laura's great question, with regard to "real books" to accompany SECRET STORIES® instruction, I always recommend just that...... REAL books!  

    Unlike scoped & sequenced phonics "programs" that divvy-out just bits and pieces of phonics skills over multiple grade level years, the SECRET STORIES® are shared in-context of daily instruction and across all content areas... whenever and wherever learners are engaging with text....even a cafeteria lunch menu offers new Secret™opportunities!  And the result of sharing the Secrets™ on a need-to-know basis, is that learners can apply them to whatever text is at-hand, including "real books!"  

    Now that's not to say that breaking things down into smaller pieces, like in guided group time, isn't even more ideal, especially for assessment purposes. And for such purposes, there are guided reader sheets in the back of the SECRET STORIES® book, as well as a new digital series of SECRET STORIES® Guided Readers, to which I will be continue adding new titles. These readers are especially helpful as they not only spotlight specific Secret™ patterns in the text, but they also contain trouble-shooting dialogue (much like what's in this post) where needed, so it's as if I were at the guided reading table alongside you and your students!  

    (And through the end of this month, the SECRET STORIES® Guided Reader, Like a Snowball is FREE, so be sure to grab it now!)
    SECRET STORIES Guided Readers
    On a different note, but equally important note, I received the email from the mom of an adorable little boy who had been diagnosed with high functioning autism. Her frustration and despair was heartfelt, and her words really struck a chord in me, both as a mom and as a teacher, and so with her permission, I wanted to share it here.

    Hi Katie,
    My son is in grade two and is not reading. He has a diagnosis of high functioning autism. When I asked my son’s doctor last week what I could do to help my son with reading, the doctor said, “He has autism, he might never read.” It feels that I am getting the same message from his school.

    I struggled in school with a severe learning disability. The learning disability was not discovered until I was in grade 8. I spent many years, sitting in classrooms and not knowing what was going on. When I was diagnosed in grade 8, my parents were told I was "mentally retarded” and that I would never be able to succeed in the local public school.

    My son told me that he sits in class and just looks at his work sheets for the entire class. I have spent many nights googling different ways to teach my son to read. I am a single mother and it seems hard sometimes not to have another person to share my worries with.
    I just stumbled upon your method yesterday and I printed out some of your stories and read them to my son and showed him the pictures. He remembered the sounds right away.

    I have been watching your videos on YouTube and they have been unbelievable. This is the first time in along time that I have felt extremely hopeful.

    About one month later...

    Hi Katie,
    I can't thank you enough for your book. My son has started reading!
    He loves the Secret Stories. He thanked me last night for getting the Secret Stories for him.

    Last night, I asked him to read the word "cookie" using what he learned from the Secret Stories. His first response was, "I can't read such a big word."

    I told him to try.
    He sounded out the word right away.
    He then said, "Mommy, I read the word cookie! I can't believe I read such a big word!"

    Katie, your program is unbelievable.
    It really should be used in all schools to teach kids reading.

    PS My son loves drawing in his sketch book. He brought the Secret Stories with him to swimming and was drawing and practicing the stories before his class.  Here is a picture of him sketching the secrets in sketch book.

    And here's a wonderful picture of this adorable little guy with his "secret" sketchbook" at swim practice!  
    Apparently, ER, IR, UR-Secret™  is his favorite SECRET STORY!
    For teachers, it just doesn't get any better than this.
    Although this last one comes close, as it's from an actual kiddo!

    It was written by a second grade ESE student in South Carolina to his literacy coach, Sheila Smith (with whom I'll be presenting institutes and sessions at next week's SCIRA Conference in Hilton Head) and she'd forwarded it to me, knowing that I would appreciate it as much as she did. And for all those who share the Secrets™with their students, I know you will, as well!
    "I am thankful for (your) teaching me about words and Secret Stories
    and words that don't follow the rules..."
    (from a 2nd grade ESE student to his reading 'pull-out' teacher)

    And since it's been a while since my last post, I thought a giveaway might be in order, so be sure to enter the Rafflecopter Drawing for the latest SECRET STORIES® Classroom version, the NEW Space-Saver Kit!
    SECRET STORIES® Space-Saver Kit
    Identical to the Original and Fun & Funky Class Sets, the SECRET STORIES® Space-Saver Kit comes with smaller, placard-size posters, ideal for smaller-sized classrooms! These have been so popular that they've been hard to keep them in-stock, but I was able to snag one for this giveaway before they were gone!

    Here's how to enter:
    1. Follow me on Twitter 
    2. Follow the SECRET STORIES® on Facebook
    3. Follow this blog and leave a comment below to confirm that you are :)

    a Rafflecopter giveaway

    PS  In addition to presenting at the South Carolina Reading Conference on the 25th/26th this coming week,  I'll also be presenting two workshops at the California Gifted Conference in Palm Springs on Saturday the 27th. If anyone is planning to attend either, please let me know, as I would love to meet up :)

    Thanks so much for reading, and until next time...
    Katie Garner
    For more on the Secrets™ and other brain-based teaching topics,  just 'click & follow' below!