Saturday, April 18, 2015

The CODE is the Same, Whether You're 6 or 60!

Regardless of age or grade level, the "code" needed for reading and writing doesn't change—only the text level to which it's applied! With that in mind, consider this great question from a kinder teacher...
Dear Katie,
I love reading your blog! I've used your free Zoo Keeper writing strategies with my kinder class and the children really related, always showing me “how many animals (i.e. sounds) they caught" in their spelling words!
I taught both 1st and 2nd grades for years, and now am in my seventh year of teaching kindergarten. As many of your letter patterns stories are, of course, geared toward 1st and 2nd, I was wondering if you had some that were more geared more toward kinder?
Also, at what point would you begin introducing the Secret Stories in kinder... after the majority know most of their letters?
You are such an inspiration- Thank you!
Marian M.

Dear Marian,

Thanks for the question! 

The simple answer is that whether you're six years old or sixty, the code doesn't change... only the text-level to which it's applied! And as with any code, you really need all of it to do anything with it! 
So the question is, how do we provide early learners with access to the whole code? Especially when it can take forever and a day just to teach just the basic alphabet sounds! 

The answer? 
By providing logical explanations where there would otherwise be none! You don't have to learn what just makes sense! 

The Secret Stories® are "secrets" about the letters which explain all of the crazy sounds they make when they get together—and even some of the strange things they do when they're on their own! Knowing them makes it easy for learners to predict their most likely (and next most likely) sound behaviors, even in words they've never seen! And as with all secrets, it's best to know as much as possible upfront!

And lucky for us, our brains are multi-processorshardwired to pattern-out various likelihoods based on all of the "ifs, ands and buts," providing the basis for understanding and establishing a thinking construct through which the best decision can be made.

And because the most powerful intrinsic motivator is our inherent need-to-know, it is this that becomes the driving force behind learners' quest to discover the letters' secrets! In this way, learning connections are deepened, as learning becomes three-dimensional, which is the polar opposite of rote skill-memorization!  

Think of three-dimensional learning as a locked box sitting in the middle of a 
county road.
Consider all of the questions that would immediately pop into your head when you spot it...
"What is that box doing in the middle of the road?"
"Why is it there?"
"How did it get there?"
"Could it have fallen off of a truck? 
"Did someone put it there on purpose?"
"What could be inside?"
"Why is it locked"
"Could it contain something valuable?"
"Who has the key?"
"Do they even know it's lost?"

The quest for answers is rooted in our desire to make meaning—an inherent need to make sense of things so as to be able to pattern-out that information for future use. This is the brain's natural way of doing things, and it's also the reason why we don't want to answer questions students ask about the unusual sounds letters make with, "It just is... It just does.... I just have to remember...." 
(The most commonly heard phrases in traditional reading instruction!) 

Recent brain science provides today's educators with new insights into how we can effectively mold our instruction so as to bypass areas of traditional learner-weakness (i.e. developmental readiness, attentiveness, processing difficulties, lack of skill base, etc…) and tap into areas of learner-strength (social-emotive awareness and understanding, muscle memory, etc...). We can do this by wrapping-up, or encoding skill-content in such a way as to prompt an alternate area of the brain to assume the responsibility for processing it (i.e. "taking it in.") 

Numbers, words, sounds, and even rules and behaviors, are all processed in different centers of the brain. Our ability to activate alternate pathways in the brain for easier and earlier learning means that learners are no longer 'held-captive' by developmental readiness, cognitive processing issues, attention deficits, we have literally tricked their brains into naturally acquiring them! And once acquired, even inexperienced kindergartners are capable of working their way through unfamiliar text, as new information is "glued" to an already existing and deeply entrenched framework for understanding. It is in this way that very early and inexperienced learners (as well as struggling intermediate level learners) become highly capable of predicting the "most likely, next-most likely, and If all else fails..." sound options for letters in text. T

This process is actually as easy for our kids as telling the substitute teacher what he/she is supposed to be doing in our absence! Kids know everything and are more than happy to share it—who the line leader is, who the line leader was, and even who the line leader should be. It's their world and they know it well! And it's this world—made up of the already understood, social emotive dynamics in our classroom—that forms the basis for early learners' understanding of the Secret Stories®. This easy and familiar framework for understanding establishes an ideal learning-construct through which learners are able to make meaning of otherwise seemingly random letters and sounds. In this way, learner decision-making when working with unfamiliar text is easily guided—even in kinder!  

For example...
Let's pretend that I am a kindergartner, and you my substitute teacher. 
I will happily let you know that... 
"Johnny is not allowed to be the caboose of our line! He always hits and kicks people when he’s at the back cuz he thinks you can’t see him. That’s why our teacher makes him walk at the front with her where she can see him. That way he'll behave and do what he should!"   

This above scenario doesn't just depict student behavior, but letter behavior too! 
For example, did you know that...
Sneaky Y® got sick and tired of walking around every day, making the same sound over and over, especially when he found about the Superhero Vowels™ and their power to say their names! 

He decided to sneak into the closets of superhero e and i  and to take their superhero capes (which is where their powers lie!) so that he could use their powers to make their sounds!  So now whenever he is at the end of a word (where he doesn't think anyone will see him!) he will always be sneaky, and he will always be wearing either his e or his i cape, so that he can use their super powers to say their names, like in: candy, mommy, July, by, etc… 

But, when he's at the beginning of a word (where he knows that everyone can see him!) he's like  the line leader, and so he'll always be good and make the sound that he should, like in: yellow, yes, you, yak, etc...
And just in case you’re wondering about words like: they, day, play, etc…?  

That's not Sneaky Y®, that's ey and ay, and they're just TOO COOL (like Fonzie!) and so they always stick up their thumbs and say, “Aaayyyyeeeeee!" 

For more on Sneaky Y® download the Sneaky Y® mini-anchor and story cheat-sheet and watch this short clip.

And for more on how to start sharing SECRETS simultaneously with the individual letter sounds, click here and here!

For a bird's eye view of the the SECRET STORIES® in kindergarten,
check out this 
post by kindergarten teacher, Kjersti Johnson!

Understanding the brain and how it works empowers teachers, to teach SMARTER, not harder! And by taking advantage of the latest neuroscience—specifically that pertaining to brain plasticity and the affective learning domain, we can alter both where and how the skills that we teach are stored and retrieved within the brain, empowering students to learn smarter, not harder—regardless of age or grade level! 

And to close, I am including an insightful comment from a kinder teacher in response to this post on the SECRET STORIES® FaceBook page

"This is one of my favorite concepts to teach. The kids....simply just get it. 

One of the hardest things to explain to teachers using this way of teaching is to not focus on the idea of grade levels anymore. 

It's like a scientific miracle- we just address things that come up! 

The Secret Stories "experts" in my first grade class have moved passed all the 1st grade standards, as well as the 2nd and most of 3rd in reading. We are now strictly focusing now on analyzing text. 

Whereas my strugglers, who've just recently discovered that they have "shiny keys to unlock words" are just having a blast unlocking more and more "secrets"!!!! 

Differentiated instruction has never been easier thanks to Secret Stories!


Saturday, April 11, 2015

The Measure of Intelligence

The Measure of Intelligence lies in one's ability to see patterns where others see only randomness...

Upon coming across the ie-Secret (as in the word cookie) in guided reading, these first graders were transformed into "mini-analysts/ diagnosticians" as they patterned-out all of the SECRETS™ they knew about Superhero i in order to account for (i.e. "diagnose") what they see as an "obsessive cycle" of sound-behavior!

If your kids know the 'grown-up' reading & writing SECRETS™, they will love this clip.... and so will you!!!

This 'learner-driven' environment naturally emerges when learners know all of the letters' SECRETS™.... transforming phonics skill instruction into a virtual playground for critical thinking, and creating not just amazing readers and writers, but amazing thinkers! 
If your kids use the SECRET STORIES®, they will love this clip!

And they will also love this one!  
Watch these first graders think like "word doctors" as this mini-lesson on phonics skills is transformed into a creative and student-driven exercise in critical thinking and diagnostic problem-solving! And even more importantly, notice how learners' "need-to-know" is the driving force behind their instruction!

Learners' palpable excitement over the sounds letters make (or don't make!) in different text scenarios is the result of their personal connection with them, just like those with fellow students in the classroom!

Kids (okay, all of us!) are naturally fascinated in "who did what to who and why," and it's in this way that learners who know all the SECRETS™ about the letters can easily predict their "behaviors" (i.e. sounds!).

The SECRET STORIES® provide learners with logical explanations for letter/sound behaviors where there would otherwise be none! They explain WHY letters do what they do (or don't!) in different text scenarios. And because letter behaviors are based on 'social-emotive' connections already familiar to early grade learners, they are easily predictable, as are their sounds!

In this way, learners become instantly connected to what would otherwise be perceived as just "random symbols and sounds." They become naturally curious and thus, intrinsically motivated to critically analyze their behaviors, so as to predict their most-likely and next most-likely sounds.

And just in case you haven't been following the SECRET STORIES® FaceBook Page over the past couple of weeks, here are some highlights that you definitely won't want to miss!

While I wish that I could, it's just not possible for me to repost here all of the interesting comments, questions, and lengthy teacher discussions related to these (and other) posts. For this reason, I would really encourage you to visit the FaceBook page directly, or click on the links next to each of the video posts below to read the related comments and discussion and chime-in! 
Click here for the full-length presentation

And finally, the following picture and post is from first grade teacher, Aimee Meyer, from Baton Rouge, Louisiana.....

I just wanted to share our latest first grade classwork at St. Thomas More in Baton Rouge.
My students made up their own "Secret Story" poster...
"Drop the 'y' to add 'ed' and 'es'

We adore our Secret Stories! .....I'd feel so lost without it!
My school sent me to New Orleans a couple of years ago where I met you. I purchased the set as soon as could!

Thank you so much.
You don't know how many little lives you've changed.

Aimee Meyer
(Every K through 4 classroom in America needs to implement Secret Stories!)
And in addition to all of the FaceBook highlights above, there were also some wonderful questions posted about the SECRETS™, and answered not only by me, but by lots of other teachers, as well! 
So head on over to the FaceBook Page and check it out!
Warmest Regards!

PS For all those asking about these on Pinterest
you can download the freebie pack here
or you can print them out directly from the pictures below.