Okay, so imagine that you are a first-year Morse Code Operator, newly-assigned to a Naval War Ship, and your job is to "decode" all incoming messages and relay them to the captain, as well as "encode" outgoing messages, as directed....
But there's a problem.
As you've only just begun the first in a 3-YEAR Morse Code Training Program, you've only learned one third of the code! How can you possibly be expected to accurately send and receive messages knowing just a THIRD of the code?!! How will you be able to account for all the sounds you haven't learned?
Should you omit them?
Or perhaps substitute them with the codes you do know?
Maybe you could just change the message entirely using just the parts of the code you already know?
It's a big sub. I like it. I like it so much. It's really fun.
I really really really like the big fun sub!
These are the common strategies employed by beginning and struggling readers and writers when attempting to work around all of the sound skills (i.e. phonics patterns and sounds) they don't know! And try as we might as their teachers, we simply cannot protect students from text containing letters/ letter patterns they haven't yet learned when reading.
Regardless of the fact that th is considered a first grade skill by traditional grade level scope & sequence, kindergartners will encounter this pattern over one hundred times on their very first day! It's on every page in every book...and practically in every sentence! (And don't even get me started on Sneaky Y™!)
Nor can we, as teachers, predict which letter sounds and/or phonics patterns beginning learners will need to know to spell the words they will want to write in the stories they want to tell. (A learner could theoretically search the alphabet chart a hundred times over and never find the 'letter' that makes the oy sound in the word toy).
And to compensate for what they "don't know/haven't learned" when writing, learners are likely to:
-delete the sounds/ letters they don't know in the words they want to write b)
-substitute letters/sounds they do know for those they don't
-alter what they want to write to what they already know how to write, so as to be able to spell/write it correctly (as shown in the repetitive kinder writing sample below).
Now lets take a look at some kindergarten writing samples, starting the first day of school, prior to knowing any "secrets" (Secret Stories®).
These first two kindergarten writing samples were from the 1st Day of School
*The next two are from mid-September (at approximately the '1-month' mark)
Students were given the written prompt- "In the Fall..."
(with verbal instructions to write what they like to do in the Fall)
*These next three are from mid-December
(Writing Prompt- "Why I Love the Holidays!")
*This next grouping is from the Spring (and yes, they ARE kinder! :)
*For more writing samples (or to view larger) CLICK HERE
(By this point, the kids know so many SECRET STORIES® that many were too long to post!)
It's ironic that many kindergartners can persevere through daily reading and writing activities for the better part of the year knowing only a handful of the 26 letters and sounds, and virtually NO phonemic patterns. Lack of skill-ownership makes even the richest literacy experiences a whole LOT harder and a lot less fun!
But it doesn't have to be this way, with kids "working harder, and not smarter!" (and I'm not just talking about kids, but teachers too!) Most would agree that beginning readers and writers (like beginning Morse Code Operators) would benefit from acquiring as much of the "code" as possible, as soon as possible!So why DO we spread teaching the "code" across three grade level years, from kindergarten to second grade? Traditional instruction dictates that students 'learn to read' in K-2 so that they can 'read to learn' in 3-5. And while this seems logical at the surface, if you dig a little deeper, the inherent flaws are obvious!
For those learners who struggle to acquire these critical skills at each grade level, it's common that they will begin third grade having not yet learned a good portion of the 'code' needed to read and write. They will effectively be stuck on the hump between learning to read and reading to learn, forced to do both simultaneously. Requiring already struggling-learners to draw inferences, make predictions and glean information from text (i.e. read to learn) while they are still struggling to acquire phonics patterns and sounds (i.e. learning to read) often results in what appears to be problems with comprehension. While comprehension difficulty may be the symptom observed, most often the true problem is skill-automaticity (i.e. forcing the brain to juggle two equally difficult and opposing tasks at the same time).
In addition, by stretching sound skill instruction through the end of second grade, learners are constantly having to work around / compensate for those skills they don't know or haven't yet learned. This void only minimizes the effectiveness and ultimate value of the daily text experiences that we, as teachers, work so hard to provide. More importantly, these 'holes' in skill ability lessen learners' enjoyment of reading and writing, as well as their desire to engage with text outside of the classroom.
However, while the 'idea' of teaching everything yesterday might seem ideal, it's also extremely overwhelming, to say the least! Especially since many early learners can't even seem to stay awake through lunch! Teaching abstract skills like letters and sounds to little 'concrete thinkers' can be a lot like herding cats! It can literally take forever and a day for some of the little guys to even be capable to recognizing the letter k!
So how then could it ever be possible to teach them everything simultaneously? The answer is, it's not! But we can GIVE them!!!
The Brain Develops 'Back-to-Front'
View more Interesting Brain-Bits on Pinterest!
Because our brains develop back to front, with the social emotive center coming on board first, and the higher-level processing centers (responsible for acquiring, storing, retrieving and manipulating letter sounds and patterns) being last to develop. Knowing this, we can use the brain's system for learning against itself, and begin working smarter instead of harder!
As shown in the diagram above, singing (i.e. any repetitive pitch, rhythm & intonation) is processed in the rear portion of our brains, which is why even very young and struggling learners are able to easily acquire skill content through song.
As teachers, we use music to teach as much as possible, especially at the early grade levels- the Months of the Year, Days of the Week, even the Fifty Nifty States- we sing them all! But what happens when a student is asked to name the month comes before July? What do they have to do to get the answer? They have to sing it... the whole entire song! And if they don't pay attention while they're singing, they'll likely have to repeat the process again and again before being able to provide an answer!
This is because skills that are "stored in song" are processed by the rear portion of our brain, and this area is capable only of storing information in 'whole-form' exactly as it went in, much like a 'read-only' disc. This more primitive area of our brain can easily replay or regurgitate content, but it cannot manipulate it (i.e. take it apart, twist it around, put it back together). It is the front portion, or executive area of the brain that processes information at this higher level- pulling things apart and putting them back together in new and different ways, as is required for reading and writing.
And this is why the traditional ABC Song is of no help to learners in acquiring letters and sounds!
Cheat the Brain & Change the Game!
Early learners are quickly and easily able to acquire all of the individual letters and sounds in approximately 2-weeks to 2-months by accessing motor/muscle memory (i.e. Body Intelligence/ James Asher) for skill retrieval, rather than having to rely on slower-to-develop cognitive processing abilities.
Using The Better Alphabet Song (track #1 on the Secret Stories CD) the individual letters and sounds can be given (not taught!) to even the youngest learners, acquiring skills with their lips, tongue and teeth, while circumventing the typically relied upon cognitive-processing channels for sound-skill retrieval!
Right about now your probably thinking...
"Wait a minute! I thought you said that music (i.e. singing) was NOT a good way to teach letters and sounds?"
True, but not if we cheat the system!
Knowing what we do about the brain's system for learning, we are able to stay one step ahead and take full advantage of what works (easy-access to skills by singing through muscle/ motor memory) while working around all of the pitfalls (auto-pilot singing/ inability to take apart and reconfigure song-content).
Information that is "stored in song" is instantly accessible by simply starting to sing, but as I explained on my VLOG, unlike traditional skill-based songs, with the Secret tories® Better Alphabet Song, learners do not have to sing through the entire song in order to get the sound they need for the letter they want to read or write!
Because we cheated by starting the tune over after every letter and effectively overriding the brain's system! By breaking the skill content apart into what are, effectively 26 mini-songs, learners are now able to sing/ retrieve the sound they need without having to start from the beginning. In this way, the letter names and all possible sounds for each (in the 'most-likely' order) literally ROLL off their tongues!
Pretty cool, huh?!
And by popular request, I've created a vertical Secret Stories® Alphabet Chart like the one I use in my VLOGS
(as seen below :)
Now, unlike other individual letter sounds, the short vowel sounds cannot be acquired using the muscle memory technique, given their close proximity to one another in both sound and production shape. With so little variation in muscle movement between them, it's not possible to rely on motor memory for retrieval. This is why we use "Secrets" to prompt their sounds instead. I'll talk more about the vowels (as well as Mommy E™ & Sneaky Y™!) in my next post, but if you can't wait, you can watch my VLOGS...
(And if you don't have the Secret Stories® Classroom Kit
(with the vowel cues & info) you can check out the
Utilizing body intelligence to bypass cognitive readiness and/ or processing ability allows all learners to acquire the individual letters and sounds quickly and easily, paving the way for simultaneously sharing the "Secrets!" This 'buffet-style' approach to literacy-skills and instruction accelerates learner momentum in both reading & writing by rapidly building-up an arsenal of tools that are easily retrieved and applied!
By utilizing body intelligence to bypass cognitive readiness and/ or processing ability, all learners can acquire individual letters and sounds quickly and easily, paving the way for simultaneously sharing the "Secrets!" This 'buffet-style' approach to literacy-skills and instruction accelerates learner momentum in both reading & writing by rapidly building-up an arsenal of tools that are easily retrieved and applied!
That was a bit lengthier than I'd intended, but I hope it helps 'flesh-out' the concepts for teaching reading & writing with the brain-in-mind, as well as provide some good "food for thought" when it comes to not only what we teach, but when and why, as well!