Saturday, March 12, 2016

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


Sight Words.... Friend or Foe? 
A Stanford University brain study on sight words and how how brain waves differ when kids memorize vs. read (i.e. decode) words 

And the research says?
“Never MEMORIZE what you can just READ!” 
Research shows that teaching kids to sound out words sparks far more optimal brain circuitry than instructing them to memorize them. 
"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…."
—Dr. Bruce McCandlss

So then why DO we require our earliest grade level learners to memorize SO many sight words?
That's easy. It’s because they can't READ them. So, in order to achieve the required reading level, we teach kids to “call” (i.e. memorize) the words, instead. 

And how could kindergartners be expected to READ words when the few letters they DO know almost never make the sounds that they should when they come together? Even common, easily decodable words like: the, she, are, how, they, too, day, girl, boy, more, too, etc… become "sight words by default” for learners without access to the whole (phonics) code. This adds the overwhelming number of so-called “sight words” that early age learners have no chocie but to memorize in order to be able to “read” at the text level required at the end of kindergarten. And this memorization effort is not only developmentally inappropriate, but requires a vast amount of instructional time and resources (assistant and volunteer time, activities, material, etc…). It is also far from ideal from a brain based learning perspective, as the Stanford Study demonstrates.

Yet, within this instructional context, it’s understandable that Stanford's recommendation may seem of little value to early grade teachers, whose overreliance on sight words is often due to beginning learners’ gross lack of phonics skills in comparison to the required level of text assessments. To compensate, hundreds of sight words must be memorized prior to the end of second grade, and teachers are forced to focus their instruction on teaching the READING, not the READER. 

But what if beginning grade level learners could actually READ the words? 
Would that unshackle the hands of early grade teachers so as to be able to take advantage of the brain reasearch on sight words and the insight it provides? 
I believe that it would….and they can!

Brain science has carved out the perfect path— a backdoor for learning that’s rooted in the earlier-developing affective (social-emotional) “feeling" domain. Through this backdoor learning channel, phonics skills are acquired as “secrets” that kids WANT to know, not taught as “rules” they have learn. These “secrets” explain letter behavior in a way that mirrors kids’ own behavior, allowing them to easily predict the most and next most likely sound behaviors of letters in text, just as easily as they could predict the most likely behaviors of their friends and classmates. And learners who know the “secrets” are able to decode approxiately 95% of the most commonly memorized sight words, even in kindergarten.

By taking advantage of the brain science and tapping back door learning pathways for accelerated phonics skill access, we can break down the grade level walls of traditional phonics skill instruction so that learners don’t have to wait three to four grade level years for access to the whole reading and writing code! This is the guiding premise of 

You can access the entire study here.

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 DOOR 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'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 chance!"
"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."

Special Thanks to Mrs. Mac & her 1st Grade Munchkins!
And to see what KINDERS can do when THEY know the Secrets, check out these PRE and POST Kindergarten writing samples! (For more on the progression, click here.)

Note— The "middle" samples (In the Fall...) are to show how quickly kinders are able to easily acquire individual letters and sounds when they are "given" (not taught) via the Better Alphabet Song, using muscle memory as a bypass to cognitive processing.  The point of this writing was to show how much of the reading and writing code the kids had already picked up at exactly the 2 week mark (around mid September) singing the Better Alphabet Song, plus a handful of Secrets tossed out along the way!  

Download the FREE "Write Like they Read" pack wth Secret Stories® mini-anchors,
"Zoo Keeper" strategies, and MORE, here. 
For more Secrets in Kindergarten, check out this post! 


Just remember, it's our "SECRET!" 
To learn more about the brain science behind the Secret Stories® use,  you can check out the video below with highlights from my featured presentation at the 2017 National Title I Conference. You can also view the full presentation and the complete VLOG series FREE on the YouTube SO much more! 

SECRET STORIES® Dual-Use Placards

And for those who don't already have the SECRET STORIES®, you download this Secret Sampling for free so that you can start sharing some Secrets with your class!

Free SECRET STORIES® Sampling Pack