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 an adjunct university professor. I have enjoyed great success with the Secret Stories, and my first 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? 

Laura B., Reading Specialist

"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 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.

Unlike traditional phonics books and manuals, the general rule-of-thumb in creating the Secret Stories® was to provide learners with the logical explanations that the brain craves about WHY letters do what they do when they don't do what they should! The Secrets help learners to make sense of the many different sounds that letters make when working with text, simply by putting meaning where there would otherwise be none. Doing so allows learners to actually understand the letter sound behaviors, rather than just memorizing them.

If something is observed often enough (approximately five to ten times) in text, a Secret has been created to account for it, as patterns that learners experience with enough frequency will automatically trigger the brain's inherent "need-to-know" and thereby require a logical explanation to account for, or make sense of it. Additionally, Secret Stories® also account for "default" sound behaviors that are the letters' next most likely sounds— all of which are embedded into the graphic visuals (posters). This empowers even beginning learners to effectively "think-through" the alternative sound options for letters in text without having to learn more phonics "rules".  
Download FREE Secret Stories® Mini-Anchor Sampling
By  filtering out the "fringe" (i.e. less useful) phonics rules and streamlining the most common letter sound behaviors in such a way as to foster an "if not this, than that" hierarchy of likelihood, early grade teachers are able to give beginning access to the whole reading and writing code, rather than divvying it out in bits and pieces across three to four grade level years. Kids who know the letters' "secrets" are equipped with a broad-based (albeit "bare-bones") skill ability to read and write what they want— which in turn, motivates ongoing engagement with text, allowing experience to fine-tune their skills. Experience is, after all, the best teacher!

And just as the apple won't fall too far from the tree, letter won't stray too far from their sounds! This handy saying helps teachers to easily prompt the flexible thinking that learners need to employ when working through various sound options for letters in text. You can't think outside the box if you don't know what's in it, and knowing the Secrets means knowing everything that's INSIDE the box, so as to be easily able to 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 even 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 process of deductive reasoning that doctors employ when trying to diagnose symptoms that don't always "present" in the way that they should. When learners are equipped to engage with text in this way, reading and writing instruction is transformed into a virtual playground for critical thinking and deep literacy learning!

To see how the Secret Stories® fosters this transformation occurs, read on...

Now, let's attack that list of potential "new" Secrets and see if we do need to "add a few more cooks" to the phonics 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 problem when sounding out the word, as even if they include the d sound, they should still be able to "get" (recognize) the word. Therefore, creating a new Secret for the dge pattern would only result in having  "one more cook in the kitchen" that's not needed!
(And just in case you're wondering if the Mommy e® at the end might pose any problem... no worries! By the time readers notice her at the end, they will have already successfully sounded out the word! Plus, there's no vowel one letter away that she could reach to yell at, anyway! :-)

Now this is not to say that it wouldn't be helpful for upper grade learners to be aware of the dge spelling pattern, where spelling proficiency is graded. However, research shows that experience is by far the best teacher, which is why the easiest way to fine tune learner-spelling is through reading.  Knowing the Secrets is what allows learners to get that experience!   

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...)
Knowing the qu-Secret is all that's needed here, as aside from that, the e just makes its regular sound, depending on whether there is a Mommy e® or a Babysitter Vowel® nearby. (And keep in mind, when working with words not of English origin, Secret Stories® won't apply— bouquet, applique, etc...) 

-ive (as in: dive, give, active, lives, etc...)
The first word (dive) poses no problem at all, as Mommy e® is doing just what she should in telling i (who's one letter away) to say his name. In the other words however, Mommy e® might just be just too tired to care, as sometimes she'll just sit back and let the vowels do whatever they want. (Even mom's aren't perfect!) This is why it's so important to encourage learners to "think like doctors" and always try a vowel's next most likely sound!
-old (as in: bold, cold, mold, etc...)
This one's easy, as there are no secrets needed! All of the letters just make their regular, old sounds. The only possible glitch is that the o is making his long (superhero) sound, rather than his "short & lazy" one, despite no Mommy e® or Babysitter Vowel® in sight!  Even still, by "thinking like a doctor" and trying o's next most likely sound, kids can easily figure out the words.

-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!
Superhero O and his "short and lazy" disguise!
-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, it's so much easier just teach learners how to "bend" the vowels, as needed. To encourage this, read The Hungry Thing, by Jan Slepian and Ann Seidler, and well the sequel, The Hungry Thing Returns. These stories provide great "sound-bending" practice as kids try to figure out what words sound most like the ones that the Hungry Thing is trying to say. It's the perfect tool to help fine-tune readers' powers of deduction when it comes to identifying words they sound out, encouraging a more flexible ear and a "What else can it be? What else can I try?" approach.

-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® "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!

-stle (as in: wrestle, castle, jostle, listless, etc...)
While this pattern is slightly more common than those above, it's not in that many words that beginning readers are likely to come across. Thus, it's just not worth adding yet another cook to an already overcrowded kitchen! 

Even though Mommy e® is at the end, she isn't interfering with how the word would be 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 ultimately get  (i.e. recognize) the word. It really doesn't take too much deductive reasoning (even for kinders!) to sound out a word like castle (with the t-sound) and still be able to figure out that the word is actually 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 fluid and flexible thinking about letters and the sounds they make is what transforms daily reading and writing skill instruction into a playground filled with opportunities for critical analysis and deep, diagnostic thinking!  

And while the kids love knowing the Secrets, what really gets them excited is playing word doctor— figuring out WHAT the letters are doing, and WHY they're doing it! The power they gain over text grows by the day, and so does their confidence!
They thrive on being able to work with letters that don't do what they should, and the challenges    that thinking outside the box and working through all of the options presents!

And as for the final part of Laura's question about what books are best to use with Secret Stories®, that's easy.....  all of them!

Unlike scoped and sequenced core reading and phonics programs that divvy-out bits and pieces of the phonics code across multiple grade level years, Secret Stories® are shared in context of daily instruction across the entire instructional day— whenever and wherever learners need them! From hallway signs to cafeteria menus to math books, Secrets abound! And the result of sharing Secrets on a need-to-know basis is that learners are then able to immediately apply them to the problem at-hand!


And while there is no wrong time to share or revisit (reinforce) a Secret, they are especially helpful (for obvious reasons) in guided reading group. And while the Secrets are easily introduced and reinforced with any text, the SECRET STORIES® Guided Readers are especially helpful for guided reading, as they not only spotlight specific Secret patterns in the text, but they also contain trouble-shooting dialogue (similar to what's in this post) to help you guide students through those sticky text scenarios, just as if I were sitting right along side you and your students at the guided reading table!

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!
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

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!