The Best is Yet to Come – Part 2
A guest post by kindergarten teacher, Sheryl Nicholson.
*Note: Sheryl uses Secret Stories to support science of reading-based instruction alongside the Wonders Reading Curriculum.
If you read my first blog post, you know that I didn’t discover Secret Stories and start using them until the final weeks of kindergarten after a tumultuous year of Covid. While I documented my journey using the Secrets in those last few weeks of kindergarten, I wanted to write a second post about how to start from the beginning of the year on Day 1. This is that post, and I hope it’s helpful!
Rule number #1
The Better Alphabet™ Song
Sing the Better Alphabet™ Song EVERY day, TWICE a day…NO MATTER WHAT!
I do this because it’s the fastest way to ensure that kids know all the letter names and sounds in about two weeks to two months. And I don’t mean one sound per letter, but EVERY POSSIBLE SOUND a letter can make when it’s by itself, including the long AND short vowel sounds, the hard AND soft sounds for /c/ and /g/ and even the three sounds of /y/, not to mention in the “most likely” order for the most successful word attack! But it doesn’t “teach” them. It “gives” them.
The reason I say that the Better Alphabet™ Song “gives” the sounds rather than teaches them is because unlike traditional alphabet songs or practice, it doesn’t rely on what are often “underdeveloped” cognitive processing centers with learners having to “remember” the letters and sounds. Instead, it uses earlier-developing muscle memory to forge the connections between the letter names and sounds for automatic and non-conscious sound retrieval, via the mouth muscles. (Katie Garner explains more about this in the video below, as well as how she uses the neuroscience to “cheat” (get around) the traditional limitations of information retrieved through muscle memory.
On a side note, I always make sure to them the “secret” about the Superhero Vowels® with their “short & lazy” disguises AND about Sneaky Y® who’s basically the “Lex Luther” of the alphabet! This is necessary in order to prompt those sounds when we sing them.
The Better Alphabet™ Song is the first track on the music download that comes with the Secret Stories Kit. (There’s a code on the inside back cover of the book to download all of the musical “sound-skill” exercises.) There is also a video version of the song on TpT, but I just use the audio version or sing it a cappella (without music) with my kids.
In addition to the Better Alphabet™ anchor posters, each student has their own individual Better Alphabet™ mat (pictured at the top) that they keep in the back of their writer’s notebook. They bring it to the carpet every time we do the Better Alphabet. As Katie explains in the video, it’s absolutely critical that kids SEE the letters when SINGING their sounds, as this is what forges them together in the brain for use when reading and writing. We do this with “eye-glue,” which means that we keep our eyes glued to the letter as we sing its sound(s).
This video isn’t of my class, but was on Youtube. It’s actually a prek class, but I loved the little girl pointing up during the song to focus everyone’s attention on the alphabet anchors, as it shows the kids know how important “eye-glue” is! I also love the letter sound assessment immediately following it!
Forging “Sound-Symbol” Connections in the Brain
As an incentive, I give an award to one student who has the best “eye glue” and “muscle mouth” (which means that they are really working their lips, tongue and teeth” to engage muscle memory!).
I give the smaller bookmark-size award during the week (two a day, once each time we sing it) and then every Friday, I give out the large award for “Best of the Week!” You don’t have to give actual awards, as you can also make it an ongoing contest, with “boys against girls” or even between different table groups. Whichever group wins can earn small privileges, like getting to line up first or pick recess equipment first, etc…
I do this everyday until my students have all reached 100% mastery of the letters and sounds. This usually takes between two weeks and two months. After a couple of weeks, I add the “Letter Runs” which you can hear us sing through in the videos below, as those are the next tracks of musical exercises in the music download.
And check out the video below where kids are singing the Letter Runs to the tune of Star Wars!
Using Music to Support Orthographic Mapping of in the Brain
Whereas the Better Alphabet® instills fast mastery over both the letter names and sounds, the Letter Runs “raise the bar” by skipping the letter name and requiring fast recall of the sounds so as to mimic actual decoding for reading (i.e. see the letter and make the sound). Letter Runs can be sung fast OR slow and to ANY tune! They can even be sung backwards!
According to Katie, the purpose of the Letter Runs and the other musical exercises on the download (aside from the Better Alphabet) is to actually avoid activating muscle memory by constantly switching-up the speed, tune and order. This forces kids to “actively manipulate” the sound-symbol connections in ANY order, just as they must do when using them to read and write.
So, at about the two week mark, we started following up the Better Alphabet™ Song with the Letter Runs as fun challenge, still making sure to use our “eye glue” and “muscle mouths!” The great thing about starting the Letter Runs BEFORE kids have 100% mastery of all the letters and sounds is that they love the challenge! They don’t fret about the letters they don’t know, they just love singing through the ones that they do as fast as they are able! Even the kids who know only a handful of letters still beg to sing it over and over again. It’s just such a great way to build automaticity of the sounds they DO know so that they can start USING them to read and write!
By spring break, the kids are able to do the Letter Runs in ANY order… forward, backward, or completely random….just like in REAL words! They can handle anything I can throw at them because the letters and sounds are so solidly forged in their memory (aka “orthographically mapped” in their brain!)
The above-described routine is NON-NEGOTIABLE and we do it every single day without fail! And simultaneously, we are also learning about the “grown-up” reading and writing Secrets, which are the sounds that letters make when they get together and DON’T do what they should! All of our Secret Stories® posters are up on Day 1 and ready for use whenever and wherever we need them!
And we definitely need them! We find Secrets everywhere…in student names, on the calendar, in our required sight word lists, on our math directions, in stories and poems that we read, even the lunch menu! (To read more about how we do this and what it looks like, click here to read my previous post.)
“A to Z in Three” – August, September & October
We also do something called A to Z in Three. First, we spend the first 26 days of school doing a quick “letter a day” spotlight. This quick overview helps lay the foundation for more intensive study of the letters over the next couple of months. Even though many students will have already acquired the letter names and sounds by the first month by singing the Better Alphabet™ Song twice a day, they still need to be able to write them, and that requires fine motor control.
Working in ABC order, we brainstorm things that began with the sound of our focus letter and draw them on the page. The we practice writing the letter, with kids who know more letters able to use them to try and write the words to go with their pictures. We use simple pages like the ones below, as well as pages in our Decoding Dictionaries, which are in the Decoding Sight Words with Phonics Secrets pack that’s on TpT. (In addition to our Better Alphabet Mats, we also keep Porta-Pics in our writing folder for easy reference to the phonics Secrets. These can be reused over multiple years.)
“Decoding Dictionaries” – All Year Long
I prep the Decoding Dictionaries for each student before school starts. You can find my post about how I use these here or for a quick overview, you can watch the video below.
The reason it’s so important to fast-track the individual letter sounds is so that kids can start using them alongside the phonics Secrets they know to really read and write and make sense of words wherever they see them! It’s hard to imagine, but in the world of Secret Stories, kids pick up the phonics patterns even easier than they do the individual letter sounds, as they don’t have to go through muscle memory, nor do they have to be practiced twice a day. This is because the Secrets are based on things kids ALREADY know, like sticking your tongue out, riding in a car, playing rough and getting hurt or being sneaky. The minute they hear them, they remember the story and the sound. The only thing they need to apply them to reading and writing are the sound posters, as that is how they keep track of which letters make what sounds.
If you doubt how quickly kindergartners can progress into real readers and writers with just the Better Alphabet™ and a handful of phonics Secrets, check out the video clips below.
There are just so many ways to “play” with these secret building blocks of the code! I encourage you to read my first blog post that explains how we begin incorporating Secret Stories into our daily routines from the very first day of kindergarten. I shared one of my favorites that I do every year with student names in the Secret Stories Facebook Group which you can see in the picture below.
If you would like to reach out to me with any questions, you can find me in the Facebook group by clicking the picture above and then on my name at the top of the post. I look forward to continuing the conversation and seeing you in there!
Sheryl JB Nicholson
Hello, I am Janelle Schneider. Some of you may know me as Mrs. Schneider from Engage & Inspire with Mrs. Schneider. I wanted to share with you two of my favorite teaching resources, Boom Cards and Secret Stories! I am going to explain why Secret Stories phonics activities on Boom are the perfect addition to any phonics routine, and why Boom Cards provide such effective and efficient skill practice. Like Secret Stories, Boom Cards make your life easier and maximize student achievement.
As teachers, there are so many ideas and resources being thrown at us. It can be very overwhelming trying to figure out which ones work, and which ones aren’t worth our time. New curriculums, new programs, new teacher websites and apps, all promising to be the “magic tool” that’s missing. It’s frustrating to waste time and money on new websites and apps, only to find out that either kids don’t like them or that they’re ineffective.
During the 2020 COVID school closures, I was struggling to find a way to teach my students virtually. Through one of the second grade Facebook groups, I came across Boom Cards. Though I found the platform a bit confusing at first, I quickly grew to love it, and I eventually began making Boom Cards of my own. During this time, I also decided to obtain my graduate degree in Curriculum and Instruction. Through my coursework, I realized that Boom Cards were not only fun, but backed by Behavioral Learning Theory.
While reading and completing coursework on the different learning theories, I wrote this in one of my papers,
When it comes to teaching our diverse students, there is no one size fits all learning theory. Teachers find, trim, and arrange bits and pieces of many different learning theories to craft the beautiful mosaic of student learning. In any one lesson, it is typical for a teacher to have elements from cognitivism, behaviorism, constructivism, and humanism.”
One learning theory that supports the use and effectiveness of using Boom Cards is the Behavioral Learning Theory. When people think of behavioral learning or operant conditioning in the classroom, they typically envision the conditioning of student behavior in regard to discipline and classroom management; however, incorporating behaviorism in the classroom can greatly impact both teaching and learning.
Following is an excerpt from an article on Teaching and Education by Western Governors University.
The stimulus-response sequence is a key element of understanding behaviorism… Behavioral learning theory argues that even complex actions can be broken down into the stimulus-response” (Western Governors University, 2021). In the case of Boom Cards, students hear a ding and see a green circle when they have a correct answer and they hear a “whoops” and see a red circle when they have an incorrect answer. Additionally, students must find and correct their error before moving on to the next card.
What I love most about Boom Cards, aside from the immediate feedback students receive, is the repetition! Students need to practice a skill several times to obtain mastery, and Boom offers this repetition, as well as immediate feedback and positive reinforcement.
Repetition and positive reinforcement go hand-in-hand with the behavioral learning theory…Positive reinforcement is key in the behavioral learning theory. Without positive reinforcement, students will quickly abandon their responses because they don’t appear to be working. (Western Governors University, 2021)
Think about it! How many times have your students abandoned their worksheets or other class assignments because they were “too hard,” or because they didn’t know if they were doing it correctly? How often are students completing work that won’t be graded until days later? How often do they practice skills incorrectly, and then have to “unlearn” them later? With Boom Cards, students are actively engaged because they know if they are doing their work correctly or not. They want to hear that ding! They want to feel successful, and when they hear the “Whoops” sound repeatedly, they know they’re doing something wrong. They know they need to ask for help. And for our shy students who won’t ask, we can see on their live report that they are struggling and in need of assistance. This allows us the opportunity to target struggling students and reteach the concepts in small group or “one-on-one” before they fall further behind.
How I Use Boom Cards in My Classroom
I scaffold all of my lessons using the Gradual Release of Responsibility Model. During COVID, I had structured all of my lessons (on Google Slides, Youtube, etc.) as “I do, We do, You do.” Now that we are back in the classroom, I structure my lessons as “I do. We do. You do (together), You do (individually).”
I begin with whole group direct instruction, making sure to build on students’ prior knowledge, and working on a examples together. Next, students work on an activity in partners or small groups. Then they complete their assigned Boom Card deck individually. I will also use Boom Cards to differentiate assignments and fill in learning gaps. I love that Boom Cards “self-grade” so you can look at the live data as students complete each deck. I use this as a daily formative assessment, and will sometimes even use Boom Cards as a summative assessment. The fact that they are SELF-GRADING is the best part, as this has saved me so much time, and truth be told, even given me some of my weekends back!
Below are step-by-step directions for creating a Boom account, as well as purchasing decks and assigning the to students in your classroom. I would also encourage you to check out the video below (and if helpful, please remember to like and subscribe!)
Membership Plans: Free and Paid
The Starter Plan (free): If you are a parent or if you homeschool 5 or less children, this is the plan for you. If you are a teacher that does not need to collect data on students’ progress, but want to give your students Boom Decks for extra practice of a particular skill, you can use the free account and assign “Fast Plays.”
*You will still need to purchase decks separately.
The Essential Plan ($25 year): I recommend this plan for regular classroom teachers on a tight budget, as it’s only $25 per year. The only thing I don’t like about this plan is that you don’t get the “live reports,” only student progress.
The Premium Plan ($40/ year): This is the plan I recommend all teachers get if they can afford it, as it does include the live reports which are so helpful in tracking student progress in “real-time” and targeting students in need of reteaching.
The Publisher Plan ($50/year): If you plan to make Boom Cards for your students (and possibly even sell them) this is the plan you would need. It’s the plan that I have.
Navigating the Boom Store
Below are step by step directions that walk you through how to find, purchase and access your Boom Decks.
- When you first log in, this is what it looks like.
- Click on “Store” to get started.
- In the store, you can search for whatever material you need for your lesson. You can search: Secret Stories, phonics, cvc words, decoding, 3-digit addition, time, etc., and a list of available decks will come up. You can also click the “Find Free” green button to search all of the free decks.
Purchasing Boom Decks
- You purchase decks with “points,” choosing from the following options:
200 points is $2.00
375 points is $3.75
and so on….
As you can see in the screenshot of my own Boom Library below, I currently have 1281 points remaining to use. I always purchase the $50 option, as this makes it easier to quickly do the math and decide if a deck is “worth” the cost, as the decks range in price. You can preview the first 4 slides of any deck to see if you like it. Once you own the decks, you own them forever. Just like on Teachers Pay Teachers, you can continue to use them year after year.
Assigning Boom Cards to Students
- After you purchase a deck, you can go to your library to find them, and them choose which deck you want to assign to students.
I recommend doing this right before you release students to work independently. The reason for this is that I’ve had a few “over-achievers” try to do Boom Cards before school in the morning before the concept has been taught. It only takes a minute to assign, so if you can wait until school begins or just before the lesson to assign each deck, that works the best.
- You can also make folders and store the decks by topic or standard, or in any other way that you wish.
- First, click on “Action”
- Next, click on “Assign”
- Choose which class you want to assign the deck to. (I have my regular second grade class in “class 1” and students that I tutor in “class 2”).
- After checking the box to select the class, you can then “x” out of that screen.
- Students can then refresh their screens and the assigned deck will appear at the top of their list.
Reading Boom Reports
In addition to the information shown above, you can also get reports for each card so that you can identify common errors being made, or see which cards students struggled with the most.
- To do this, just click on “title” when viewing the report.
- Then click on “Report by Cards”
Now you can see the cards that had the most incorrect responses.
I hope that this “crash-course” on Boom Learning is helpful, especially to those who may want to use the new Secret Stories® Boom Cards in their classrooms, but were unsure of how to get started.
Secret Stories® Boom Decks
Below are some of the Secret Stories® Boom Decks available with short videos showing how they can be used.
“Short & Lazy” Vowel Practice
The Short Vowel CVC Word Mapping Bundle and the Short Vowel CVC “Hear it, Tap it, Spell it” Bundle include decks for practicing and reinforcing all of the “short & lazy vowel” sounds. (Decks may also be purchased individually.)
Decoding Sight Words with Phonics Secrets
The Fry Sight Word Mapping Bundle and the Fry Phonics Flashcards Bundle include decks for practicing and reinforcing decoding and encoding with Secret Stories® phonics sounds/spelling patterns. (Note: A Dolch Word deck will be released soon so as to align Boom practice with the Decoding Sight Words with Phonics Secrets Pack on Teachers Pay Teachers.)
For more insight into these activities and everything else Secret Stories-related, join the Secret Group on Facebook, and be sure to download all of the free resources in the group file! You can also subscribe to the Secret email for personal notifications delivered directly to your inbox.
💗Special thanks to Janelle Schneider/Engage & Inspire with Mrs. Schneider for this wonderful post!
Teaching is not a profession for the weak. It is a profession that you have to feel in your bones and your soul. You have to wake up in the morning and know that you are going to make a difference in a child’s life by getting up and going to work.
The dedication and commitment it takes to be a teacher in today’s school system is not like it was when I graduated 32 years ago. School systems are asking more than we can give, yet teachers find ways to keep giving. That is because we know that the best has yet to come. This is why I get up each day and I show up for my students. I know that MY best day of teaching has yet to come. MY best year of teaching has yet to come! I will continue to grow and learn and get better because that is what I do as a teacher. I do what it takes for my students to succeed. I want my retirement year of teaching to be MY best year of teaching!
A guest post by kindergarten teacher, Sheryl Nicholson
In this post, Sheryl explains how she began using Secret Stories in the last six weeks of kindergarten following Covid. In her second post, she describes starting with the Secrets from the very beginning of the school year on Day 1.
The Best is Yet to Come
Post-Covid Kindergarten in May
In the spring of 2021, after a crazy year of COVID shut-downs, I was preparing my lesson plans for the week and looking for a good YouTube video on blending CVC words because my students were really struggling with this skill, Somehow I clicked on a video of Katie Garner talking about the Secret Stories.
SIX HOURS LATER, I’d binge-watched everything I could get my hands on about the Secret Stories on Katie’s Youtube Channel. In a nutshell, the Secrets are short brain-based stories that explain the sounds letters make when they get together, with posters to help kids remember for independent reading and writing. They make phonics accessible by connecting skills to what kids already know (i.e. having a crush, not getting along, playing rough and getting hurt, being sneaky, listening to your mom or babysitter, etc.).
Everything made so much more sense, including why my students were still struggling with blending simple CVC words. If the only sounds they knew were the ones letters make individually, then CVC words were all they could read, and these words were the least likely to be encountered throughout the day.
Sound Walls for Independent Reading & Writing
The more I learned about Secret Stories, the more excited I was to get them, and after waiting for what seemed like FOREVER, they came! We immediately laminated the posters and put them all up to make a sound wall that kids could use to help remember the new “secret” sounds they would be learning
I joined the Secret Facebook Group and found so many great ideas from other teachers on how to get started! I even found a cute idea posted in the free group files to create a “secret” cover for the section of my Secret Stories book that contained the Secrets! (There are lots to choose from)
Now we were ready to go!
Granted, we only had about six weeks of school left in the year, but I wanted to see if there was truly “magic” in these Secrets.
Having no clue where to start at the almost END of this school year, I just jumped in. The first “secret” I saw was in our school name, Lovejoy. So, Sneaky Y was the one that we started with, and I made a big deal about it being a grown-up reading “secret” that kids weren’t supposed to know. I even made them go and check the hallway to make sure that no one would hear! Then they all gathered around on the carpet and I told the secret about WHY /y/ was so sneaky, as well as the sounds he could make. THEY ATE IT UP!!!! After that one, we literally blew through the rest of the Secrets! They spotted them everywhere—in books, on the walls, in read alouds, at home…there was no escaping them!
The biggest change I saw was in their writing. They went from almost completely “inventive” spelling to using the secret phonics patterns.
Their confidence just soared with these new phonics tools under their belt. The only downside was the short time we had remaining to use them since our first grade teachers didn’t have them. So before school ended, I made each student a Secret Stories key chain (with the Secret “Take-Home” Tags on Tpt) to review during the summer.
Needless to say, word got around about these things called the “Secrets” and soon the other kindergarten teachers in our district wanted in on the action. At the end of the school year, we found a foundation that awards grants to teachers through a rigorous proposal process. It’s highly competitive, so in order to stand out, your proposal must be creative. So we decided to incorporate the Secrets into our grant proposal with a mock Zoom call. It was a huge success and we were able to get Secret Stories for all nine kindergarten classrooms at our school!
Instant Speech to Print Connections for Beginning Reading & Writing
By the end of that school year, my mind was already racing with ideas for the next school year, and how I could make teaching the Secrets even better for my kindergartners. I found the Secret Sound Stickers and these were the seeds for a million ideas!
I knew that I wanted to start introducing the Secrets in August, but wasn’t sure how to do that since most of my students wouldn’t even know the names of the letters yet. We could sing the Better Alphabet Song to fast-track mastery of the individual letters and sounds, but in order for kids to actually USE them to read or write anything, they would also need to know the phonics Secrets.
I am a firm believer in teaching smarter, not harder. I thought about the things that I already do and how I could incorporate Secret Stories into them.
Phonics Secrets in My Name
At the beginning of each school year, I make All About Me posters for each one of my students. I send a form home at “Meet The Teacher” before school starts that parents and students fill out and return to me. Then I make a personalized poster for each student and every day we highlight one.
Spotlighting the phonics Secrets in student names is a perfect way to introduce them. Why teach kids how to just “recognize” their names when they can use the Secrets to actually READ them? Not only did knowing the Secrets in their names help to make sense of the sounds that the letters were making, it was also a personal way for kids to take ownership of the phonics skills. As different phonics Secrets were introduced, we would add the small red cards (from the back of the Secret Stories book) to our pocket chart to keep track of them.
I even grouped students with the same phonics Secrets in their names together as I shared their posters. For instance, I introduced everyone whose name had just one Secret, then I introduced those with a Mommy E in their name, and then I introduced those whose names started with the same blend, etc… This took about 4-5 weeks, but it was a perfect pace to introduce about 30 Secrets in 25 days or so.
Here’s one of my little ones explaining the phonics Secrets in her friend Crew’s name. (The only thing they loved more than learning how to read and write their own name was learning how to read and write the names of their friends!)
I also made cards for all of the high-frequency “sight” words and used the digital stickers to make the phonics sounds in them more accessible by showing the connection in a concrete way.
First we would read the words with the Secret phonics sound EMBEDDED; then we read them with the Secrets phonics sound up ABOVE; and finally we read them just the LETTERS for gradual release from the Secrets.
The sound stickers were such a game-changer for my students that I began sharing what I was doing with other teachers in the Secret Facebook Group. It was there that I discovered that the Decoding Sight Words with Phonics Secrets project was well underway! So at Katie’s request along with Shelley Mahn, we created a teaching tool to help show the connections between the so-called “sight words” kids need to know and the phonics Secrets they need to actually READ them! (I made the video to show exactly how we use it.)
One Secret is Worth a Hundred Words
In past years, I would have introduced just 1-2 sight words a week, and by the end of the year, I would have introduced all the required words for kindergarten.
NOT THIS YEAR! I was able to give my students ALL 35 of the first semester words at once. They immediately noticed that they had the same phonics Secrets in them that were in their names and loved seeing which words they “shared” Secrets with!
I literally spread the pile of words all over our floor and let the kids just walk around and talk about what they saw. The first thing they noticed was which ones had similar Secrets. For example, words like: at, an, and, can, etc… all shared the short /a/ Secret and so they wanted to group them together, just as they’d done with their names.
After laying out all of the Secret Stories Flashcards and sorting all the words, we discovered that only 3 of the 35 words actually had to be memorized as “heart words,” as the rest were all easily decodable!
It was so powerful to see these beginning kindergarten readers realize that this giant stack of unknown words wasn’t so scary, as they could already read them!
We continued doing the same sorting activities with these words that we had done with our names before adding them alongside on our Secret Sound Wall. (Note: The names and words were only displayed on our Secret Story sound posters temporarily to illustrate the connection between the Secret phonics patterns and the sounds they make in words. Once these concrete connections between sound and print were made clear, the Secret Stories posters were all they needed to read and spell throughout the day.)
By the end of kindergarten, we’d not only gone through all of our kindergarten words, but first grade’s list too! When kids own the code, kids can read ANY word, regardless of which grade level list they’re on….and that’s why Secret Stories make all the difference!
FREE Block Templates for More “Speech to Print” Phonics Fun
Download this free Secret Stores® Block template from the “Files” section of the Secret Facebook Group, Science of Reading Meets Science of Learning (Just look for the “Files” tab at the top of the group page.)
And for “ready-made” Secret Stories® SoR-based phonics fun, check out the Secret Stories® Phonics Centers for Phoneme Grapheme FUN.
How to Make Phoneme Grapheme Word Mapping Mats
This blog post has been reproduced, with permission, from Shelly Mahn’s blog. It provides step-by-step directions on make the Secret Stories® Phoneme Grapheme Word Mapping Mats that are included in the Science of Reading Secret Stories® Centers on TpT. (All links mentioned can be found inside the product.)
Note: To make these mats, you must first purchase the Science of Reading Secret Stories® Centers on Teachers Pay Teachers here. (Active Amazon links mentioned in the tutorial below are included in the product.)
A guest post by Elizabeth George, a mother and “unexpected homeschool teacher” to a neurodiverse first grader with Autism.
Teaching Neurodiverse Learners
I am the parent of a neurodiverse child, which means that my child’s brain is wired differently. This causes him to think, learn and sometimes behave differently. This catchall phrase, “wired differently,” includes everything from ADHD or learning disabilities (like dyslexia), to children who are gifted or autistic. It’s a term used to describe kids who move through the world in a less typical way.
If you’re like me and have a child whose brain is differently wired, you may have found yourself unexpectedly homeschooling during the pandemic. No sooner had we learned how to navigate special education advocacy, than our focus had to shift to the actual educating. Neither I, my husband, or our children knew for how this was going to go on. I’m not going to lie, it was a steep learning curve for all of us, but it was one we had to climb for my amazingly resilient, curious, anxious and autistic first grade son.
In kindergarten, it became apparent that dyslexia was mixed into our son’s learning profile. An education that began with a team of seven special education teachers, support professionals and trained therapists, was now down to just his father and me, along with my parents, who also live with us. Now, upon finding myself unexpectedly and solely responsible for the monumental task of teaching my struggling reader, I went to the experts. I read, watched, and listened to everything I could for several hours each night. What I found was that several years ago, there had been a “reading war” that no one had won. However, proponents of both sides (Whole Language and Phonics) did appear to have come to a truce, and that truce was known as Balanced Literacy.
Both sides, those advocating “phonics” (decoding letter sounds) and those advocating “whole language” (learning whole words by sight) seemed to make good points, and so in my confusion, I contacted the Education Department at the University of Texas. (Note to Special Needs Parents: Universities offer tons of free resources and training courses as part of their research. I’ve taken the Behavioral Tech certificate training for applied behavioral analysis (ABA), communication training for Speech therapists, and much more all for free. Google search your local university’s Education, Special Education, Child Development, Neuroscience, and Psychology Departmental Studies, which are usually listed on each Department page website.)
The Science of Reading
As it turned out, the University of Texas was doing a study on reading for kids with learning differences. Unfortunately, my son was too young to be eligible. I asked for an exception, but the professor in charge gave me access to his doctoral students to ask questions and find out about the most effective resources, instead. Lost and worried, I scheduled a call and received excellent direction from an amazingly sweet doctoral student in the UT’s Special Education Program. I was advised to evaluate of the effectiveness of any program based on whether it was aligned with the “Science of Reading,” a term I had never heard. So deep into the rabbit hole I went, researching everything I could find…and I’ll save you the weeks and/or months of research by giving you the following terms to speed your search:
Science of Reading
Scarborough’s Reading Rope
Simple View of Reading
Florida Center for Reading Research
National Reading Panel
If your child’s brain is wired differently (ASD, ADHD, SPD, dyslexic, etc.) or if they are disabled, then you know that what works for most neurotypical children may not work for yours. The other sad fact is that there are many so-called “cures” and “quick-fixes” being advertised to parents of special needs learners. Most of us have fallen for one or more of these ads for apps, programs, books, diets, supplements etc.., promising speech gains, reading improvement, better focus, reduced meltdowns, and the like. For special needs parents, finding truly effective resources for your child is like finding the proverbial “needle in the haystack.”
After purchasing a few different programs and curriculum, I was running out of patience and money….AND MY KID STILL COULDN’T READ. What’s worse, practicing all of these different programs with him had become a nightmare, and if I’m honest, our relationship was suffering. There is nothing worse for a parent than watching your child struggle and not knowing how to make it better.
In an attempt to find out why nothing I did was working, I started reading what teachers were posting in Facebook groups, like The Science of Reading – What I Should Have Learned in College. Surely, if anyone knows about reading, it’s teachers, right? Time and time again, they suggested the Secret Stories to jump-start reading, especially for beginning and struggling readers. They were very clear that while Secret Stories was only one piece of the reading puzzle, it was an extremely important one—which was giving kids easier access to more of the phonics code, faster.
In fact, the Secret Stories came up so often that I had to find out what it was, and see whether it might be the piece that my child was missing… or, if yet again, it was something that worked only for neurotypical kids. So I found the Secret Stories Facebook Group and watched some of Katie Garner’s conference presentations on YouTube and within 30 minutes, I was hooked. No, not hooked…I was INSPIRED! (Katie is the creator of Secret Stories and she presents at conferences around the world, many of which are posted on YouTube.)
So, I proceeded to watch every YouTube video associated with her name to learn everything that I could, but it still had to pass the “taste” test by the boss—my very intelligent and anxious autistic son. By this point, he’d been through three different reading programs….and lots of tears. After so much failure and anxiety (his and mine), I gave him just a taste of one Secret Story. I told him the “secret” about the letters that were “in love,” which are au/aw. This one that I’d heard Katie tell so many times in the videos I’d watched and the image was also free to download on the website. I presented it just as Katie had explained, telling my son that I had a “big, grown-up Secret about reading,” and I really played it up, copying all of Katie’s acting gold!
“Mom, are there more?”
Now if you’re a parent of a differently wired kiddo, then you know how extremely amazing it is to get your kid’s full attention with anything on the first try…we’re talking out the gate, pure interest! He actually said, “Mom, are there more?” I almost cried, but that wasn’t part of the script, so I held it together. Then cool as a cucumber, I told him that I’d check, but because these were “grown-up” reading Secrets, he may not be big enough yet to learn more, and so I would have to ask the Secret Stories teacher first. ;-)
The rest of the day, we circled the aw/au in every word that we found it, even food labels! Everywhere we saw those letters, we would use the secret to sound-out (decode) the words. The biggest win wasn’t just that my son remembered the phonics sound through the story, but that he was actually able to apply it…. AND enjoy doing it!!!
Excited about this turn of events, I staged my next test, which was to sing The Better Alphabet Song. I had heard Katie explain in the videos that the Better Alphabet isn’t really a song, but a muscle memory exercise that fast-tracks mastery of the individual letters and sounds in 2 weeks to 2 months. Rather than relying on under-developed “higher-level” cognitive processing for skill mastery (which typically takes a year in kinder), the Better Alphabet targets earlier-developing (and more easily accessible) muscle memory pathways (in the lips, tongue and teeth) to connect the letter names to their sounds and take them in fast. My son had already been working on learning the individual letters sounds for years now, so what’s two more months?
So, I set my plan up, telling my son that if we learned the letter sounds with the Better Alphabet, that would surely prove to the “Secret Teacher” that she could trust us with the rest of the Secrets. Honestly, as I’m typing this, I can’t believe it happened, but he BEGGED me to watch/sing it—over and over and over again. One week later, he had all of the individual letters and sounds down pat! And then he immediately started asking me if the teacher had sent the Secrets yet. That was it, I was sold. I ordered the Decorative Squares Kit and I was ready to live, eat and breathe these Secrets! This was what success looked like, and we could both taste it!
(Note: The Decorative Square posters are actually part of the classroom kit, but if you don’t have the wall space to put up all of the big posters, you can get the Parent/Home Bundle instead, as it’s made specifically for home use.)
For perspective, I should share that I actually have two sons, and that my “neurotypical” four year old is just along for the ride, singing and watching the Better Alphabet on video along with his brother. That said, after two weeks, my four year old didn’t just know the letter sounds, he was using them to sound out three letter CVC words (i.e. cat, bit, dog, mom, dad, etc..). My mind was blown! I hadn’t even tried to start teaching him yet, aside from just reading to him. I was ecstatic about BOTH their progress, and now all of us were stalking the mailbox, waiting for our “Top Secret” Secret Stories book!
A “Backdoor” for Learning
Up to this point, I’d accumulated all of the ingredients that I needed to teach my son to read except the Secret Stories. I had Orton-Gillingham SPIRE Curriculum (since Secret Stories is not a “program”), Heggerty (for phonemic awareness, since isolating sounds in words was a particular weakness for my son), Usborne Books (for background knowledge, since kids can’t comprehend what they have no knowledge about), and even some extra “sprinkles” on top in the form of the Magic School Bus Science Club and Usborne Coding for Beginners with SCRATCH. But without the Secret Stories, these ingredients just wouldn’t “bake,” and my kids didn’t want to eat it. Knowing the Secrets gave them access to phonics skills in a way that their brains were ready to hear and understand.
The Secrets bypass the struggle. They are not magic, and Katie is not an actual unicorn (although it feels like she is!) She just uses neuroscience to carve a path for learning to read that goes straight through the brain’s backdoor, bypassing obstacles that many learners face when forced through the traditional “front”—especially those like my son.
As Katie explains in this video clip, the brain develops from back to front—with higher-level, executive functioning/ processing centers taking far longer to develop than the early-developing “feeling” based networks. Like so many kids who are wired differently, my son’s executive functioning (which is what Katie calls the “front door”) is impaired. He struggles with the order of things, multi-step instructions, short term and working memory, auditory processing deficits, knowing left from right, and more. But the Secrets don’t rely on the front door like traditional phonics programs do.
Instead, they bypass executive functioning and attach to already existing frameworks of understanding—the part of his brain that knows how it feels to get hurt,
….and that knows all about Superheroes, and that they are often in-disguise!
The Secrets align letter behavior with kid behavior to make their sounds easily predictable. But here’s the interesting part, my son has a hard time predicting the behaviors of his neurotypical classmates and peers, so how could he predict these complex letter behaviors if they acted the same? The answer is, they don’t. In the Secret Stories, the behaviors are fixed, and this is comforting for him…. au/aw are always in love and say “ahhhhh”…. ou/ow always play rough and get hurt, “owwww!”…. and /th/ never gets along and always stick out their tongues and say, “thhhhhh!”
And for the rare times that the letters don’t behave as expected, there is always a “next most likely” sound option to try, based on the story. It gives him comfort to know that when letters don’t make the sounds they’re supposed to, it’s because there’s a secret in the word, and that it’s the letters that are misbehaving—it’s not because he is wrong or failing. That’s a huge shift for him, and it goes a long way in reducing his anxiety. Now he has a stress-free way to figure out the words.
Just two months into our Secret Stories journey, and my son went from struggling to sound out the word C-A-T, to reading the entire Usborne early reader series. He’s gone from tears and meltdowns at just the sight of a book, to reading an entire early reader to our whole family at the dinner table—WITH PRIDE! Now he’s noticing Secrets in words that are everywhere, and he’s even making up his own, like this one…. “E and X are wonderful friends, and when they are at the front of the line, E loans X his superpower so X can say his name, in words like: exit, exceptional & excellent!”
With each new Secret, his reading and spelling power continues to grow. The Secrets have given him access to the reading code in a way that systematic phonics drills could not. They reframe the structured literacy lessons in our OG program in a fun, multisensory way that he can easily remember. They make words understandable and “figure-out-able,” and he delights in the idea that he’s privy to the “grown-up” reading secrets! And at this point, our whole family is in on the act, with grandma deserving an Oscar for her portrayal of the “Excited Secret Stories Receiver!” ;-)
At the time of this writing, we are now a full FIVE months in, and he continues to amaze me with his progress. After reading the Writing Revolution, I started using stem sentences to reinforce learning other subject areas. For example, Butterflies are amazing because…. Butterflies are amazing so….. Butterflies are amazing but…. and because of all the Secrets he knows, not only can he read the stems, but he can sound out all of the words that he wants to write on his own. He can use the Secret Stories posters independently to find the sounds (for reading) or the phonics spelling patterns (for writing) that he needs.
The ability to work independently is huge. When he was in school, he needed direct supervision and assistance to complete everything: coloring, art, workshops, etc… An adult had to sit with him and help him write every word, as he owned none of the code. Now he owns all of it, and the Secrets are his to play with and use as HE chooses to express his thoughts and ideas. No longer is he just copying random words from a word wall, or waiting for someone else to tell him what to write. That ownership is critical to his academic self-esteem, and it constantly reinforces for him what I knew all along, that HE IS CAPABLE!
His Tools for Reading and Writing
He uses his them to write birthday cards, and to read his own birthday message written on the sidewalk (He even underlined the Secrets he used to read it!)
And while he loves to use the Secrets to write what he wants, he enjoys building words and practicing spelling with the Secret Stories Digital Stickers. While they can be used digitally, we printed ours out, cut them apart, and then put magnet stickers on the back. BAM! A low-pressure spelling game that he can use to build words without the added pressure of writing. We use these instead of letter tiles for all our spelling activities!
We even used them to make little flip books to reinforce the Secrets and practice decoding words.
Equal Access to ALL of the Phonics Code
Just like a ramp provides access to buildings for those who need it, Secret Stories provides access to reading for kids who need it, making them the most impactful accommodation on any 504 or IEP learning plan. The Secrets gave my son access equal access to the whole phonics code he needed to read and write.
Perhaps I’m a just pessimist, but I used to believe that there was a limit to the gains my son could make, and that even the Secrets would only get him so far. But now, honestly, I know that the sky’s the limit.
If I could go back in time and tell myself just one thing to do on that terrifying day that our school shut down and I became an unexpected homeschooler, it would be to find Katie Garner and the Secret Stories. These were the missing ingredients that my son needed to learn how to read.
I love watching the kids use our Secret posters on the wall to read and write whatever they want. It’s amazing what our youngest learners can do and how easily they can do it when we just give them the tools they need and let them ‘play!’
Sound Walls, Word Walls and the Science of Reading
The purpose of a sound wall is to clearly represent the connections between speech and print in a way that students can easily understand and use as a source of reference to read and spell words. It is a way to organize and display the different sounds (phonemes) heard in speech and the spelling/phonics patterns (graphemes) that represent them in print.
With advancement of new research on the science of reading, there is a clearer understanding of the roles that phonetics and phonology (i.e. “symbol to sound” relationships) play in beginning reading and spelling. Because learning to speak happens long before learning to read, teaching the connections between the letters on the page and the sounds they represent in speech is critical.
Unlike a word wall, which organizes words in alphabetical order so that students can find and copy them, sound walls are organized by sounds alongside the letter patterns that represent them.
The biggest difference between the two is that word walls give learners access to only a limited number of words, whereas sounds walls empower them with ALL of the phonics “building blocks” needed to read and spell ANY word. However, in order for students to actually USE a sound wall to independently read and spell, the “sound-to-print” connections represented must be obvious and easy to understand—even for a five-year old!
This is exactly what a Secret Stories® sound wall is, as while the Secrets explain the sounds letters make when they get together, the sound posters are what help them remember for independent reading and spelling.
In just one glance, students as young as kindergarten can instantly identify the sounds that the phonics patterns represent, and then use them to read and spell words. Rooted in brain science, Secret Stories® target “universal” social-emotional understanding by connecting letter behavior to kid behavior, making sounds easily predictable — even for kindergartners. The Secret posters are a ready-made sound wall that even that earliest grade learners can independently reference to read, write and spell.
How to Work Smarter, Not Harder
“The Secrets are so versatile and work great with our district-required sound wall. The kids reference the Secret Stories posters constantly to figure out words. The Secrets are the ‘backdoor’ in for sure!”
“The (mouth picture/articulation) sound walls are proposed as memory supports, reminders to kids about how to articulate the proper phonemes (language sounds) for the proper graphemes (letters and letter combinations). …… as a practical memory aid, they’re weak (more useful for the teacher as a guide to presentation than to the kids as a guide to reading words).
I guess the idea would be that when a student comes to a challenging word, he/she could go to the word wall, find the right combination of graphemes and examine the pictures of the articulatory apparatus in the hopes that replicating that shape would lead to proper sounding out of that word.”“My take? That’s far too cumbersome as a memory aid — about as practically useful as the lists of 3-cueing clues that some teachers provide: If you come to a word you don’t know, look at the picture. If that doesn’t work, read to the end of the sentence….. The problem is that these steps are neither much like real reading nor practical as efficient scaffolds. Memory aids need to be easy to access or people just don’t use them.” —Dr. Tim Shanahan
“Across various studies (Ehri, 2014; Ehri, Deffner, & Wilce, 1984; McNamara, 2012; Schmidman & Ehri, 2010) it has been found that such embedded mnemonic pictures can reduce the amount of repetition needed for kids to learn the letters and sounds, with less confusion, better long-term memory, and greater ability to transfer or apply this knowledge in reading and spelling.
If one relies on data – rather than reasoning – the answer is kind of a no-brainer — it is a good idea to use embedded mnemonics. It looks like, at least with regard to this feature, your previous program was better than the new one.”
“When it comes to teaching letters and sounds, no question about it, use embedded mnemonics. They work.” —Dr. Tim Shanahan
Targeting “Backdoor” Routes for Accelerated Learning
Aligning Phonics Skills with “Universal” Frameworks of Experience and Understanding
While the Secret Stories® posters on their own are an ideal sound wall, they can also be used in-tandem with any existing sound wall or reading/phonics anchor charts, helping to simplify and streamline the sound-symbol connections. This is because the Secrets align with what kids already know, providing a faster and more efficient route for learners.
…..rather than relying on “underdeveloped” auditory and cognitive processing centers for skill mastery.
This is especially true for teaching vowel sounds. They can be easily prompted with emotion-based cues that literally “land” learners in the correct sound — as opposed to relying on inherently weak areas for early (and struggling) learners, which include: developmental/cognitive readiness, language processing, auditory discrimination and articulation capability. It’s so much easier and faster to just sneak these skills through the brain’s social-emotional “backdoor” and avoid these learning “landmines” entirely. (The same goes for accelerating mastery of the individual letter-sounds with the Better Alphabet® Song — which uses earlier-developing, muscle memory to fast-track mastery in 2 weeks to 2 months, while at the same time, telling Secrets!)
Fast-Tracking Phonics Pieces of the Reading Puzzle
The Secrets work with any existing reading curriculum or phonics program to fast-track more of the code kids NEED to read and write. Taking advantage of early developing, social-emotional centers in the brain, Secret Stories® crystalizes the connections between sound and print to empower beginning readers and writers. t’s a simple formula really….. the more phonics Secrets kids know, the more words they can read and write!
I started teaching The Better Alphabet™ Song on Day 2 of school in August. I put all of the Secret Stories Posters up on Day 5.
On Day 6 my life changed.
I told a Secret, and from that moment on, my kindergartners wanted to know more and more and more. They were finding those Secrets everywhere! I had a student who entered into our class with no real gusto for learning letters or to read, according to his parents. This student became obsessed with looking for Secrets on the wall, finding those patterns in text, and writing them down. He would literally get a blank piece of paper and copy all of the Secrets he knew from the posters on the wall.
He would ask everyday if we could learn a new Secret, and if he saw any letter patterns in words that were on a Secret poster, watch out! He had to learn it. I would have been impressed had he been the only one, but it was every student in the class! They all wanted to know the Secrets!
Writing is where I began seeing the most notable change. Students were drawing speech bubbles for an animal writing project in late September. Inside the speech bubbles were the words “meow” for cats, “hoot” for owls and “nay” for horses. Those tricky phonics sounds that my students typically did not even hear in words were now being incorporated into their writing using the Secret posters on our wall. They referenced them constantly to read and spell. My students didn’t just “know” the secrets, they were owning them!
In reading, we assess students three times a year using FastBridge to determine which need reading interventions. My students were tested and I did not have one student qualify as needing intervention. The Reading Team was curious and wanted to know more about the Secrets. We’ve just completed the second round of testing, and again, none of my students were in need of intervention help. I have taught kindergarten for 14 years and this has never happened.
My students continue to excel in reading and writing, and I am happy to report that all of my students know 100% of upper and lowercase letters, as well as the sounds associated with each letter symbol, thanks to the Better Alphabet™ Song (even the child who came in knowing no letters and only yelled at me when I met him). And it’s only January!
During parent teacher conferences, the Secrets were a conversation that kept coming up. Parents wanted to let me know how impressed they were that their child already knew about blends and digraphs. They wanted to tell me how often their child comes home and shares the latest Secret. The parents were loving the progress that they were seeing just as much as I was.
Today they earned a celebration, and the idea that my students came up with (on their own) was to eat a popsicle, watch a Curious George Episode, and dress up as a Secret Story.
I am attaching a picture of me as “Mommy E” and a group photo that we took!
You can see a real joy for learning on the faces of these children, who are better because of your passion to make the reading and brain science accessible to teachers, and applying a creativity to make strategies that work!
Angela Wolfe, Kindergarten Teacher
Sound Wall = A Brain Based Phonics “Buffet”
Imagine going to a buffet, only to be told that items would be served one at a time, with the waiter deciding “what” you can have and “when” you can have it. This would effectively turn your buffet into a restaurant, defeating the whole purpose of why you go to a buffet in the first place, which is to take what you need with no waiting! At a restaurant, you’re at the mercy of the waiter or waitress who gets to decide “what” you can have and “when” you can have it.
And with virtual learning, kids need access to the Secrets/ Sound Wall outside the physical classroom — wherever and whenever they are reading and writing. The Porta-Pics are an easy and inexpensive “portable” sound wall that kids can reference at home or anywhere outside of the regular classroom or resource classroom.
Prompting the “Need to Know” for Learner-Driven Instruction
Secrets make things important to kids, fostering a “need to know” for prioritized learning and marking information for memory in the brain. Secret Stories® transform the phonics skills kids have to learn into “secrets” they want to know! And the more they know, the more they want to know….and they’re all on the Secret Stories® Sound Wall, just waiting to be discovered!
For more Secret Stories® Word Wall displays and ideas, check out this post, and for answers to all of your Secret Stories® questions, free teacher-made resources and REAL teacher-talk, join the new Secret Stories® Support Group for “Teaching Phonics with the Brain in Mind” on Facebook!
A guest post by first grade teacher, Karrie Kehrig.
It was the first week of October, and even though school hadn’t started until the end of August, I was already feeling overwhelmed and exhausted.
As a hybrid classroom for distance learning, I have 22 students in person and 7 online, and teaching both groups well is anything but easy. We were only a few weeks into this school year when I experienced one of those special “teacher-moments” when you know that you’re doing something that is perfectly right and you can’t help but to smile! I’ll come back to this in just a bit, but first, a little background…..
This year is my 21st year teaching, though I took ten years off in the middle of my career to raise my three children. I began teaching in the late 1980s when whole language was all the rage, though I had grown up in Catholic schools where phonics was the focus. I have seen and lived through both sides of the teaching debate and the resulting “Reading Wars” over what works best when it comes to teaching reading.
Fast forward to the 2012 State Reading Conference….
If you’ve never been to a reading conference before, then you should know that you’re usually just hoping for a few nights away to clear your mind, and maybe one or two good ideas that you can bring back to use in your classroom. However that year, the Michigan Reading Conference changed my life forever.
If They Don’t Know the Phonics Secrets, How Can They Read the Words?
I will never forget that day. I was walking around trying to decide what speaker to go see, when I noticed a room jam-packed with people. I told my friend that we needed to go and see what all the excitement was about.
I walked in and Katie Garner was on the stage, talking about how au & aw were “in love,” and how they got so embarrassed when they had to stand together in words, they always put their heads down and said, “Awwwwww….” (as in: saw, paw, cause, August, etc…) Katie further explained that this was a “grown-up reading secret,” and then she said something that really struck me, which was “If kids don’t know the phonics secrets, how can they read the words?”
The more Katie talked, the more everything made sense to me. I just kept listening as she shared information about early brain development, and how the earlier-developing, emotional part of the brain could be easily accessed and “tricked” into remembering phonics skills through social-emotional (feeling-based) stories, especially “secret” stories! This was really intriguing to me, as was the idea of being able to make sense of letter sounds and phonics for my students.
Everyone in Katie’s session was given a free download pack with the anchor posters and activities used in the session. That was great, but I wanted all of it, so as soon as I got home, I immediately bought the Secret Stories Kit so that I could start using it in my classroom.
Looking at Words vs. Reading Them
When I first started using Secret Stories, I’m embarrassed to say that I didn’t listen to Katie and only put up a few posters, as I just didn’t think that I would have time to teach them all. We have a reading series AND a phonics program, as well as writing, math, science and social studies curriculums that we have to follow, so my initial plan was to just use the Secret Stories as yet another curriculum. Oh boy, was I ever wrong!!
I quickly realized that the more Secrets I shared, the more words my kids could read and write on their own, and that the more they knew, the more they wanted to know! This was eye-opening for me, as I now understood why Katie was so adamant in the book about putting up ALL of the posters up on Day 1. We are working with words all day long across all areas of the curriculum, and the Secrets are IN those words! If kids don’t know the Secrets, how can they read the words?!
Typically in kindergarten and first grade, we just look at the words and say them, as we don’t actually expecting the kids to read them.
For example, we look at and say the words on our daily calendar every day, but kids aren’t actually reading them. How could they when in words like August, the letter /A/ is making the short /o/ sound, or in words like: January, May, July and Monday, the letter /y/ is making every sound other than the one that kids actually know? And so, we just point to the words and say them.
But where’s the instructional value in just looking at words day in and day out, or even worse, in all of the time we spend memorizing words because kids don’t know how to read them? When you can’t read the words, looking and memorizing are the only options, especially for beginning grade learners who don’t even know all of the letter sounds.
Phonics Instruction that Makes Sense
But with the Secrets, I can just tell a story about au/aw being in love in the word August, or about Sneaky Y® and the sounds he makes when he’s at the end of a word (as in: July, May & January) and thinks no one will see him!
All I have to do is tell a Secret and my five and six year olds instantly understand WHY the letter /y/ makes the many different sounds that it does, and not just on our calendar, but in every other word that they see….all day long!
Why wouldn’t I tell them the Secrets?
Especially since our daily calendar provides a perfect “built-in” opportunity to practice using them in a familiar context, so it’s a win-win! And likewise in math, social studies, and even at lunch! Text is everywhere….and so are the Secrets!
Once you start seeing them, you can’t stop….and your students can’t either! They will start finding them everywhere in every subject area across the entire instructional day and even at home! My kids point them out all the time– in math problems, science and social studies lessons, and even religious studies (as I teach at a Catholic School). We find Secrets in everything we do ALL day long.
Check out some of the Sneaky Y® words that one student found in his story with Secret Stories® Phonics Task Cards (which can be with any text).
Don’t Wait for the Reading Series or Phonics Program to Teach It
By putting up ALL of the posters, I was able to explain the sounds of letters in words that we see everyday, long before our reading series formally introduced them. This was a huge timesaver, especially since words like play and they were on our Week #1 sight word list, but the ey/ay phonics skill needed to read them wasn’t supposed to be introduced (by our reading series) until mid-January. That meant countless hours, weeks, and months of instructional time that would have typically been spent memorizing these words was now spent reading them….plus many more!
This realization that I didn’t have to “wait” until mid-January to teach the ey/ay Secret that my kids needed now was huge! By not waiting on the reading series to teach the Secret, my students were actually able to make better use of it—as now they could actually read it! They were finding the Secrets in every story, and they were so excited!
I really enjoy using Secret Stories with our reading series, not only because kids could actually read the stories that were in it, but because it provided endless opportunities to introduce more Secrets while reinforcing the ones they already knew. It also allowed me to shift instructional focus to comprehension strategies, as students were no longer overwhelmed with memorizing and decoding.
More than anything, I began to realize what a huge disservice I’d done to my students that first year by holding back so many Secrets and waiting for my reading series to introduce them. But we live and learn, and when we know better, we do better….which brings me back to October.
The Phonics Code Kids Need to Read and Write
We were working on the short /e/ sound, and Cecilia needed to write a sentence with a short /e/ word in it. She did that, and so much more!
Not only did she spell the word wet correctly (Thank you Better Alphabet™ Song!), she was able to use the ey/ay Secret (these letters are just too cool, like Fonzie, and always stick up their thumbs and say, “Ayyyyyyyeeeee!“) to build the word rayn, too!
Even though the spelling isn’t technically correct (as she didn’t know the Secret for /ai/ yet), Cecilia “owned” enough of the phonics code to write the word that she wanted….and this was so much more exciting to me than the fact that she spelled the word wet correctly!
You see, my class learned about the ey/ay Secret in the first week of school when the word “play” came up in a story. Unlike my first year, I didn’t wait to tell it until mid-January when our reading series introduced it. Instead, I took advantage of the first opportunity I had, and I used that teachable moment to give my students a valuable piece of the code they would need to read and write every day. And use it they did.
Cecilia’s writing shows that she is starting to “play” with the critical sound-symbol (“speech to print”) connections that are the foundation for all reading and writing. She hears the long /a/ sound in the word rain, and she knows a Secret that she can use to convert that sound to print. With each new Secret she learns, her power as a reader and writer grows. She is able to make sense of the sounds letter make in words all around her, in books and on billboards. Text is everywhere, and she’s reading it!
This is such a tremendous accomplishment for a first grader at the beginning of October, and there is no doubt in my mind that as Cecilia learns more Secrets and gains more text experience, she will spell rain with /ai/ and not /ay/…… but for now though, I am smiling! When kids know the phonics Secrets, they CAN read the words!
Karrie Kehrig is a first grade teacher at St. Lawrence Catholic School in Utica, Michigan. She has an MA in Early Childhood Education from Oakland University and a BS in Science from Siena Heights College. (Connect with Karrie in NEW Secret Stories® Support Group on Facebook here.)
I am so grateful to Karrie for taking the time to share this post and provide a glimpse into what hybrid learning looks like in her classroom this year!
And to “run” with Karrie’s point about just how powerful early ownership of the phonics code can be for beginning grade learners, I wanted to share some “end of year” kindergarten writing samples, along with some first grade writing samples further down, below. The Secrets are everywhere throughout their writing, as they are the tools they use to write about dolphins, kings and queens! For more on how to fast-track phonics for beginning writing, check out the video below, and subscribe on Youtube for more.
You can also download the FREE Secret Stories® Fairy Tale Writing Pack (used in some of the writing samples below) here or by clicking on the pic below.
To see more kindergarten writing samples click here, and to see the compounded skill progression of the Secrets in first grade, click here.
If kids don’t know the Secrets, how can they write the words?
How to Know if Your Phonics Instruction is Really Working
by Kristina Weller, author of Writing and Laughing Blog
Yeah, I know. Super sexy blog title!
You’re probably here because of that burning question: How do I know if my phonics instruction is actually working?
Well, I have two answers for you, but first, a little background….
Teachers College Reading, Writing & Phonics Workshop Model
I am an extremely lucky teacher. I have the autonomy to choose my curricular materials based on what I know works for kids. I know how fortunate I am to be sitting in this seat, and I am grateful for it every single day.
As a collective group of educators, our school took a long, hard look at available phonics programs before making our choices a couple of years ago. As a grade level guide, we chose the TCRWP (Teachers College Reading Writing Workshop) for K-2 Phonics by Lucy Calkins. We were already using the Units of Study for Reading and Writing K-6, were familiar with the workshop format, and relished how the Units of Study frameworks instilled a love and appreciation of rich and meaningful text in young readers and writers.
While attending the Colorado Reading Conference (I’m a big fan of CCIRA!) a few years ago, I attended a featured session by Katie Garner and was super intrigued by her backdoor approach to fast-tracking phonics skills by teaching them in a way that is solidified through social-emotional centers in the brain. Even writing that sentence now makes me smile! And remember… this is phonics I’m talking about!
Phonics: that one little piece of the reading puzzle that has the power to completely derail everything if it’s not internalized and transferred.
Yeah. No pressure.
I could write multiple blog posts to further expand upon why the Secret Stories® are so amazing, so feel free to reach out for more information if you’re curious. I promise you – it’s a game changer.
How I Knew My Core Phonics Program Wasn’t Enough
The reason why I sought supplemental support for my core phonics program, and specifically, more information about the Secret Stories, is that I kept coming across “disconnects” between the rich and meaningful text that my first graders were interacting with all day long, and the pacing of my TCRWP phonics program.
If you’re a first grader who is working hard to decode the word Saturday in a level 8 text at the beginning of October, and you want to keep your momentum and confidence up, then you need to know those two phonics rules! You can’t spare the time to wait around until they happen to come up in your phonics program.
With Secret Stories, kids don’t need to wait, nor should they have to! Not only would these two little “secrets” be needed to decode the word Saturday, but just think about how many other words they unlock: her, were, turn, bird, birthday, way, play, they, etc…
Secrets are just little, easy to remember, brain based stories that explain the sounds letters make when they get together, with posters to help kids remember for independent reading and writing. Below are a couple of videos that explain these two “secrets” mentioned above.
Katie’s description of Secret Stories’ “dual track” approach to phonics instruction really materialized for me this year. It’s a systematic and explicit approach to teaching phonics. It’s also sequential, yet nothing is off limits or held back from kids when they need it. There is a recommended order of what to teach when, which is weighted by the highest frequency phonics rules, but there are no “walls” to delay access to what kids need, when they need it.
I am the Teacher, Not My Phonics Program
The beauty of this dual-track approach is its acknowledgement that I am the teacher, not the “program!” I can give my kids more of the code they need to read and write faster. My hands aren’t tied by a scripted, yet random order of skill introduction. With the Secrets, I have an easy way to immediately give my kids what they need, the moment they need it, with no designated waiting time just because the book says so. I am their teacher, not the program.
The long and short of it is that I have used the Secret Stories in my classroom from the very first day of school this year, and each and every day that’s followed—whenever and wherever they are needed.
Yep. I’m playing it fast and loose over here. Whenever a student needs it, I provide it. How cool is that?! This is a very different approach to the traditional idea of just following each lesson in the order it appears in the book and doling-out the phonics rules across each grade level trajectory. Seriously, why wait?!
Advancements in brain science have carved an accelerated path for phonics skill acquisition that leads straight through the social-emotional “backdoor,” so why not take it? The truth of the matter is that despite how it might sound, my phonics instruction isn’t loosey-goosey, but research-based and incredibly intentional.
By posing phonics skills as grown-up secrets, I naturally activate my students’ need to know, marking the information for memory and prioritized learning in the brain. In that moment, their brains are fully firing and ready to grasp onto this new information. And because it’s delivered through stories that are anchored in already understood social-emotional constructs, it sticks!
Supplementing My Phonics Instruction with Secret Stories
I teach my core phonics program—the TCRWP Phonics Units of Study with fidelity, and I love how child-friendly and full of joy each lesson is. Then I use the Secret Stories to fast-track, support and supplement this core instruction. This blended approach is the perfect mix for my students.
So how do I know that this unique approach is actually working?
Besides seeing the evidence of what my kids can do, here are those previously-promised answers:
When we got to the “silent e” lesson in our TCRWP book, which was the first session of the second unit, my first graders already knew about it! That Secret had already been needed, given, and used. They’d known about it, identified it in other texts, and had been using it in their writing for weeks.
In fact, we had to put headphones on Rasheed (our TCRWP stuffed lion phonics guide… #joyfulphonics) so that we could secretly make a plan to pretend NOT to know the rule. That way, Rasheed could still “teach” it to us and it wouldn’t hurt his feelings that we already knew the “secret” about Mommy E®. Talk about feeling empowered!
Below is a video of me at parent night, dressed up as Mommy E and telling the kids to (i.e. letters) to “say their name!” It was a fun and easy way to educate parents about the phonics Secrets we were learning, and how they helped us to read and write!
The first graders “allowed” Rasheed to talk them through that lesson as if it were something they’d never ever heard about before. They were on top of the world and so proud of their knowledge…..and I had absolute proof that what I taught STUCK. Not to mention that I’d been able to give it to them months sooner, when it was needed to access the text in front of them.
Here are a couple of other fun video clips that we made for the er/ir/ur and /ion/ Secrets.
While at a parent-teacher conferences at the beginning of November, I heard another teacher tell a parent that she wasn’t surprised that her student couldn’t read words with the “ou/ow” sound (like: now, how, our, hour, slow, blow, etc…), as she hadn’t taught it yet. According to the scope & sequence, that phonics rule wasn’t supposed to be taught yet.
Understand that this is in no way a bash against another teacher. It is simply an example of evidence that struck directly into my heart and confirmed that I had made the right choice for my students by shifting my instructional approach.
Secrets in Daily Reading & Writing
I am not the “gatekeeper” of phonics skills and my program shouldn’t be either. To think of it another way, I am not the waitress who holds back the dessert until you’ve eaten all of your greens. The Secret Stories provide for a “banquet-style” availability without having to “eat” this before that. You don’t have to “wait” to teach the /th/ Secret until the fall of first grade, as you tell the Secret to kindergartners on the very first day of school. (It’s not like they don’t already know to how to stick their tongues out at each other….and it’s not like they won’t need it to read and spell words like: the, they, them, those, etc….)
Your name ends with a /y/ and you don’t understand why it makes a long /e/ or a long /i/ sound? (Like in Lily, Lily, Ely or Ty?) Let me tell you the Secret about Sneaky Y®.… (Remember when I said that I could talk about the secrets forever? I’m serious. Just ask me questions!)
I know that I am incredibly fortunate as classroom teacher, as I get to choose a curricular resource like the TCRWP Units of Study as my Tier 1, core instructional guide. The lessons are fabulous mixes of joy and knowledge, and my students are pumped when it’s time to learn with Rasheed! I love that.
AND….. I am beyond thrilled that I’ve found the Secret Stories to use as my “secret sauce” to offer-up MORE of the phonics code sooner! With the Secrets, I can focus my instruction on teaching the READER, not the reading. And the more Secrets my kids know, the more they want to know! My days at school are filled with examples of this learner-driven instruction. Engagement is sky-high, with my students continuously finding and wondering about more Secrets in the words in their books. They’re accessing the rich and meaningful text that fills our classroom and our core curricular materials, and they’re able to maximize the value of our time with that text because they can actually READ it! The phonics rules are already embedded in their brains—though they don’t see them as rules. To kids, they are simply the tools they need to read and write. And they love them. (Seriously? I could keep going on like this for pages!)
So, that’s how I know that my phonics instruction is working.
P.S. If you’re curious why “ou/ow” might end up in the hospital, then just reach out and ask, as you shouldn’t have to wait until Unit 4 to learn the sound that those guys make! ;-)
Kristina Weller – Writing and Laughing Blog
Pics by @HappyChatterClassroom and @RoarKallie on Instagram.
Special thanks to Kristina Weller for sharing this post, and if you have questions for Kristina, or would just like to know more, you can find her in the new Secret Stories® Support Group on Facebook!
I will be compiling several of the creative teaching ideas, pics and videos that have been shared in the new group over this past week to send out in the next Secret email, including this teaser below! However, if you can’t wait, you can dive in now by clicking above, or on the picture below! :-)
And if you’re not subscribed, you can do so here!
Until Next Time,
How to Teach Reading to English Language Learners
I went from knowing nothing about phonics to becoming a “code-cracking” expert, and then I helped my kids do the same!
By Ariana Curcó, pre-k/kindergarten Teacher in Monterrey, Mexico
If you’re anything like me and/or if you’re here, reading this, it’s because you’re doing everything you can to be a better teacher, to acquire new tools to do a better job, to find new and interesting resources that will make your teacher-life easier, and to be the best version of yourself for them—your kids. My name is Ariana Curcó; I have been using the Secret Stories for 8 years with both pre-k and kindergarten English Language Learners in Mexico, and this is my story.
I live in Monterrey, México, and I work in a private school that teaches all-English. Yes, you read that correctly—ALL English…..in Mexico! We have about an hour a day of Spanish, but all of our reading, writing, science, math and just about any other subject you can think of is in English. If you’re wondering why this is, that’s an easy question to answer—opportunity. Proficiency in English provides the best chance to succeed in life; better jobs and a better future.
I live in a privileged area where kids are given the best education possible. Parents spend lots of money on private schools and want the best for their children. With that being said, they also want the best teachers and to see results, fast.
I was in my second year of teaching pre-k and wanted to learn as much as possible, and so I started watching YouTube videos about morning routines, guided reading, phonics…whatever I could think of that I could use, I would watch.
Professional Development for Teaching Reading
Every year, my school would send teachers to different education conferences in the US, especially those that focused on the needs of English Language Learners (ELL / ESL/ ESOL), as well as literacy and early education. Unfortunately, I wasn’t chosen by my school administrators to go, but was willing to pay my own expenses so that I could have what I’d always heard was an “amazing learning experience”. And so, I did.
I went to Orlando, Florida to the NAEYC (National Association for the Education of Young Children). I didn’t know what to expect. I was given several brochures during the registration process and that was it. I had to choose the sessions that I wanted to attend and take notes so that I could share with my colleagues back home. I was a newbie back then, and the teachers I went with were pros. I could see them reading the brochures and marking the sessions they would like to hear, and then making a schedule and finally having a plan. I had no plan, so I took the brochures back to the hotel, and when they went down for dinner, I stayed and studied and tried to make my “plan”.
As I was reading about all of the subjects, strategies and authors, I came across a sessions about phonics called “Cracking the Reading Code with the Brain in Mind: How to Sneak Phonics through the Brain’s Backdoor!” with Katie Garner. While the session wasn’t identified in the program as being for English Language Learners specifically, common sense told me that if I wanted to understand how kids learn to read and write, I needed to learn about letter sounds and phonics. I still remember clearly that this was the first session I wrote down on my “plan,” and I was excited.
The day came, I went in, and I sat down at the very back (I didn’t want anybody asking me to participate since I was a new teacher and felt I didn’t know what I was doing). Then I waited for the session to begin. Boy, did I regret sitting in the back.
As soon as Katie started speaking, I was hooked! I mean, who wouldn’t be? Besides her being awesome, knowledgeable, and a great speaker, the information and strategies she was sharing were incredible. I remember myself standing up and moving further to the front every time she turned around to change a slide, but I just couldn’t sit in the back; I needed to learn more, see more, and hear more about everything she was sharing. And just like that, everything clicked. It all just made so much sense, especially this part—
“The sounds that letters make when they get together is AS IMPORTANT as the sounds they make individually…..even for kindergartners!“
Teaching Kids the “Least Likely” Letter Sounds First
This was the first of many things that I heard which made me question everything I thought I knew about teaching reading. I mean, she was right. Both pre-k and kindergarten teachers dedicate themselves to focusing on the individual alphabet letters and sounds, but letters rarely make their individual sounds when they come together in words. Instead, they make completely different sounds that we never talk about, let alone teach! This means that when kids actually try to apply what we’re teaching them every day about letters and sounds to read real words, they will almost always be wrong.
In our daily alphabet song, we would sing “T says turtle, tuh-tuh-tuh,” but then every time we saw the letter /t/ in real words, it never actually made that sound, because of the frequency of word like: this, they, them, those, the, there, etc. Likewise, for the letter /y/, we would sing, “Y says yo-yo, yuh-yuh-yuh,” but then we’d move over a few inches on the rug to do morning calendar, and would see the letter /y/ in words like: Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, January, February, May, July, etc. We read big books that were “by” so and so author, and we would tell the kids to pay attention to the sign hanging above the “Boy’s Bathroom”…..not to mention that our favorite words to read and write were: mommy, daddy, candy, and Happy Birthday!
It’s no wonder I was having such a terrible time and was so confused!
Another “a-ha” moment for me was when I realized that I had been spending valuable instructional time focusing on teaching the reading, but not the reader. I was showing my kids words, but not giving them any of the tools they needed to actually read them— tools that would empower them to crack any word, not just the ones on a word wall.
I hadn’t given my kids the keys they needed to unlock words for themselves because no one had ever given them to me. As a native Spanish speaker and former English Language Learner myself, I simply didn’t know them and had never been taught. I realized that I needed to change my mindset and alter my teaching strategy right away, and I wasn’t going to wait. I started then and there.
When I returned to Monterrey, I talked to the homeroom teacher and told her everything I had learned. I shared all that Katie had given us in session to bring back and use in our classroom, and showed her some of Katie’s vlogs on YouTube. We started using some of the Secret reading strategies to see how we could apply them in our classroom without interfering with our required pre-k curriculum. This, it turned out, was a non-issue. The Secrets blended perfectly with everything we were already doing— storytelling, role play, music, singing, movement and dramatic play. It was a natural fit. Plus, all of the words in our environmental print that were displayed all around our classroom had Secrets in them!
Phonics Stories Kids Already Know
Every Secret that we shared, the kids gobbled-up instantly. about the Secret Stories is that they are rooted in feelings that are universally familiar to all kids—regardless of their age, language background, or even whether or not they know the names of the letters. This is why they are so effective with very young children, and especially effective with English Language Learners. Kids just understand and connect with them instantly.
Everywhere around the world, kids are kids. They love Superheroes and know they must wear a disguise to keep from being recognized, like the Superhero Vowels®; they develop little crushes on each other, like au/aw; they sometimes play too rough and get hurt, like ou/ow; they stick their tongues when they don’t like someone, like th; they have to be quiet in the library, like sh; they like to play with balls, like al; they love to pretend they’re driving a car and slam on the brakes, like er/ir/ur; they know to do what they’re told if mom or a babysitter is around, like with Mommy E® and the Babysitter Vowels®; and they know that if you’re the line leader, you must be perfectly behaved, but when you’re at the end where no one can see you, not so much (lol!), like Sneaky Y®. These are the stories that kids already know because they “live” them every day.
Familiar “Social-Emotional” Thinking Frameworks
It is within these already familiar, social-emotional frameworks that my pre-kindergartners began trying to figure out the sounds of letters in words all around us. I was in awe. For the first time, my little guys could really read. Sometimes, I couldn’t believe my own eyes. They were discovering so much so quickly, and every day, they begged to hear more Secrets. The power of Secret Stories instruction is incredible. I was constantly amazed by how engaged they were, even the ones who didn’t yet know all of their letters.
On that particular day in Orlando, by luck or by faith (call it what you wish), I happened to be in the perfect place at the perfect time, and I am so grateful.
Transitioning from Pre-K to Kindergarten
Having started my teaching career in pre-k, I moved on to kindergarten three years ago. My God, if I was amazed at what pre-K students could do, my kindergarteners Blew. My. Mind.
So fast-forward 8 years, and here I am, still using Secret Stories. Our classroom test scores in reading and writing are always far above grade level, and our school actually tests students one grade level above—which means that in kindergarten, we are taking the FIRST GRADE end-of-year test. And just as a little reminder—English is their second language. (JAW DROP!)
Phonics Screeners / Reading Assessment
The snapshot below shows the end of year results from last year’s test, which is called CPAA. Our kindergartners took it in May, and it’s a Grade 1 test. I’m still amazed at how much they are able to learn and accomplish in kindergarten.
The next picture is a snapshot from a kindergarten classroom at our school that, at the time, was not using Secret Stories. You can see the difference in the scores, especially in phonics and writing.
Below is a video of one of my kindergarten students reading back in December. She started the year knowing only a few letters, and by Christmas break, she was already reading above grade level—and remember, she’s is Mexican, so English is her second language!
I am so impressed with her achievements, and how quickly she was able to learn all of the individual letters sounds (with the Better Alphabet Song) and start applying them with the Secrets to read. I honestly cannot imagine teaching children to read without being able to tell them the Secrets. They are the single most important tool that I use to teach reading and writing. I am grateful for them EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.
We spot Secrets everywhere. All day long, kids will shout out, “I see Secrets!” and then they use them to try and sound out new words. They love finding them wherever they are hiding, especially in our new stories. They love finding them wherever they are hiding, especially in our new stories. They also love “catching” words that have Secrets in them throughout the day (and at home) and then adding them to our Secret chart.
The short video clip below is of my kids going on a Secret Stories “hunt” in our new book.
And check out this little kindergartners writing below. I was so impressed with how much she learned this year. Back in August, she only knew individual letters sounds, and now she’s reading and writing like a pro! (If you need a little help reading it, I’ve transcribed it below!)A Cat and a Penguin Go to Space
Once upon a time, there was a cat and a penguin in the jungle, and the penguin said, I want to learn the planets.
But how are we going to space?
We can go in the rocket.
Let’s go in, okay?
Look, space is so beautiful.
Look, this is Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto.
Wow, now I know the planets!
It’s amazing what kids can do when they have more of the code they need to do it! That’s the power of the Secret Stories, and that’s the power it gives beginning readers and writers. No matter what their first language is, if we can teach it, they can learn it!
Developing a “Deep-in-the-Gut” Phonics Skill Set for Teaching Reading
Throughout the years, I have seen many curriculums, phonics programs, and sadly, even many teachers come and go, but the only things that have remained constant are my precious Secret Stories book, CD and posters. Our curriculum offers wonderful opportunities for students to engage in reading and writing, but I am the one responsible for giving them the phonics skills they need to do it! I am so proud to say that I don’t have to rely on anything or anyone else, not even parent support. Secret Stories has given me a “deep-in-the-gut” level of skill-ownership that I can now impart to my students. That’s an empowering feeling!
There’s just one more video clip that I want to share. It’s actually of my own son just before he turned four. (Can you tell how much he loves the Secrets?!! :-)
Secret Stories makes complex phonics patterns simple, as well as the brain based process for teaching them. My wish is that by sharing my own journey and experience, my post here will become the “perfect time and place” for other teachers who needs to find their own power to teach reading, as well as to gain tools they need to do it.
Kindergarten Teacher in Monterrey, Mexico
My Little “Rant” on Dual-Language & Bilingual Programs
Remember what I said at the beginning of this post about opportunity? How we have to struggle to give our children the same chances as others because we are not native speakers or US citizens? Well, there’s something else that has been on my mind, and before I close, I wanted to put it out there….
Last September, I had the chance to meet with Katie in Dallas. She was there for a series of ESC Region 11 phonics workshops, and I was glad to tag along (I think I might have actually begged a little!) She was kind enough to let me join her, and we had many interesting conversations. I was amazed at how differently we do things here in Mexico than in the US, particularly with regard to reading instruction for English Language Learners. I listened to what many of the Texas teachers who were at the workshop had to say and asked I many questions. I was surprised to hear that students in the US were experiencing similar disadvantages with regard to opportunity that we have here in Mexico.
It was so sad, scary, hard (I don’t know which word to choose) to hear that, in the US, English Language Learners were not given the same opportunities as the rest of the students. For example, did you know that in many schools, English Language Learners in Dual Language Schools receive only half as much reading instruction in English as native speakers, and that in Bilingual Schools, they may receive none at all….WHAAAAT?!? I felt confused. I think this is unfair, unreasonable and makes for great disadvantages in the future since they will be taking the same tests, applying for the same college spots, and vying for the same jobs. My thought of the “American Dream” was shattered.
Why? I still don’t understand the reason. Here, we are teaching them English so that they can have a chance, and there, you are cutting their time in half?
And just like that, I remember why I chose to become a teacher and take on the great responsibility that comes with it. We are here to give our students the best chances and opportunities, regardless of their gender, nationality, race, etc…. To make them feel that if they are willing to work hard, they can conquer the world……because, guess what? THEY CAN!
Even if it means that we, as teachers, have to work twice as hard to learn and acquire as many skills as we can to help them—we CAN do it all—and so can every single ELL learner! For teachers all over the world, our constant drumbeat is the same— “I believe in you; your teacher believes in you; and every single teacher—no matter where they are in the world—does, too! We are your teachers, and we will fight every single day to prepare you for what’s to come. We will never stop, because YOU are worth it!”
With Lots of Love to My Teacher Friends Around the World!
If you would like to leave any questions or comments for Ariana, feel free to do in the comments, below. You can also find Ariana on Instagram @AriCurco.
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